WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — The neighborhood can now add noodles, pork buns and Japanese-style fried chicken to its list of local dishes.
Tampopo Ramen, what many believe to be Washington Heights' first ramen restaurant, opened on Tuesday at 1 Bennett Ave., near 181st Street.
For longtime Washington Heights residents and owners Josh Frank and his wife, Nanae Mameuda-Frank, the opening was a over a year in the making.
"We built the restaurant they were craving," Frank said with a laugh.
Items on the menu include both miso and shio ramen, as well as pork buns and Karaage friend chicken, which uses a lighter batter and was a hot seller at pop-up food markets the couple cooked for.
But Frank, a professional classical trumpet player, and his wife aren't your typical restaurateurs.
The couple started its run in the culinary world with the launch of Onigiri by Tampopo and Tampopo Catering at Broadway Bites food fest in 2014. They have no formal training, Frank said, but share a strong passion for Japanese food and culture, which for Mameuda-Frank comes from growing up in Japan. Frank also toured the country for 10 years prior to landing in Washington Heights.
“That’s how I became obsessed with the food,” Frank said of his time abroad, “and I wanted to bring some of that experience.”
The couple, who has lived in Washington Heights for more than nine years, said the restaurant found its home in their backyard by accident.
“We were looking all over the city,” Frank said, “and then our broker told us about this place in Washington Heights.”
After searching for spots in other neighborhoods, where they encountered high rent prices and a lack of familiarity with those communities, Washington Heights felt like the logical place, Frank said.
But that logic didn't trump the other issues they had with the space, including its small size and location on a side street away from heavier foot traffic. The restaurant sits around the corner from the more bustling 181st Street, which houses well-known spots like Bangkok Heights, Sushi Yu and Starbucks.
Still, Frank said he appreciates the "off the side street" quality his restaurant brings to the neighborhood.
“We just really want to transport people to Japan,” he said, “if just for the hour that [they're] there.”
The restaurant is open daily from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., as well from noon to 3 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.