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Oodles of noodles are flowing out of Zhen Ramen and Grill’s kitchen, as mobs of hungry students and East Lansing residents sample the newest Asian fusion restaurant.
Owner Matt Chen, a third-generation chef and restaurateur, traveled throughout the United States and Canada, sampling ramen and Asian fusion cuisine, before opening his new ramen haunt.
“After sushi, ramen became very popular in America within the last few years,” Chen said. “The East Lansing area doesn’t have a really good ramen noodle place. I think that doing this small range space close to campus is good because people here like to try new cuisines.”
The secret to great ramen is the broth, he said. Zhen’s is made using large pork bones, which infuse a boiling pot of water with flavor for over 12 hours.
“The whole big pot will be boiling and it will eventually get down to half, which we use as the soup base with miso mixed in,” Chen said.
The grill part of the restaurant is active from 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. tailored to more traditional Asian tastes, Chen added.
“There are a lot of Asian international children here, and we wanted to provide an extra taste of home with our food.”
The grill portion of the menu sells seasoned skewers of different types of tofu, lamb, sausage, meatballs, chicken, shrimp and pork belly. All skewers are under $5. Zhen also offers gyoza, or pan-fried dumplings, and rice bowls.
The space was a former barbecue restaurant, which Chen spent several months redesigning it to be more modern, traditional and sleek. Inside are tea sets on shelves, spiral light fixtures, black metal chairs and tables, a mural and a granite bar.
The biggest challenge was fitting in all the equipment to simultaneously run a grill and ramen establishment, Chen said.
“This is not the old-style Asian restaurant where people just want a booth or table. This is a new and more social restaurant.”
The signature dish of the establishment is the Zhen miso ramen, Chen said. The creation contains slices of pork chashu, corn, mushrooms, julienned chili peppers and a soft boiled egg cradled by a bed of noodles in miso pork broth. Most ramen dishes are around $10.
Zhen’s Ramen and Grill created five jobs, according to Chen.
“I want to be unique, have high-quality food and have good service. I want to be doing something special, so people will remember Zhen Ramen all the time.”
Chen also owns Koala Bakery and Cafe in East Lansing on Grand River Avenue — teas from that location will be available shortly at Zhen’s.
Zhen Ramen and Grill
11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily
4790 Hagadorn Road, East Lansing