When Shintaro Yamada was growing up in Fukuoka, Japan, he would walk down to the Nagahama port, known for its fish market, and stroll past countless ramen stands, flags hanging above rows of regulars hunched over bowls of pork broth and noodles. The soup sold in those stalls is so distinct, it’s known as its own style of ramen: Nagahama ramen relies on a tonkotsu base and thin noodles, similar to Hakata ramen (which also has roots in Fukuoka).
“Fishermen, they have to eat really fast,” Yamada says. “I’ve been to those ramen shacks so many times. They’re almost like family.”
Years later, Yamada is now the one running a Nagahama ramen shop. Earlier this month, Yamada and chef Taka Terashita opened Wu-Rons in the former Noraneko space, specializing in Nagahama-style tonkotsu ramen.
Terashita was one of Yamada’s clients when he was a distributor of Japanese goods; Terashita spent 25 years in Manhattan kitchens, including a long tenure working for celebrated French-Japanese chef Tadashi Ono at restaurants like Matsuri. Yamada and Terashita opened restaurants together in New York and North Carolina before moving to Portland during the pandemic.
“I heard it was a big food city; it’s well-known in Japan,” Yamada says. “I love the outdoors — camping, fishing — and it feels similar to Fukuoka.” The love of the outdoors is apparent in the decor at Wu-Rons: A row of Coleman lamps sit above the order counter, and a sign that reads “Outdoor life” hangs on the wall near the entrance. It shares space, however, with the duo’s love of Tokyo Tribes, the manga that inspired the restaurant’s name: The Wu-Rons are one of the street gangs within the manga, which pulls heavily from Japanese hip hop and street culture. Hip hop plays on the speakers as Portlanders order noodles from the counter.
However, the ramen itself isn’t some sort of Portland-Japanese fusion; Terashita wanted to stay true to what’s sold in Yamada’s hometown. The tonkotsu broth boils for around eight to 10 hours before landing in a bowl with a pile of thin, firm noodles. A layer of sesame seeds mingles with floating scallions, swirling around thick sliced-and-seared slabs of chashu pork. But to Terashita, the key to nailing tonkotsu isn’t about the toppings; it’s about the broth.
“To make tonkotsu, you use the whole pig — the head, the ham bone, the back bone,” Terashita says. “The secret is the balance: some use more ham bone, or more back bone.” The secret to Wu-Rons’s broth is still under lock-and-key, but the resulting broth remains light in texture, despite its rich depth of flavor.
At the moment, Wu-Rons menu is extremely simple: Nagahama ramen, Nagahama miso ramen, and a vegetarian tantan made with both dried and fresh mushrooms. Down the line, the restaurant may introduce snacks like karaage, and Terashita and Yamada are picking out sakes for the shop. But for now, the focus remains on perfecting the broth, and making sure the energy of the shop feels right.
“We want to focus not only on the food, but on the culture,” Terashita says. “I want people to walk in and feel pumped.”
Wu-Rons is open at 1430 SE Water Avenue.