Aug 5, 2020

Tochi rocks ramen in West Bend, Wis.

Top-quality ramen at Tochi in West Bend, Wis.

The unassuming community of West Bend, Wis., was probably one of the last places I ever expected to find a gourmet level ramen restaurant.  But ramen is in and trendy everywhere.  And thanks to a little scouting before I started my work assignment in West Bend, it took me very little time before I tried Tochi

My search for Tochi took me, perhaps fittingly, to a seemingly regentrified section of West Bend just north of downtown along the Milwaukee River.  There, a very new and hip-looking apartment/condo complex with a variety of shops and services on the ground floor dominated the landscape. 

And right at the very end of the parking lot, practically adjacent to a very cool YMCA, was where I found Tochi.  It seemed like it would have been just as fitting if it were in a residential section of a small city in Japan.

Tochi is touted as a punk rock ramen eatery, and once you’re in the place it’s easy to see why.  The atmosphere of Tochi is a reflection of its chef/owner, and the aesthetics involved with his vision are, frankly, very cool.  Take the artwork behind the restaurant’s small bar and cashier’s area, for instance. 

The dining area is simple, slightly stark but elegant.  The sun shining through the large windows on the entrance side brighten up not just the dining room but the whole vibe of the place.  Tochi is a rather small restaurant in terms of space, but it feels very much alive when you’re there. 

The kitchen is easily visible through an open window on the back wall.  If you’re seated at the bar, you’ll see and smell plenty of dishes come past you as the servers pick up their orders.  Trust me, this will only make the ordering process more difficult.   

On my first visit to Tochi, I embraced that temptation and chose the last seat at the bar for both drinking and dining purposes.  Between the food service and the drinks being poured, it seemed to be the center of the action.  In fact, my instincts were rewarded almost immediately when, by happenstance, the bartender from the Brazen Head Pub who I had met earlier in the week came in with a group of friends and sat next to me at the bar.  He said I was continuing to make all the right decisions about where to go in West Bend. 

And, even better, Tochi was running a $2 special on Lucky Buddha beers that evening.  Between the price and the bottle, I simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to prime my palate before dinner.  As far as pilsners go, I felt like I hit a home run.  This lager from China is crisp, clean and as refreshing as you could ever ask for – a perfect match with any ramen of any flavor.       

Speaking of which, the menu was by no means overwhelming with choices, but the selection was varied, and the descriptions of each entrée were detailed and helpful.  I eventually opted for the shrimp kimchi shio ramen with an order of tamago egg added, since it sounded so good with the other shrimp ramen on the menu.  Tamago is essentially a soft-boiled egg dropped in the ramen where it spends a few more seconds cooking before being served.  I also remembered it being an essential flavor boost from my previous gourmet ramen experience at Two Ten Jack in Nashville.  

Here, once again, is the shrimp kimchi shio ramen, before the first slurp.  As advertised, the broth was an excellent combination of kimchi and shrimp flavors.  The spice level was appropriately hot and not overpowering.  And there were plenty of flavorful noodles underneath to literally fish out with the aid of chopsticks.   I walked away very happy and impressed. 

In an area where meat and dairy are practically mandatory with every meal, Tochi was a real find.  The food was excellent (as were the prices) and the atmosphere was fun.  Tochi is definitely on my “must return to” list of best places to eat in lower Wisconsin. 

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