For many Emory students, a toasty chicken-flavored cup of noodles constitutes a typical budget-friendly meal. However, after six servings of cup noodles a week, the MSG starts to kick in and the flavor all but disappears. For those interested in a more flavorful and higher quality ramen, Tanaka Express, recently opened on Aug. 4 at Emory Point, offers a bowlful of fresh-and-savory harmony.
The restaurant, which replaces Chow Mei Mei, serves authentic modern Japanese cuisine, and although Tanaka Express is smaller than many of its neighboring restaurants, the quality and variety of the food compensate for its humble 14 tables.
Accompanied by a group of friends, I ordered 15 pieces of karaage, or Japanese fried chicken, as an appetizer for the table. I had tried karaage chicken at different restaurants, but Tanaka Express managed to succeed in frying up a crispy karaage dish with simplicity. The appetizer was not too salty, which often occurs at many ramen bars, while the homemade spicy mayonnaise, though not at all spicy, was incredibly
delicious alongside the chicken. Although the dish was simple, we devoured it in mere minutes.
Following the appetizer, I ordered the Tanaka Classic, a tonkotsu ramen dish. Tonkotsu, originating from Japan’s Fukuoka Prefecture, features ramen soaked in a rich pork bone broth featuring kikurage mushrooms and a swirl garlic oil. The steaming bowl was topped with a seasoned, runny boiled egg and sliced chashu, which is pork belly braised in soy sauce, sake and mirin. The broth boasted a zesty flavor and the bean sprouts, green onions and fried onions complemented the dish well. The thick ramen noodles, though inoffensive, were remarkably average and failed to make a lasting impression. The chashu, though delicate and melting in the mouth with a sweet and savory taste, was scant in quantity. Its quality failed to compensate for the two medium-sized pieces that were served.
My friend ordered the Tanaka Spicy as his entree. This dish contained virtually all the same ingredients as the Tanaka Classic, but with a spicier broth.
My friend noted that his dish offered the perfect amount of kick, while the variety of vegetables gave the bowl a wholesome and fresh taste. Although the blend of spice suited his appetite, he stated that the quality of the noodles was mediocre, and the quantity of meat insufficient.
A two-man crew efficiently operated the restaurant, ensuring we all received our meals within 12 minutes. The customer service was superb; when one of my friends accidentally left money at the counter, the staff kindly returned it.
Soft background music added to the restaurant’s relaxing ambiance. The interior, though largely unremarkable and lacking in decorative artwork, featured a suit of samurai armor at the entrance. Overall, the atmosphere of Tanaka Express allowed my friends and I to eat in peace, which enhanced our experience.
Students willing to take the short ten minute walk from Emory University to Tanaka Express will find it easily accessible and convenient to visit. For those interested in enjoying authentic ramen for around $13 a bowl, Tanaka Express, while not glamorous, offers beauty in its simplicity.