Ramen is not just a staple for college students any longer. In fact, the dish is seeing a rise in popularity with many interpretations in restaurants throughout Atlanta. And I’m not talking about the dried stuff that comes in a plastic package. I’m talking about big bowls filled with vegetables, spices and meats mixed in savory broths and layers of freshly made ramen noodles. It’s a flexible dish that can come in many forms, but the best bang for your buck may be at the recently opened restaurant Nexto located right off the BeltLine on Ralph McGill Blvd.
The outside of Nexto looks inconspicuous, but that’s just part of its charm. Located in a large, industrial-looking shed in the shadow of Two Urban Licks, the red neon glow of a happy face will lead you to the right place. Once inside, the open dining area and kitchen is both modern and chic while still inviting guests to sit down and slurp up. Part of the welcoming atmosphere radiates from Chef Mihoko Obunai who said that big bowls of satisfying soups are her specialty.
While the ramen is the star attraction at Nexto, you’ll want to sample some of the cold and hot appetizers, binchotan (small, grilled dishes) like the Okonomiyaki, a savory Japanese pancake that combines bacon and squid or the brassica salad with kale, Brussels sprouts, almond, parmesan and Goma miso for some flavorful crunch.
The bar is a highlight of the dining experience at Nexto with a large selection of various sakes and mixed drinks that hit all the right notes. Both the Raba, made with Shochu, vodka, lemon and pineapple ginger syrup and the Chu-Hai, made with Shochu, lemon grass infused gin, lychee, lime and tonic were well balanced, just the right amount of sweet and complex in taste.
When it comes to the ramen, each bowl’s flavors range from subtle to spicy, delicate to savory and everything in between. The Kurobuta Tonkotsu with fermented bamboo shoots, egg and scallions has a milder, seaweed laden broth and delicious homemade ramen as the bed for perfectly cooked and tender pork belly. The Spicy Bacon Miso packs more of a savory punch with eggplant and pickled ginger to accompany the noodles.
Obunai encourages her guests to slurp up and considering no plate on the menu is more than $16, the food is comforting for your belly and your wallet. So next time you’re braving chilly weather on the BeltLine, ditch the plastic noodle packages and warm up with an authentic ramen bowl at Nexto.
Nexto is open Monday through Wednesday from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m., Thursday through Saturday from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. and is closed Sundays. For more information, visit www.nextoatl.com.