Feb 15, 2023 - Food and Drink

Menya Daruma specializes in Japanese comfort food and will open a hidden omakase-style dining room soon


Photo: McKenzie Rankin/Axios

Japanese noodle counter Menya Daruma opened at the beginning of the year in Elizabeth, behind The Crunkleton. Soon, it’ll open a speakeasy-style dining room in the back called Kappo En, specializing in omakase cuisine, where the customer leave the meal up to the chef.

Manya Daruma, led by chef Vince Tien, specializes in handmade noodle dishes, like ramen and soba.

Why it matters: Charlotte’s appetite for international cuisine is growing. Several restaurants that opened last year — including PARA, Yunta and Saku — all draw inspiration from Japanese cuisine.

“I feel like ramen is the next wave of Japanese food that’s becoming popular in the U.S.,” owner Ted Nakato said. He recalls a time in the late 80s and early 90s when sushi wasn’t mainstream.

  • “When we first opened Nakato here in ’76, we didn’t have sushi because no one ate it,” he said.

Context: Ted Nakato is a second-generation Charlotte restaurateur. He practically grew up in his family’s restaurant Nakato, which was originally located across from where Bojangles Coliseum is on Independence Boulevard. In 1990, the family moved the restaurant to its current location on Pineville-Matthews Road. 

“People today have more knowledge about ethnic foods and flavors,” he said, explaining that the internet has opened people up to cultures and food they might otherwise not be familiar with.

Menya means “noodle shop” in Japanese and Daruma is a popular cultural symbol in Japan – a little red doll. Photo: McKenzie Rankin/Axios

What to expect: Menya Daruma has counter-style seating with an open kitchen, similar to ramen shops found in Japan, plus a walk-up window where guests can peek into the room where the noodles are made.

  • All noodles and broths are made in-house.
  • The soy sauces and salts are imported from Japan.
  • They also serve a variety of Asian entrees and snacks like bao buns, wontons and sandos.
  • For those with an appetite for something else, there’s also a chicken sandwich on the menu.

“In Japan, ramen is comfort food,” Nakato says. “Noodles are served fast and hot. That’s the model and style we want to bring to Charlotte,” he added.

The pork bao bun ($4.50). Photo: McKenzie Rankin/Axios
The tonkotsu black ramen ($15). Photo: McKenzie Rankin

What’s next: Soon, you’ll be able to walk through a speakeasy-style door at the back of the restaurant that’ll lead you to a separate restaurant called Kappo En. Nakato says he hopes to open it around Labor Day.

  • “Kappo style dining in Japan features counter seating where the chef prepares each course directly in front of the guest and incorporates a variety of cooking techniques,” Nakato said.
  • Kappo En will have 10 counter seats with two seatings per night.
  • The seasonal menu will start with zensai dishes (small appetizers), then move to an 10-12 course Edomae sushi course, followed by cooked and grilled items, and finished with dessert.
  • The menu will feature seafood and Wagyu Beef sourced from Japan, as well as locally sourced seasonal produce.
  • This restaurant will be led by chefs Yoshi Ono, Yasu Tabita, and Michael Le.

Details: Menya Daruma is located at 1941 E. 7th St.

  • It’s open Wednesday-Friday 11:30am-9pm. Saturday and Sunday 11:30am-3pm and open again for dinner 4-9pm. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

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