Isaac Ocejo’s basement is his favorite place to relax. Tricked out with LED lights, posters, and a DJ setup, the chef will spend evenings there after work listening to records and admiring his collection of vinyl figurines. “I turn on the twinkly lights, drink beers, and tinker,” he says. “I listen to Missy Elliott until the sun comes up.”
At his brand new restaurant, Toyshop Ramen, Ocejo — with the help of Gabbiano’s owners David Sigal and Blake Foster, as well as bartending vet Jathina Campos — created the upgraded version of his basement. He swapped the six-pack for draft cocktails and Instant-ramen-infused martinis. The restaurant’s DJ booth is perched alongside a line of pinball machines. And the vinyl figurines hide among bottles of Macallan, some looming from the highest point in the space, staring down at crowds of revelers housing bowls of ramen or katsu corn dogs.
Toyshop Ramen, opening Wednesday, February 22 on Northeast Killingsworth, is informed by the pop-ups that came before it. Ocejo developed a following through the pandemic as @chuckdanger’s Noodle Gang, slinging impressive, intricate bowls of ramen with house-made noodles via Instagram. Sigal and Foster have been shaking wild cocktails as Zoo Bar since 2019. But Toyshop is more than a mashup; rather, it’s a fun, laid-back ramen shop and cocktail bar, decked out with games, vying to be the neighborhood’s hottest spot for late-night miso or boozy slushies.
Ocejo got his start making ramen at under Ippai’s Jane Hashimawari at Wafu, the ramen shop owned by former Roe chef Trent Pierce. Ocejo set aside his passion for ramen while working at restaurants like Imperial, but when the pandemic left him jobless, ramen beckoned. He started making noodles out of the Jackknife kitchen, where his friend, Sigal, agreed to help him; the bartender offered up his Northeast Portland Italian restaurant, Gabbiano’s, as a space for Noodle Gang events. After a while, the team started fantasizing about opening a nostalgia-laden noodle shop. “Noodles have always been my food of choice,” Sigal says. “This is the spot I would have wanted to create when I was 12. It’s got noodles, arcade games, pinball, Calvin and Hobbes.”
Calvin and Hobbes, specifically, appear as a mural, opposite a row of pinball machines — Twilight Zone, Metallica, the Mandalorian, among others. Around the L-shaped bar, Toyshop’s selection of arcade games sits, including Baby Pac Man and Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter. Throughout the space, visitors may spot various toys and figurines; if not, they’ll find them on the bar’s cocktail menu. Campos, Sigal, and the larger bar team used cartoons, toys, and late-20th-century media as inspiration for the drinks, from the sake-spiked tea cocktail Samurai Jack to the Red Ryder BB Gun, a combination of rye, roasted red pepper-infused Campari, pineapple, and salted maple.
On draft, three cocktails labeled “the Powder Puff Girls” directly reference the similarly named super-powered trio. Bubbles combines Hypnotiq, absinthe, lemon, and Rémy, topped with sparkling wine. Blossom gets floral with Hendrick’s Gin, Aperol, dry vermouth, orange blossom water, and elderflower liqueur. And Buttercup is an outlandish combination of Skrewball Peanut Butter Whiskey, Creme de Menthe, oat milk, rye, and Ancho Reyes — “Because Buttercup was kind of a bitch,” Campos says. “You need some spice in there.”
Campos is particularly proud of another reference to an animated classic, the Master Roshi, which Sigal describes as the “absolute dirtiest martini out there.” It uses an olive brine infused with a Top Ramen packet and furikake — an inadvertent play on an MSG martini.
Campos started their career in New York; when they moved to Portland, they started working for other popular Portland cocktail bars, like Multnomah Whiskey Library. Sigal met Campos when they worked at Keys Lounge, and thought they seemed like a good fit. “We’re just looking for people who are excited about what’s going on, and have good energy,” Sigal says. “Jathina is so open to other people’s input, and having all the staff’s input in a way that a lot of bar managers are not.”
Campos is quick to shout out a cocktail developed by another member of the bar staff, Randy Spencer of the buzzy wine bar Company. I’m a Llama Again, Spencer’s creation, relies on pisco, passionfruit, and a house umeboshi liqueur the bartender “made that on the fly,” according to Campos. The rest of the menu is similarly playful — a large-format rum cocktail called “For Naruto,” garnished with egg-shaped gummy candies; slushies made with ube and coconut cream.
That same playfulness extends to the food menu. Before ramen arrives, Toyshop visitors snack on hand-dipped katsu corn dogs or potato salad with a fried, soy-marinated egg and Dungeness crab. The ramens here are the main event, of course, and those who fell for Ocejo’s Ramen Gang soups will find the same detail here. The shop will offer a number of different noodles — made at friend-of-the-shop Ryan Callahan’s ramen bar, Menya Hokusei, until Toyshop’s noodle maker arrives — including a vegan whole wheat noodle and a thicker noodle for dishes like the shop’s abura soba, loaded with kimchi, pork belly, roasted tomato, and a sous-vide egg. The soups will be built with one of three broths: A vegan kombu dashi, a clear chintan with chicken backs and feet, or a creamy paitan that gets the addition of pork necks. The aromatics vary from soup to soup, but include a number of alliums and Kiyokawa apples. The final bowls range from spicy miso paitan to shio chintan, finished with everything from black garlic oil to burnt leek powder.
Beyond the elaborate ramens and bar snacks, visitors will also find a bowl of popcorn, simply tossed with nutritional yeast and furikake — Ocejo’s nod to his wife and the way she likes her popcorn, which the two of them eat on the couch in their basement. This is, after all, where the family will spend its time now, playing pinball and Pac-Man surrounded by their neighbors, friends, and vinyl figurines.
Toyshop Ramen is located at 3000 NE Killingsworth Street. The restaurant is open until midnight Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays, and until 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Minors are welcome until 9 p.m.