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Owners of Poke Chef open Menka, a steamy ramen operation

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Eagerly slurping down a rich, flavorful 16-hour broth in less than 10 minutes flat may seem tacky to some, but not to Chef Will and Pinky Yan.

In fact, the sound of slurping is always welcome at their new Foothill Boulevard ramen joint, Menka Ramen. The married restaurateurs want to see you shovel gobs of hot noodles into your gaping mouth, to see you try to suck down the last of that creamy tonkotsu broth. It's not uncommon to see patrons abandon their spoons and chopsticks in an effort to consume the delicious dregs. This requires both hands on the bowl—bowl to face.

RAMEN ON THE BRAIN Choose a rich broth flavor (chicken, miso, pork, veggie, or kimchi) and load on the toppings, including sliced pork, chicken leg, bamboo shoots, green onion, hardboiled egg, wontons, fish cake, mushrooms, and more. - PHOTOS BY HAYLEY THOMAS CAIN
  • Photos By Hayley Thomas Cain
  • RAMEN ON THE BRAIN Choose a rich broth flavor (chicken, miso, pork, veggie, or kimchi) and load on the toppings, including sliced pork, chicken leg, bamboo shoots, green onion, hardboiled egg, wontons, fish cake, mushrooms, and more.

After all, Will and Pinky are constantly churning out more broth, more noodles, more perfectly jammy hard boiled eggs. This stuff is not in short supply, although it is not easy to make. At any given hour, massive 80-quart pots of veggies, bones, and spices simmer on their state-of-the-art burners, lovingly reducing into a silky, magic elixir.

"We take a little longer to make our broth because I like my ramen a bit richer," Will says. "We make it completely from scratch, using chicken paitan and pork bones, our own special herbs and spices. Lots of onion, ginger, garlic, and some secret ingredients."

NOODLING Menka Ramen in SLO cooks fresh ramen noodles al dente to ensure a perfectly chewy—never soggy—bite. - PHOTOS BY HAYLEY THOMAS CAIN
  • Photos By Hayley Thomas Cain
  • NOODLING Menka Ramen in SLO cooks fresh ramen noodles al dente to ensure a perfectly chewy—never soggy—bite.

Chef Will does not mess around—nor does his wife, Pinky (Will admits that he springs out of bed at the crack of dawn to fire up the burners and chop the bamboo shoots). Pinky takes care of all the business, and there is much to do. They seem to have one mode: "on."

After opening Poke Chef on California Street back in 2016, and finding immediate success with their seaweed-wrapped "sushi burritos" and bowls brimming with fresh veggies and tangy, marinated tuna (among other fabulous fishy morsels)—they went on to open two more locations: Broad Street in SLO and Spring Street in Paso Robles.

Now they're charging full speed ahead with this third venture, which is sort of the opposite of the cold, raw Hawaiian-inspired poke, although just as popular. Enter Menka Ramen—a meal guaranteed to fog up your glasses.

"We don't do much advertising at all. I really do believe if you have good food, people will come," Will says. He has earned this confidence, to be sure.

STEAMY Get ready for a hot steaming bowl of beautiful, 16-hour ramen broth topped with all your favorite fixings. The owners of Poke Chef, Will and Pinky Yan—who already have two locations in SLO and one in Paso Robles—have opened Menka Ramen on Foothill Boulevard in SLO. - PHOTOS BY HAYLEY THOMAS CAIN
  • Photos By Hayley Thomas Cain
  • STEAMY Get ready for a hot steaming bowl of beautiful, 16-hour ramen broth topped with all your favorite fixings. The owners of Poke Chef, Will and Pinky Yan—who already have two locations in SLO and one in Paso Robles—have opened Menka Ramen on Foothill Boulevard in SLO.

Here, noodle bowls come with green onion, bamboo shoots, and chashu pork; however, it's really all about the beautiful broth. This is what keeps folks coming back again and again.

Choose between chicken or tonkotsu pork, kimchi (made with a house spicy kimchi broth), miso broth, or veggie broth (clear broth with mixed veggies and shiitake mushroom).

From there, add as many toppings as your heart desires: corn, nori, soft boiled seasoned egg, wood ear mushroom, braised pork belly, jumbo chicken leg, fish cake, pork wonton, extra chashu pork, extra bamboo shoots, or even extra noodles.

You can also go "extra spicy" or (my favorite) add a touch of powerful black garlic, which makes each sip funkier and somehow more addicting.

Pinky says the ramen is far from the "light" side, as the couple prefers a bolder flavor and a more viscous broth.

"Our noodles are also on the thicker side, so when you slurp, you suck up more flavor," she says.

Fresh noodles arrive a couple times a week, and they are never soggy. Tender but with just the right chew, these noodles are cooked al dente to maintain their integrity against the thick broth and hefty pork.

"Noodles have always been one of my favorite things to eat, and ramen, especially, is one of my favorite dishes to make," Will says. "With a heavy background working in Japanese and Asian cuisine, this was something I always wanted to cook. I talked about it forever. It was a dream."

Of course, all dreams do take time, and the couple knows how to be patient as much as they know how to "go." Perhaps this is the key to their ongoing success.

You may have noticed that all four of their restaurants feature glass cups with avocado pits in them. The plants—sporting long, thin roots suspended in water—have become a symbol of where Chef Will has been and where he is going.

"When I was working in a Japanese restaurant, we went through a lot of avocados. My sensei would save them," Will says. "It takes about six months to a year to show any sign of roots. It is more about the commitment to watch them grow than anything else. He taught me to work hard; this philosophy touches everything I do." Δ

Hayley Thomas Cain is obsessed with black garlic. She can be reached at hthomas@newtimesslo.com.

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