1600 W. Lane Ave.
The line is long and stomachs are rumbling. It may vary in length, but the queue never lets up from the minute Fukuryu Ramen opens to post-dinner winding down time. People are popping their heads up, trying to take stock of the situation, eyeballing how fast those already seated are eating, trying to match dishes being whisked out of the open kitchen to those described on the overhead menu. Meaning “lucky dragon,” Fukuryu has been a success since day one. Dipping in and out of the din, the smile never leaving his face is Jeff Tsao. Maneuvering like a matador amongst the close-quarter two-and-four tops, picking up plates, setting down bowls, stopping to answer questions, leaning down to hear over the chatter of a busy restaurant. And the smile is a true one – not the locked in, lips-stuck-to-the-teeth one that so many in the service industry have mastered, a grotesque parody of a welcome grin. The ramen comes out in big bowls, the broth steaming and the noodles canoodling about below a roof of, depending on the bowl, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, corn, a sheet of seaweed, and a soft-boiled egg floater. Proteins from pork belly to panko-crusted chicken are options, as is a vegetarian one. Condiments such as sesame seeds and chili paste sit on the tables for customers to customize their bowls before the slurping commences. Nestled into the relatively new row of shops and restaurants across from Lane Avenue Shops, Fukuryu is exceptionally located to take advantage of OSU students, locals, and those from downtown. On any given night, the crowd reflects this – families, study buddies, and dates bump elbows and slurp their way through to the last brothy drop. –K. Leddy
Inside Little Rock, 944 N. Fourth St.
Chef Marcus Meacham’s new micro-concept S.T.E.A.M. is so named for the legendary steamed mantou which is the base for each of the six sandwiches on the carefully curated menu. These soft but dense buns are cousins to that other now ubiquitous Chinese steamed bread, bao. Mantou roughly translates to “barbarian’s head” in reference to their flat bottom and round top. The menu is made up of six hefty sandwiches, all overflowing from the dense white fold of the mantou bun. There is the fresh Veggie bun, an umami bomb of herbaceous mushrooms and fresh cucumber, roasted red pepper, carrot, red onion and sun dried tomato vinaigrette. Next is a very faithful Cubano featuring a succulent pork tenderloin, honey ham, and Swiss. The Cubano stands out with its use of relish over traditional dill slices as well as a crusty, charred bun courtesy of a quick pass through the plancha. There is a pepperoni roll that Chef claims is based on those microwavable pizza sandwiches beloved by potheads everywhere, “but, ya’ know, a good version,” Meachum is quick to add. There is also a more traditional pork belly bun with the compliment of hot mustard kimchi and cucumbers. You can also find the curtly named Thigh, a deconstructed play on fried chicken featuring jalapeños and hot sauce. And finally comes the Bulgogi beef burger, with molasses ketchup and American cheese, loosely based on Chef Marcus’s Tastemade “drop” video, which, on last check had over 10 million views. Each sandwich is served in a pagoda Chinese take-out container filled to the brim with house-seasoned kettle chips and a scratch-made pickle spear that finds a nice balance between briny and sweet. —W. Johnston
1312 Grandview Ave.
Plenty has changed about the capital city since Brian Swanson was part of a successful three-headed Park Street empire alongside Chris Corso and Mike Gallichio. One thing that hasn’t: if you’re promoting a place with a spacious patio, you can pretty much print your own money. Since cashing in on his share of the Park Street Complex, Swanson has been busy building his own portfolio of updated local hot spots—first with the uber-popular Short North Bodega, and then snapping up Grandview Café, and the former garage behind it that had been Shoku. Grandview Café will open later this summer, but Swanson’s vision for the old Shoku spot was a California-inspired bar. This era of revamping and rebuilding starts phase one with Balboa, akin to the Cantina of old—though spared some of the kitsch, with a more straightforward approach. The interior is inventive and clean—they even have a couple of swings at the bar—but the centerpiece of Balboa is a patio that seats 70 and provides excellent people watching regardless of which side of the gate you’re on. The menu is a safe take on a Mexican approach to food. The most adventurous item would be the choice of ceviche (shrimp or tuna), but despite the fact that you can’t find any beef tongue or house-fried pork rinds, the menu does offer some nice culinary touches like tomatillo crema, and Modelo-braised short ribs. Of course, one look around and you realize the order of business here is to drink, be merry, and eat—quite possibly in that order. House cocktails include three kinds of margaritas, infused tequilas, and a homemade shandy that puts pre-packaged stuff to shame. They have big, boozy slushies for those hot summer afternoons and sangrias by the pitcher. Mercifully, they go easy on the Mexican beer, opting to allocate six taps to California brewers like Green Flash, Anderson Valley, and Cismontane. Four handles are reserved for local beers, all of the “sessionable” variety, and two more handles get a global designation. Don’t worry—Corona, Dos Equis, Modelo, and Tecate are all available from the cooler. Time will tell if Swanson can his empire running smoothly (including the soon-to-open Hadley’s downtown), but so far he’s off to a good start. —S. Croyle