WHEN MANY OF us were first introduced to ramen noodles, they were of the instant variety. You know the stuff—kinky strings of dehydrated noodles and a packet of seasoning all packaged in plastic (or a Styrofoam cup with dried veggies). It was cheap and delicious and so easy to cook that anyone could make it. Not surprisingly, it’s long been a staple meal of poor college kids all over the country.
But traditional Japanese ramen, on the other hand, has become the object of foodie affection over the past several years, and Arkansas is no stranger to the trend. Back in November, CO-OP Ramen opened its doors in Bentonville’s growing 8th Street Market, offering several variations on one of Japan’s most popular comfort foods.
From the thick and hearty tonkotsu ramen with its creamy pork-bone-based broth to the clear chicken-and-soy-sauce-focused soup of the classic Tokyo shoyu, there’s a bowl for all palates at CO-OP. Though we must admit, our mouths are especially watering over the spicy tori paitan—a creamy chicken ramen with bean sprouts, green onions, ajitama (soft-boiled egg), rayu (chili oil), sesame seeds and kaarage (known to us Westerners in the American South as, wait for it, fried chicken!).
Craving a meal on the drier side? Look no further than CO-OP’s pork belly or veggie rice bowls, and add an order of edamame or shiitake gyoza while you’re at it. CO-OP even has mini ramen and rice bowls for the kiddos.
With chef Justin Walker, formerly of Pressroom, running the kitchen, rest assured that everything tastes as amazing as it sounds. The restaurant’s elegant and modern space, designed by Ati Blackwell of Marlon Blackwell Architects, only serves to elevate the dining experience as well.
Beware, though: One visit to CO-OP, and the concept of instant ramen will only apply to the time it takes you to finish a bowl.