Food Review: Aji Ramen Bar in Little Rock

I finally got to try Aji Ramen Bar for a small birthday dinner. We all really liked it! Here’s the breakdown:

ENVIRONMENT

Located in the Shackleford shopping area, between Star of India and Jason’s Deli, this is an easy spot to hit up in Little Rock.

The inside is small, with mostly tables for 2-4 and a bar. We were lucky to find one table to fit all 6 of us.

MENU

https://www.facebook.com/Aji-Ramen-Bar-709585816084060/menu/

The menu can be found on their Facebook page, in the link above. It not only has seven types of ramen to choose from (and an all-vegetarian one not listed on the menu with veggie broth, broccoli, and fried tofu!),  it also has two rice bowls. Plus, there are many unique appetizers to check out, if ramen is not your thing.

FOOD

Takoyaki, $5.95
Description: 5 fried octopus balls, served with green onions and creamy sauce.

Unsure of what to expect, we first tried these fried octopus balls. While I’m not a fan of octopus, the picture on the menu looked too good to pass up.
These bite-size balls are covered with, what I can only imagine are thinly sliced fish, flakes that are still moving…and they don’t stop! They smelled pretty fishy. However, the toppings, sauces, and the balls were a delicious combination. Nothing tasted fishy about this dish.

The texture inside was soft, almost like mochi, with a crunchy exterior and a small piece of octopus in the middle. These were very unique and tasty. I suggest you give them a try.

Vegetable Croquette, $4.95
Description: Fried mashed potatoes mixed with vegetables.

These pretty large croquettes were very good! Very crunchy on the outside, and extremely creamy with mashed potatoes mixed with a few veggies in the middle. They come with what I assume is a “yum yum sauce” and some shredded lettuce. Everyone loved these.

*My friend also tried the steam bun with pork belly and loved them! She said the pork belly was melt-in-your-mouth. I will definitely try these next time.

T1 Cha-Siu Ramen, $10.95
Description: Rich, creamy pork broth with pork belly, soft boiled egg, green onion, black mushroom, corn, seaweed, and chili hair.

This ramen was delicious! The broth was more flavorful than any other ramen broth I’ve tried around central Arkansas (I’ve tried about 3 others). The noodles had a perfect chew. The pork was tender. The eggs weren’t overcooked, like they sometimes are. The chili hair was a nice addition to give just a tiny bit of heat and flavor. The rest of the toppings were pretty typical, and created a great bowl of ramen! I will definitely get this again!

*They also give you some red chili paste if you want to add heat to your ramen. I added the smallest amount, maybe a teaspoon, and it brought the heat! It was perfect for me, but be careful with this stuff. A little goes a long way!

OVERALL/SERVICE

The space is small, and was packed when we arrived for a Tuesday dinner at 6:30, but it had cleared out around 7:30-8:00.
The service was extremely helpful. The waiter asked if we had any questions, he explained everything we inquired about in detail. Our waters were never empty. And they were FAST! We got our appetizers in lightening speed and right after, our ramen arrived. Great for a quick lunch!
If you haven’t given this place a try, you’re missing out.

Food Review: The Social Cafe and Caterer in Branson

***This blog post has two parts now. One from my first visit in January, 2018. The second from about a year after that, located towards the bottom.

1st Post

Finding somewhere good and not typical for Branson (Southern food, diners, BBQ is pretty much what you’re given) is always my goal while here. There have been a couple great places that fit the bill here- an amazing Indian joint (India Clay Oven), a couple good sushi places, and a great Thai place (Thai Thai), but it is usually very hard to find good food here. By good, I mean not deep fried or slathered in gravy or ice cream. No offense to those foods, but it is hard to eat like that anymore…the 30s don’t play.

After reading a couple Yelp reviews about this new cafe and saw they had ramen (it happened to be 14 degrees this day), I knew where we were going to lunch! And, spoiler alert: I found the best meal yet in Branson.

ENVIRONMENT

This cafe is….weird. It is in a building shared with a ministry or two, feels like a church but there was nothing about the actual cafe that suggested it was a part of the ministry? I am assuming they are renting the space from them because of low cost, but I have no idea.

So, the space is open, small, and has ministry ad videos playing…which are very different from the super nice, modern furniture and place settings the cafe has set up. If the cafe was in its own space, I’d imagine it being very nice and romantic. They do try hard to make you feel like you’re having a nice meal- nice silverware and napkins and glasses and little tea lights on each table.

You order and pay at the counter shown above, with the menu on the wall. And then you are served at your table.  There are a few baked goods in a display glass on this counter as well if you’re looking for a small snack.

MENU

I loved seeing a small, focused menu that has some typical dishes (burger) and quite a few non-typical items (Thai chicken wrap, pork belly ramen, roasted red pepper potato salad, etc.) This made deciding what to get pretty simple!

FOOD

Ramen with Pork Belly, Carrots, an Egg, and Green Onion: $9.95

This was not only really good ramen, this ties (perhaps even beats) the best bowl of ramen I have ever had. First off, the broth was SO flavorful. That’s always what is hard to find, so many ramen bowls around here are lacking flavor in the most important part, the broth.
But then it got better. The seared pork belly was plentiful and perfect! It was a little crispy on the outside but still melted in your mouth.
I have never had seared (or roasted?) carrots in ramen before, but they were delicious, adding a nice texture and sweetness.
The egg was cooked perfectly, still runny.
The green onions added a nice crunch and freshness.
The noodles….the noodles were perfect. I know they had to be made in-house. They were different than any other noodles I’d had. Thick, but not too thick, and really dense for a nice chew. Also, they were cooked perfectly al-dente.
I had NO complaints about this dish. I believe its the best dish in Branson. And I’ve been investing this for years.

Yellow Curry with Chicken and Vegetables, Served with White Rice: $9.95

The other dish we tried sounded great because we love curries- Indian curries, Thai curries, etc. This type of curry definitely was more authentic than what I am used to.  It was spicy, not very creamy. The chicken and veggies in it were great and everything was cooked just fine. The flavor just was a little much for me. Plus, I was comparing it to the ramen, which just isn’t fair.

OVERALL

There were only two people working here, the owners. The man was in the back cooking, the woman was our server and was also back in the kitchen cook as well. I love a place with hands-on owners, it shows they really care.
Plus, she was more than welcoming and nice. We were made to feel right at home.
All I can say about the food is I’ll be back every year for this ramen bowl. I’ll try some other things, but always alongside the ramen bowl. This is a must-try.

 

2nd Post

I was excited to eat here again after my last trip to Branson. So, we hit The Social Cafe for lunch as soon as we could. (They only serve breakfast and lunch)

The atmosphere was the same. Even though they are in a weird building (a church), they make the dining experience as nice as possible. Plus, the service is super friendly.

The menu has changed a bit. Now with a couple burger options, a sandwich option, (probably due to Branson’s typical theme of popular food) and then what you will see we got below.

FOOD

Side of Tomato Basil Soup, $3

I am so picky about my tomato soups/ bisques, and I loved this! It tastes so similar to my own recipe, which obviously is delicious. 😉  It has the texture of real homemade soup, full of very tiny pieces of real vegetables. The flavor is perfect, a little tangy from the tomato, but also sweet from the cream and basil. I loved it.

Ramen, $11
Description: Tonkotsu Ramen with marinated pork tenderloin, mushrooms, caramelized carrots, jalapeños, ginger, and green onion.

You know I had to get this ramen again after last year’s visit! Surprisingly, they have changed it a bit. For example, now there’s pork tenderloin instead of pork belly. There’s jalapeños, mushrooms, and ginger added, and there’s no egg.
Here’s what I thought about these changes:
Pork tenderloin: I thought I would miss the pork belly, but this tenderloin was just as “melt-in-your-mouth” and flavorful as the belly, as well as I can remember.
Jalapeños: Added nice heat, though I removed them so I wouldn’t accidentally eat one and regret it.
Mushroom: I love mushroom is ramen, they just fit and are a great texture in broth.
Ginger: This was my favorite addition. I love fresh ginger and this was sliced thin so you could enjoy a small amount in every few bites. Great addition!
Egg: I miss the egg.
Broth: I honestly don’t remember if this broth is any different. However, it is bold, flavorful, and delicious. So many ramen places I have tried have bland broths where you need to add your own flavor. Not this one, it was delicious!
Overall, this is still easily one of the best ramen bowls I’ve ever had and still the best dish in Branson, IMHO.

 

Pasta, $10
Description: Bucatini pasta with butternut squash and red bell pappers in a garlic cream sauce topped with grilled chicken and parsnip crisps.

Drew got this dish and it was stunning to look at! The fried parsnips not only looked great, but they added a crunch to every bite which is unique in pasta dishes. I love this touch!
The chicken was perfectly cooked. The bucatini pasta is fun, because it has a whole in the middle, so the sauce can get inside. The red bell peppers gave good flavor and color as well.
The only issue with this pasta was we couldn’t taste any garlic in the cream sauce. Granted, I’m a garlic fiend and use so much in everything I cook, so perhaps I’m immune to it? After asking for a little salt and pepper, the flavors stood out more and the dish was very enjoyable.

 

Double Chocolate Brownie- FREE! (with Facebook Check-In)

When we were ordering, our waitress let us know if we check in there on Facebook, we could have one of their very large double chocolate brownies for free. So, of course I did!
After our meal, she heated the brownie up and brought it out. It was obviously delicious! What a nice treat to offer your customers for helping share a little on social media! (Very worth it)

OVERALL

I can’t say enough how much I love the idea of this place, how they are bringing delicious, unique-for-Branson food to the area, and how genuinely nice they are. The chef/owner came out and asked me what I thought of the new recipe for the Ramen, which just shows they really care about taking time for their customers, but also that they want to know what we think!
While this may not be a fast stop in Branson (good food can take more than 5 minutes to dish out), I hope you get a chance to try this place out. It’ll be worth it.