The first time I ever tried ramen — real ramen, not the square blocks of dried noodles that got everybody through college — was at Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York City in 2010, while my husband and I were on our honeymoon. I’d read about the place, opened by superstar chef David Chang in 2004. Seeing as I’ve never been to Japan and, as far as I knew at the time, Maine was lacking in Japanese ramen, it was pretty much imperative that my husband and I go. We both got the house ramen, a gigantic bowl of broth and house-made noodles, topped with pork belly and shoulder, egg, scallions, nori and other delights. We ate as much as we could, and afterwards, we floated down the street to our next destination, high on a cloud of pork-infused happiness.
For a first-time experience, Momofuku sets the bar pretty high. But it left me longing for more ramen, and I didn’t know where in Maine to get it — or whether you even could. I tried making it myself, but … well, let’s forget that ever happened. So when I heard about Pai Men Miyake in Portland, the noodle bar opened by chef Masa Miyake in 2010, we made a beeline for the place. There, my noodle dreams were fulfilled, with six different types of ramen bowls on the menu — from the house specialty, Pai Tan, a pork-and-chicken broth topped with pork belly and a soy-marinated egg, to the vegetarian Shojin, a konbu and mushroom stock covered in vegetables.
There are treats at Pai Men Miyake besides just ramen, though — the pork buns (fluffy buns filled with pork belly, mayo and relish) are a decadent and delicious appetizer. The yakitori grill offers up chicken and other meats from Masa Miyake’s Freeport farm, grilled on skewers. The sushi — a smaller selection from Miyake’s other sushi-centric restaurant, Miyake — is made from Maine seafood and is a welcome departure from the sushi you might find elsewhere. There’s also a great beer and cocktail selection and a happy hour from 4 to 5:30 p.m. every day that’s hard to beat anywhere else in Portland.
The relaxed atmosphere and affordable, top-notch food found at Pai Men Miyake has made it my go-to dinner spot in Portland. Ramen is one of the world’s great comfort foods, and fortunately, there’s a place to find it here in Maine.
Pai Men Miyake is located at 188 State St. in Portland; it is open noon-midnight Monday through Saturday, and noon-10 p.m. Sundays.