A First Look at Tiger Den: Fresh Noodles, a Fine Robata Grill and Long Lines at the Front Door
Photo by Mai Pham Tiger Den's spicy miso ramen boasts made-from-scratch broth and fresh, house-made noodles.
Houston has been waiting for a place like Tiger Den. A strip-mall restaurant in the popular Dun Huang Plaza at 9989 Bellaire Boulevard near the intersection of Beltway 8, the new ramen shop and izakaya debuted recently, and diners have had to endure waits of 30 minutes or more for tables.
I'd been wanting to try it since I heard about the preview dinners they offered to Carl Rosa's Ramen in Common group, but I couldn't find a phone number that worked (the number listed on Yelp was not accurate), and the information available online was limited.
So, this past Friday night I arrived about 15 minutes after 5 p.m., hoping to score a hot bowl of noodle soup. The two people who greeted me at the door already looked a little frazzled, despite the early hour, but they were friendly, and because I was there solo, they immediately offered me a seat at the bar, leading me beyond the dark-wood partition at the door and into the restaurant.
Photo by Mai Pham Happy diners slurp up their noodles.
The scene during my visit was lively and buzzing with energy, and the interior was exactly how I would picture a ramen shop if I were to build one. The entire restaurant was filled with a predominantly Asian crowd, with people packed in at long community tables down the center of the room and at all the booths along the walls.
Tastefully appointed, with two contemporary chandeliers hanging in the middle of the dining room, the wooden booths and flooring are framed by large-format silk-screen murals on both sides of the restaurant; they remind me a lot of the Philippe Starck designs for the upscale Katsuya restaurant chain.
Photo by Mai Pham A mural of pop-culture scenes from Japan hangs on one of Tiger Den's walls.
I was seated at a small counter directly in front of a window overlooking the robata grill and kitchen, a perfect spot from which to admire all the action. The kitchen staff, including the older man working the robata grill, all wore bandannas, and though the scene was a bit frenetic, I could see a sort of steady rhythm to their movements.
"We've been overwhelmed," confessed Linh Nguyen, who owns Tiger Den and Aka Sushi with partners Martina Yang and Mike Tran. "It was supposed to be a soft opening, but the word of mouth has been so strong." When I told Nguyen that the phone number on the restaurant's Yelp page was incorrect, he told me that it wasn't something they'd set up. "People have been posting pictures of ramen that isn't even ours, and we never even set up that page," he said, rather incredulous about it all, telling me to go to Tiger Den's Instagram account, @TigerDen9, for authentic photos.