Wednesday, March 23, 2016


Umai is a ramen food cart located in the alleyway at SE 33rd and Hawthorne in Portland, Oregon.

I came on a Sunday, and after doing a bit of research, saw they were only open from noon to 3 PM. Figured also that since this was shielded from the main road tucked back in the alley, I'd be able to sneak in a lunch without much of a wait.

I could not have been more wrong.

I got there at about 12:15 and there were already loads of people either lining up for Umai or happily eating their ramen. With only two benches available for three food carts (the others being Holy Mole and Bundy's Bagels), I knew I had to nab a seat as soon as I finished ordering. And for the record, probably more than 90% of the customers were there for Umai.

Naturally, there's a good reason for the lines: Umai was voted one of Portland's Top 10 New Food Carts in 2014 by The Oregonian. Turns out that was a star-studded list. Umai joined others that are still thriving today as carts (i.e. Mama Chow's Kitchen, PDX Sliders, Thick, Ash Woodfired Pizza) or have gone brick-and-mortar (Burrasca).

Another nice, simple menu. Two or three starters, two sandwiches, and two types of ramen (choose one of three house-made broths).

I ordered the Umai Miso Ramen ($10): hand-crafted noodles with pickled shiitake mushrooms, steamed greens, pork shoulder, marinated soft-boiled egg, and scallions. A hearty and delicious bowl of ramen. Rich broth, with noodles right around al dente. The pork shoulder was a huge winner, and a perfect egg.

I paired this with a chicken karaage starter ($4). A light batter, more tempura-fried than your usual fried chicken, so it was a lighter-but-still-crispy experience. The yuzu kosho aioli on top is unlike any aioli I've seen anywhere else. Citrus, ginger, very vibrant, and actually refreshing. More scallions cut on the bias. It's clear that Umai goes all-out on the Japanese fusion experience.

There's also shichimi-togarashi (a Japanese condiment containing chile pepper flakes) on the counter if you need a bit more spice for your dishes.

Everything here is made to order, and I assure you it's worth the wait. 8.75/10

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