Could Baltimore be on the cusp of an actual noodle house scene, à la The Great Pizza Awakening (a moniker we just coined) of the past few years? If so (and we so hope it's so), Mt. Vernon will be the epicenter, with the opening of TenTen Ramen, Baltimore's first dedicated Japanese ramen shop.
While sushi can be readily found, other examples of Japanese cuisine, especially ramen, have always been elusive until the recent revolution, probably due to the lack of Japanese immigrants in the area. Nevertheless, on any given visit to TenTen (situated in the space where Joss Sushi and Kawasaki once were), odds are you'll overhear conversations in Japanese, which is a very good sign when you're eating food from the Land of the Rising Sun.
Those who only know ramen from their days as impoverished students are in for a revelation. The ramen here is the real deal—fresh, springy noodles, deeply flavored broths, and a wide array of toppings. Granted, all of those are requirements for a worthy ramen shop, but none is easy to pull off. TenTen does an excellent job.
The spicy tonkotsu ramen ($10.50) has become our go-to iteration due to its intense, hearty flavors and beautifully varying textures. It combines a rich, milky broth made from pork bones, spicy oil, and toppings like menma (marinated bamboo shoots), chashu (braised pork belly), crisp bean sprouts, hard-boiled egg, narutomaki (fish cake) slices, and scallions, and is, in fact, based on a Chinese dish.
Several rice dishes are on offer as well, most notably the katsu curry ($10.50), which is actually a combination of tonkatsu (breaded chicken cutlet) and karé (Japanese-style curry), wherein the karé acts as a sort of super-gravy. Smaller plates like guo tie (fried dumplings, $6.50), edamame ($3.50), and geso (fried squid, $7), which one diner aptly described as "squid French fries," round out the menu.
Service is friendly and knowledgeable. While you're waiting for your food, browse TenTen's selection of hard-to-find Japanese specialty items or jam to the upbeat J-pop that's barely audible over the sound of enthusiastic noodle consumption.