When Taichi Ishizuki was planning the first Afuri location in the United States, he chose Portland for its water: The city’s water, pulling from the Bull Run Watershed, was similar in taste and softness to the water of Mt. Afuri, the inspiration behind the original ramen restaurant. In the years since the first U.S. location opened in 2016, Afuri has grown substantially, both in Portland and in the rest of the country — people flock to the various izakayas and noodle bars for bowls of yuzu shio swirling with thin noodles and curls of endive. To keep up, Ishizuki decided to open a new Afuri location that serves as a sort of living museum, a commissary-meets-restaurant where customers can watch chefs extruding noodles and mixing dumpling filling.
“We have very few ramen shops making fresh noodles daily in the U.S.,” Ishizuki says. “The majority of the ramen shops are buying frozen noodles from Sun or Yamachan, from California or Hawaii or New Jersey. But we make our noodles. So this time, I want to make an Afuri Slabtown ‘ramenery,’ like a roastery.”
On Wednesday, May 18, Afuri Slabtown opens as both a restaurant and a culinary theater. Inside the restaurant, customers sit around an open format kitchen, sunken below the dining room floor so diners can watch chefs prepare bowls of ramen. Toward the back, 110-gallon kettles simmer at 90 degrees celsius, to help keep the flavor and clarity of the broths pristine; pork backs and spines bubble for six-to-eight hours for tonkotsu broth, while chicken carcasses and necks serve as the foundation for the restaurant’s chintan broth. Throughout the day, chefs add different aromatics at specific times, to help develop layers of flavor in each broth. In a glass room opposite the kitchen, cooks stir colossal bowls of pork dumpling filling, while chefs feed sheets of high-protein flour dough through a ramen noodle extruder. Here, customers are meant to ask questions, learn about the process, while sitting down to soft shell crab buns and braised pork gohan. Take a look inside the space before it opens below:
Afuri Slabtown opens Wednesday, May 18, at 1650 NW 21st Avenue.