Now with 2 locations, JA Ramen’s menu is traveling into new territories
When news broke that a ramen joint was opening in the middle of “Restaurant Row” on Campbell Avenue, local residents cheered and it’s possible neighboring restaurants panicked. Late 2019 was Tucson’s ramen golden age — the poke fad was losing steam and the birria craze was still in its infancy. Back then it was all about ramen. I mean, it still is, but it was more then.
In October 2019, Campbell Avenue was a virtual ramen desert, so there was very little competition. One or two options maybe, so this new venture could have a lively chance.
In fact, it did so entirely and coincidentally YES ramen moved to a place where a poke concept used to be.
The restaurant was an almost immediate hit, not just with the surrounding community, but with anyone who wanted delicious and imaginative bowls of hearty pasta goodness. However, it’s all about the broth. If you’re serving ramen professionally, you better bring that deep, complex broth with you.
Well we all know what happened to most restaurants in 2020 and JA Ramen wasn’t immune to the closures and subsequent concern that they would reopen their doors. As their neighbors slowly reopened and started serving food again, JA Ramen followed suit and a general sigh of relief was heard across our great ramen loving city.
YES ramen owner Helena Le When she learned that a burger and milkshake place on Congress Street was closing, she and her brother and business partner took immediate action.
In October 2022, almost three years to the day, JA Ramen in Midtown turned around Open minded Lights on, the attendant from downtown did the same.
Originally from Vietnam but based in Tucson for almost a decade, Le has always worked in the restaurant industry with little idea of actually owning a restaurant. It just wasn’t for her. Long hours, financial ambivalence, staffing issues, competition, procurement costs, and did I mention long hours? All of this just seemed too much for the calm but rather tough Le.
Until she made her brother a bowl of curried ramen, whereupon he looked at her and said, “Yeah, you need to open a ramen restaurant.”
As a JA ramen fan, I see that not only is it super delicious, but it’s only a few blocks from home. I’m so glad her brother said those words and lit that fire.
Le knew she was OK with getting into the ramen business as it had always been one of her favorite dishes and at the same time was a very popular dish. This is a blessing for the lunchtime visitors in the city centre. Even if you’re not in a hurry, JA Ramen has always excelled in its speed of service.
Well, this is simply not a celebration of a local business owned and operated by a hardworking woman who provides bowls of sumptuous and hearty ramen, curries and salads for the good of Tucson. Oh no.
A rumor is circulating in the local food underworld that Le and her downtown eatery are working on something even more popular than a bowl of sensationally steaming ramen.
If you follow certain Tucson food feeds on social media, one question comes up more often than it should: The best wings in Tucson? If you scrolled down just a bit you would find a collection of answers.
Le was watching this obsession closely, so she hatched a plan that wasn’t too difficult to crack. She’s putting wings on the menu for the downtown location. Both of which are smart, because if you go to clubs and drink, you need these wings.
We were more than lucky to have tested three wing combos that Le is working on.
The first to come to the table was Korean inspired. They’re of the cheeky sort mentioned earlier. Sweet, tangy, and enhanced with scallions, it was reminiscent of gochujang with hints of Japanese and Vietnamese, but entirely in the independent corner of taste that Le is known for.
Not only were the wings huge, but they were cooked to perfection, giving the outside a really nice crispiness while the inside remained delightfully tender.
Another bowl of wings surrounded by jalapeño and onions quickly followed. This always suggests to me that I’m in the process of feasting on something so Vulcan that I might hallucinate a little – if not a lot.
Turns out, those wings were seasoned just enough to give an idea of the razor-sharp execution that goes into their take on the beloved finger-spun kibble. It was so nice to eat a wing with such a great texture. I knew right away that people on social media would say “YES Ramen” when asked about the best Wing travel destinations. The jalapeños and onions were just for looks I suppose, although I ate those too.
The third and final wing rate that came our way was actually a mistake.
These wings were drizzled with a light caramel sauce and then sprinkled with parmesan cheese. Le didn’t deny what went wrong, apparently the Parm was the culprit, but somehow those two elements fused together in the weirdest and best possible way. She was actually embarrassed that it got to us.
The thing is, we couldn’t put it down.
Our brows furrowed and we sat in silence as we ate, pondering how this alliance of wings came to be at peace with themselves. Wait, did Le just invent a dessert wing? It was then and there that we suggested she keep this one on the menu. You can get a messy hot wing just about anywhere, but a sweet and salty Italian dessert wing? no Not that I can think of. At least not yet.
JA Ramen wings are not officially on the menu yet, but they are available.
This is another food trend that Le knows well, secret menus.
So if you walk into the downtown store and approach the counter, maybe blink a little before ordering one of their wings. If the wings for Congress Square go well, Le plans to pitch them up and jam at Campbell Avenue. Although this is currently all secret (sort of).
Oh, and last but not least, JA Ramen’s downtown location has a full bar.
JA Ramen is located at 2643 N. Campbell Ave. and 54 W. Congress St. For more information visit thejaramen.com and follow JA Ramen on Instagram.