While many beloved restaurants in Boston have unfortunately been struck by the pandemic, some managed to persist. Tora, a Japanese restaurant specializing in kaisen-don or seafood rice bowl, not only managed to pull through one of the most difficult times but also opened its second restaurant, Tora Ramen, in Chinatown over the Labor Day weekend.
The owner of Tora, Kenix Wan, and her husband opened the first branch of Tora in 2017. The kaisen-don restaurant quickly gained popularity among international students and local Bostonians with its authentic Japanese taste and high-quality ingredients.
After the success of their first restaurant, the couple decided that it was time to pursue their dream of opening a ramen shop. In the hopes of providing authentic Japanese ramen to their customers. To perfect their craft the owners of Tora even went to Tokyo last year to learn the art of making ramen.
Even though Wan and her husband had long been preparing to open their second restaurant, Wan said they had to delay the opening due to the pandemic. Coronavirus had caused a drastic decrease in the foot traffic of Chinatown, especially in the international student group, said Wan. Many international students had already expressed concerns over the safety of dining-in before the pandemic hit. Even though most of the student body have left the city during quarantine, it didn't stop Tora from delivering quality food to local Bostonians' dinner table.
Finally, six months from when the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic, Tora Ramen announced its soft launch as the city slowly reopens.
Tora's soft opening menu features six types of ramens and a variety of appetizers. Here’s what we got:
Kuro is a black garlic tonkotsu ramen that features white tonkotsu noodles, ajitama, and torched pork belly.
When we first read the description of the dish, our immediate assumption was that this would be a rich, creamy ramen filled with a strong taste of garlic as per usual. We were blown away when we had our first slurp of soup as we were fully prepared to wash our mouth of some heavy tasting tonkotsu broth. Instead, the Kuro had a surprisingly light creamy broth that is followed by a hint of garlic which you could even taste it in the noodles!
Aka is a spicy miso ramen that features yellow wavy noodles, torched pork belly, corn, and butter (also available in a non-spicy variation).
As spicy eaters, we were naturally drawn to this ramen. We were ready to embrace the salty aftertaste this kind of ramen usually brings. This ramen, however, was not as overwhelming as we expected. While it is comparably savory, you won't be overwhelmed by the saltiness. You'll be surprised with the slightly sweet aftertaste that adds to the umami flavor. Moreover, the butter on top gave it a nice touch as you're able to taste a hint of butter when slurping the noodles. Usually, a ramen joint tends to stick with one type of noodle (depending on the kind of broth they specialize in). Here at Tora, however, you get to try the best of both worlds.
Kani Croquette $6
The Kani Croquette was EASILY our favorite appetizer. There was just the right amount of breading, and croquette was fried perfectly, being neither too oily nor dry. The crab cream filling of the Kani Croquette is what distinguishes it from the rest of the croquettes in Boston. The explosion of flavor completed by the melt-in-your mouth breading was perfection on a plate, we seriously had to stop ourselves from ordering another plate!
Kuro Karaage $8
When we were looking over the appetizer selections, the Kuro Karaage immediately caught our eyes, who doesn’t love a good karaage – a staple at every Japanese restaurant. However, the Kuro Karaage is unique as the black color was derived from squid ink, not black garlic that we initially assumed. The savory flavor of the chicken was complemented by the mayo sauce and fresh lemon that came on the side. We thought this was 100% worth the price as it not only used expensive ingredients like squid ink but also provided us with a generous portion as well.
Overall, our experience at Tora Ramen was incredibly stunning, from the social distancing measures the restaurant has taken, to the service and the food. The staff made sure we used hand sanitizer (provided by the restaurant) before entering the vicinity, and the tables were also properly sanitized beforehand. There were also plastic screens between each table and since the restaurant had just recently opened, there was just one other party in the space with us.
We were so fortunate to be able to try so many dishes, which were all very reasonably priced. One thing that we definitely plan on having next time is their cheesy chashu don. This was added by the owner, Kenix Wan, who was hoping to appeal to customers who enjoy Asian Fusion cuisine. Chashu don is a pretty standard dish you can find in most Japanese restaurants, but we rarely see restaurants adding cheese to it. We can’t wait to go back and try more dishes!
99 Harrison Ave, Boston MA 02111
Mon - Sun 11:30-21:00