I’m a lover of all things soup, so when I heard Little Rock was getting its first dedicated ramen shop, I was eager to try it out. Aji Ramen Bar, located at 301 N Shackleford, is exactly what its name suggests … a ramen bar. It’s a small, hip setting with only a few tables and a long bar that sits you right in front of the open kitchen. My first visit took place last Friday morning at 11:30. Given that Aji has only been open two weeks, it didn’t surprise me that the place was near capacity. As the Heart Hospital can attest, folks in Little Rock love their ramen. Here’s how things went.
Aji’s menu isn’t huge, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Folks can choose from a selection of pork and chicken-based ramen bowls, both broth and non-broth, along with rice bowls and a variety of appetizers like steam buns, dumplings, pork belly, and spring rolls. There’s a nice selection of beer and even some warm sake. I opted for orders of Cha-Siu Ramen (T1), gyoza, and spring rolls, which was way too much food for one person, but I wanted to try out a few things for this review. The ramen, with its thin, perfectly cooked noodles, creamy broth, pork belly, soft boiled egg, green onion, corn, and strands of chili, was a mild hit. The noodles and those slices of delightfully fatty pieces of pork absolutely shined, and while I enjoyed how the broth wasn’t so rich and heavy, it did lack a little bit of intense flavor. The corn, whether it was canned or frozen, was a disappointment, but it certainly didn’t detract much from the overall dish. A fresh take on the corn would be a welcome sight. The gyoza, an order of fried pork and veggie dumplings (6), hit the spot, as did the fried spring rolls, although the accompanying bland cream sauce did nothing for me.
I thought the prices were very reasonable. The bowl of ramen cost $10.50 and was certainly big enough to create leftovers. The dumplings and spring rolls (2) ran $4.95 and $2.95, respectively.
The service was warm, friendly, and quite attentive. The servers and management seemed genuinely interested in making it a wonderful dining experience. In fact, service really stood out and is what will probably get me back to Aji sooner rather than later. For example, when my ramen was taking a little long to prepare, the cook made sure to come over and let me know it would be just a few more minutes. Also, my server was very considerate to wrap up my leftovers.
Listen, this wasn’t perfect ramen. I’ve had better in major cities, but there’s no denying this was a legit, well-made version. From the looks of it, Aji is already wildly popular and my first visit led me to believe the restaurant will experience continued, long-term success in the future. It’s opening signifies a major and long overdue upgrade to Little Rock’s food scene.
Aji Ramen Bar
301 N Shackleford Rd Suite F3
Hours: Monday-Thursday 11am-9pm; Friday & Saturday 11am-9:30pm; Closed Sunday