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Nudo Ramen House brings trendy ramen burger to Spokane

This isn’t your dorm-room ramen.

It’s deep bowls brimming with Japanese noodles, barbecued pork, braised bamboo shoots, seaweed and broth topped with bean sprouts and hardboiled eggs. It’s rectangle plates of skewers of shishito peppers, rice cakes, bacon scallops, and lamb or chicken.

And – wait for it – it’s beef patties topped with cheese, bacon, arugula and tonkatsu sauce stuffed between two “buns” fashioned from rounds of fried noodles.

Keizo Shimamoto’s ramen burger debuted to long lines last year in New York, then Los Angeles, sparking one of the biggest food crazes of 2013 outside of the Cronut. Now diners can order a local version of the trendy handheld for lunch or dinner in Spokane.

Nudo Ramen House, which opened Wednesday in downtown, features a variety of noodle dishes, skewers and Asian-inspired appetizers like edamame, grilled calamari and seaweed salad with sesame seeds.

“The inspiration is the super-funky Tokyo ramen house,” said co-owner Josh Hissong, 38, a principal and co-founder of the Spokane architecture and interior design firm Hurtado/Hissong Design Group, or HDG.

The popularity of ramen, a Japanese noodle soup, has been on the rise, particularly in larger metropolitan areas, where – in recent years – it’s become a kind of food fetish.

“We wanted to fill a niche and offer a little taste of the city,” Hissong said.

Menu items at the new restaurant range from $1.50 to $4 for yakitori, or skewers, to $12 for the Spicy Seafood Ramen, or – from the appetizer menu – Grilled Miso Chilean Sea Bass, Popcorn Shrimp or Lobster Tart.

The kitchen is run by chef Tong Liu, who worked for Hissong at two of his other restaurants, Ginger Asian Bistro on the South Hill and north Spokane’s Wasabi Asian Bistro and Sushi Bar, which Hissong has since sold.

The noodles are made at a Japanese bakery in Seattle, but Hissong said the goal is to make noodles in-house within the restaurant’s first year. Space for noodle production is already designated in the restaurant’s basement prep/storage room.

Hissong’s firm – which recently designed interiors for Fire Artisan Pizza, Volstead Act, Borracho Tacos and Tequileria and The Boiler Room – transformed a storefront that had long been occupied by a local shoe shop. Berg’s Shoes, which specialized in children’s footwear, was a downtown fixture for more than 80 years.

Demolition – it took about three months to gut the space – started last fall. Construction ran from January until early May. It included new electrical and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems, and cost upward of $300,000, Hissong said. “It was supposed to be $200,000.”

While there’s no outside seating, an oversized, garage-style door opens onto the sidewalk overlooking the Davenport Hotel and giving the long and narrow space an airy, indoor-outdoor feel.

The interior is contemporary, with clean, angled lines evoking origami. The white wall on the left side of the restaurant “climbs up, like a crane’s neck,” Hissong said. It’s balanced by textured walls meant to resemble dark Japanese charred cedar.

Walls are also decorated with graphic art reminiscent of the comic book- and advertising-influenced pop art of Roy Lichtenstein. The artwork was created and digitized by Jesse Scheller of Magner Sanborn.

Diners sit at tables for two, which line the restaurant’s two longest walls and can be pushed together to accommodate larger groups. Or, customers can sit together on benches at one long communal table, located in the center of the restaurant.

“This was more of an experiment to see if people will actually sit down with people that they don’t know,” Hissong said. “It’s part of the dining experience, in my opinion.”

Nudo is offering a dozen types of sake to start. But it will eventually feature up to 30 sakes as well as 10 or 12 martini-style drinks “with some sort of Asian flavors,” like mango, ginger and cucumber. It also has eight beers on tap.

Last Friday, about 50 Japanese students from Spokane’s Mukogawa Fort Wright Institute got to preview a few menu items, including the soy sauce-based shoyu ramen soup.

“One of my students said it tastes a lot like one of the restaurants she frequently visited in Japan,” said residence assistance Brenda Flaherty, who went on the outing.

Students didn’t, however, get to taste the ramen burger, which is depicted in Scheller’s wall art and predicted to be a top seller.

“I’m really excited about the ramen burger,” Hissong said. “I think it’s going to be a big lunch item.”