It’s difficult to review a place that fills a much-needed food niche — especially if it’s a niche you constantly crave. On the one hand, you know you’ll go at all costs because you need a fix. On the other, you probably created this food addiction by eating the best of what’s out there, and you’ll never stop comparing new dishes to those perfect plates (or in this case, bowls).
Grace Noodle, a Japanese ramen house, poses this predicament in an intense way. I’ve had the pleasure of eating at Ramen Tatsu-Ya in Austin, Texas; Biwa in Portland, Oregon; and Momofuku in New York City. I’m not foolish enough to hold anyone to their standards, because those are restaurants worthy of buying a plane ticket to enjoy, but I do look for hints of what they do so well at every ramen-ya that I visit. Grace Noodle hits a few: The shoyu broth is flavorful, noodles are made in-house, and the gyoza are fresh and tasty.
The fatty, rich depth of my favorite tonkotsu (pork bone) broth was missing, though, and the shio (salt) broth was flat — much too light. One of the most highly anticipated toppings, the soft-cooked egg, was just a plain old boiled egg. And while the noodles are made in-house, the trademark alkalinity was a bit off, allowing them to cook down to a soggy, too-tender consistency.
In-depth pickiness aside, it’s worth a shot, and when you visit, expect to find approachable prices and to become very fond of your friendly, attentive server. And yes, you are supposed to slurp. Quickly and noisily. Don’t be afraid.
1823 E. Main St., 855-0495 or letseat.at/GraceNoodleRVA
Hours: Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Prices: $6 to $13