After a decade running Piranha Killer Sushi, owners and chefs Kenzo Tran and Dien Nguyen closed the Arlington Highlands location last October, and readied it for ramen. Now it has reopened, and its new name may sound familiar: Piranha Killer Ramen.
Although ramen is all the rage, some of it is better than others, and few hold a candle to the stuff Japanese workers are slurping from stand-up stalls on a weekly (if not daily) basis.
Let’s face it, most of the ramen you’ll find around DFW is a pale imitation. That’s not stopping us from partaking in the trend, though, because few Americans have ever tasted “the good stuff,” having grown up on those shrink-wrapped blocks of stale noodles and powdered soup mix.
Allow Piranha Killer Ramen to set you straight.
The vibe: The formerly serene and modern space has been transformed by fun pops of color in every direction. The painted wall murals are epic — a bold mashup of iconic Japanese images that you might find on antique silk tapestries. Warm wooden tables and transitions remain, tying the space together.
The central sushi bar has been removed, and a sunken tatami table has been added as the new focal point. No need to sit crisscross-applesauce on the floor either. There is plenty of legroom available in the well underneath the long wooden table.
Piranha Killer Ramen now feels more like a casual, inviting neighborhood izakaya should.
From 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Killer Ramen hosts a killer happy hour. All small plates and cold plates are half off. We’ll definitely be back to sample more soon.
It also has a true “infusion bar” with some fun specialty cocktails. In the bar area you will notice many jars infusing liquors with fresh fruits and veggies. The rum is infused with pineapple, the vodka with cucumber, the whiskey with fresh blackberries and so on. These bases make some interesting and crazy-affordable cocktails, ranging from $7 to $9, and during happy hour they are only $5.
The food: The new menu hits all the right notes … something for everyone. A handful of the greatest hits were brought over, along with the ramen, from Nguyen’s successful Dallas spot, Wabi House, but the new Piranha Killer Ramen has an even fuller and more creative menu.
If you are craving sushi and sashimi, instead of ramen, it has you covered. A smaller assortment of rolls is still on the menu, like one called breaking bad ($12), filled with tempura fried shrimp and tasty cream sauce made with masago (the common orange-hued fish roe), and thinly sliced jalapeño halos on top.
The sushi and sashimi are what you’ve come to expect from Piranha, but for a change, check out the amazing Cold Plates section of the menu. The hama rayu ($13) is a safe bet. The portion size seemed small at first, but once you unfold the pieces of sliced yellowtail, you’ll find six full slices to share. The velvety and clean-tasting yellowtail was tossed in a light mustard vinaigrette and topped with crispy fried leeks and a drizzle of chili sauce, bringing a slight heat to the dish.
Other cold plate combinations include: spicy tuna with crispy rice, a salmon ceviche with mango and tomatoes, a tuna and kimchi tartare, fried garlic and albacore tuna, and a tuna tataki dish with crispy shallots.
The Small Plates section has plenty of shareables like the classic gyoza dumplings. One order of takoyaki ($6) would make a full meal. The golden-brown octopus balls come about five to an order and are laced with garlic mayonnaise and dusted liberally with dried bonita flakes. These satisfying specimens are about golf-ball size, with crispy edges and a doughy interior.
We also were intrigued by the foie gras rinds ($6). A huge pile of still-crackling pork rinds showed up topped with a salty and spicy seasoning. They were accompanied by a few dots of Togarashi honey, and what was left of the foie gras shavings, which had already melted over the dish. A lemon wedge was also presented on the side, but it only made the spots where it landed a little soggy. Tip: Nix the lemon. If you already like pork rinds, these will be the freshest you have probably ever tasted. If you do not like pork rinds, not even a little foie residue will make you remember these.
Now about that ramen. What makes a good ramen is not all the little flourishes and add-ons you can “personalize” your bowl with. Ramen is only as good as its soup base!
Piranha Killer Ramen doesn’t employ any powders or MSG. Instead it takes the hard path and simmers it slowly from scratch daily. If the owners froze that liquid gold in pint-sized containers and sold it, I would buy it (are you listening Kenzo and Dien?), and every bone broth nerd in Arlington probably would, too. It’s that good.
The pork broth takes 18 hours to craft, and the chicken only a few less. There is even a vegetarian base. Most ramens are $10 -$12, which rolls back to $8 for a lunchtime serving, except for one only served at dinner — the $17 lobster ramen.
We loved the shoyu ramen ($11), which comes with chashu (braised pork belly), a sliced, soft-boiled egg, long stemmed enoki mushrooms, and bamboo, topped with fresh scallions and a smoked onion oil. The traditional ramen noodles are specially made for both Wabi House and Piranha Killer Ramen from Nguyen’s own recipe, they are spot-on: dense and chewy (not slippery and over-cooked).
The verdict: The atmosphere sets the stage for what’s in store. You know you are in an izakaya the moment you step inside. It’s a great space to meet friends, go on a date, hang out for happy hour or even have a quiet lunch alone. The kitchen kept our orders coming and service never lagged.
Piranha Killer Ramen
- 309 Curtis Mathes Way (Arlington Highlands), Arlington
- Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Wednesday, 11 a.m.-midnight Thursday-Saturday