Ramen-inspired Johnny Noodle King overflows with flavor

Molly Abraham
Special to The Detroit News

The name says it all. Oodles of noodles is the premise in the odd little red-painted brick building topped with a neon-lit rendering of a chopstick-crowned bowl of noodles. The fare served at the 44-seat spot follows the theme in a way few restaurants seem able to do. It focuses on exactly what it promises and doesn’t bother with anything extraneous.

Executive chef Les Molnar and his red-shirted crew riff on traditional ramen dishes, brought up to date with clever, diner-friendly additions.

There are just eight bowls to choose from. Some veer far from Japan to such countries as Vietnam, the inspiration for the bowl called Pho, with its slices of rare beef, little meatballs, bean sprouts, basil and rice noodles, and another takes a Thai direction with its confit chicken, mushrooms, bamboo and fish sauce.

Patrons may take the signature bowls as they are or add their own touches from a list of possible additions, none more than $2 extra, ranging from nori (dried seaweed) and kamaboko (fish cake) to tofu and fish roe. Pork belly is another, and it also comes as part of two of the specified bowls. I’m not sure I’d add it to the seafood combo of octopus and fish roe, but it might team well with the Southwest bowl, which includes shredded pork shoulder, honeycomb tripe, lime and cilantro along with rice noodles.

An early favorite is the Red Curry bowl, which indeed stars pork belly with a touch of coconut powder and cauliflower, zucchini, scallions and fish sauce. It’s memorable.

Side dishes include an appealing seaweed salad made with both wakame and nori and sparked with cabbage; rice in two versions, one with bacon; and lovely little gyoza (dumplings) filled with pork, finely minced cabbage and scallions, with a dipping sauce of vinegar, soy sauce and sweet rice wine. You can see the gyoza behind the counter, turning golden brown on the grill in the hands of red-aproned executive chef Les Molnar or one of his staff.

Also eye-catching are the huge (and I mean huge) cauldrons of boiling broth, which is made fresh a couple of times every day. There are three varieties, beef, pork and chicken, and the traditional Japanese ramen broth called tonkotsu.

The small room offers six seats at that counter overlooking the action, and they’re the best seats in the house. A couple of rows of free-standing booths, big enough to seat a maximum of six, are probably close enough for a view of the kitchen under a ceiling with its ductwork exposed.

The gritty industrial feeling is just right for this outpost a few miles west of downtown Detroit, not far from the proprietors’ other restaurant, Green Dot Stables, where sliders are king.

It’s an easy commute for Christine and Jacques Driscoll, who have done wonders for this formerly neglected neighborhood.

Johnny Noodle King is a terrific addition.

Correction: A previous version of this story mentioned an incorrect Japanese dish. The correct dish is tonkotsu.


(313) 222-1475

Johnny Noodle King

2601 W. Fort, Detroit

Call: (313) 309-7946

Web: www.johnnynoodleking.com

Rating: 3 stars (out of 4)

Hours: 11 am.-10 p.m. Tues.-Sat., noon-6 p.m. Sat. Closed Mon.

Prices: Noodle bowls $10-$12, with add-ons $1-$2, sides $3-$6

Credit cards: All major

Liquor: Beer, sake and local whiskey

Noise level: High

Parking: Attached lot

Wheelchair access: No barriers