- Griffin Swartzell
- Customize your bowl of ramen with less-familiar items.
The fast-casual, fixed-price, build-your-own model has both advantages and disadvantages. At spots like Mike and Sarah Hoard’s Monument eatery, Ramen Chops Noodle Bar, diners with varying tastes can easily pick and choose what goes into their bowl. As Sarah tells us when we visit, “If you like it out of the bowl, you’ll like it in the bowl.”
Ramen Chops, open since late April, offers a simple menu. Patrons can choose from one of two bowl sizes, which can be filled with whatever they want. Noodles, broth and meat? Done. Sauced cold noodles? Also done. Salad? They’ve got spring mix and greens for a reason. Vegans and gluten-free eaters can enjoy gluten-free rice noodles and zucchini noodles in their dishes, too.
But, again, the build-your-own model does have downsides. It may be easy for diners with Western palates to handle ingredients like mushrooms and corn. But they may not be as familiar with pickled lotus root, shoyu tare (soy base) and sambal oelek (Indonesian chile paste). And that “if you like it out of the bowl, you’ll like it in the bowl” take doesn’t account for building a well-composed bowl or bite. Customers who don’t have experience combining the flavors available here might not get the same value per dollar they would at a spot with a chef-designed menu.
Location Details Ramen Chops Noodle Bar
The good news, though: The staff’s outwardly friendly and here to help. Sarah, working the line, greets us on arrival and explains how the menu works in detail. She’s genuine and earnest, a nice surprise in the high-polish, franchise-ready atmosphere.
We start with an on-menu Tokyo ramen bowl, one of only six “tried and true” offerings. Its broth combines shoyu tare with chicken broth and a touch of dashi. Familiar ingredients include nicely toothsome ramen noodles, bamboo shoots, spinach, a marinated egg and pork belly, all topped with nori sheets and scallions. We add crunchy celery tossed in a spicy sauce for a little kick and texture. Generally we find the bowl agreeable and well-portioned for the price ($9.63/regular). The broth has flavor depth, and the pork belly’s tender and properly salted; the egg arrives reasonably boiled, the center not overcooked.
We also build our own cold noodle bowl, starting with roasted mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, kimchi, sliced shishito peppers, spinach, edamame and scallions. Next we toss in ramen noodles, honey-sesame chicken, and a mix of shoyu dashi, scallion-ginger sauce, chile oil and, on our server’s advice, the spicy sambal oelek. We top the affair with nori, black sesame seeds and a marinated egg.
The honey-sesame chicken comes in bite-sized shreds, tender and dark brown with a comparatively mild flavor. We’ve been guided well on saucing, and though it’s somewhat oily, we discover plenty of bright flavor and heat. The kimchi has crunch, mild spice and plenty of tang. Roasted tomatoes add savory sweetness and stand out.
All available drinks, including area Pikes Peak Brewing beers, come in cans. We may not be buying the slick branded shirts and caps, but good ingredients and good flavor-blending advice mean this spot offers a solid foundation for culinary experimentation. Will this take off and become the chain it looks like it’s ready to be? That’s hard to say, but the staff certainly has the chops to make it so.