It’s no longer a secret that traffic lights aren’t the only place to find red stop lights. Late at night, near Brady St. and Royall Pl., bright crimson lights can be seen coming from Ardent’s underground entrance. Ardent, known for its delicious and creative dishes, transforms into a ramen shop for Milwaukee’s night walkers. If you’re passing by, either by car or by bus, it’s hard to miss the long line that forms outside Red Light Ramen before the doors open. Not so much a secret now, the ramen shop continues to remain rather an exclusive venture by only opening its doors at 11:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The party continues all night until the ramen runs out.
Their covert operation is bound to make new comers a little anxious. I know I was. Being the picky ramen type, I wanted to taste the ramen myself and see if they qualified as “real ramen makers.” After months of putting off my imaginary job as a food critic, I hit the late night restaurants on Farewell with a friend. Arriving at the address 30 minutes early, we had trouble finding the place. It didn’t help that I didn’t know the place was underground to begin with. We wondered around and found it by chance. Nevertheless, we were second in line and just as excited and cold as the rest of the folks who started lining up behind us.
When 11:30 struck, the red lights flickered on and the doors flashed open. Lively music welcomed the crowd into the restaurant. We hurried in and picked a table quickly. As I scanned my surroundings, I noticed how really small the restaurant was. There was a bar area facing the open kitchen and about five small dining tables. All the lights were off except for in the kitchen and the windows were covered slightly. On top of the tables were red lit candles, the brightest light that lit the table area, aside from cellphone screens and camera flashes.
My friend and I were attended to immediately. When I looked at the menu, I was surprised. Not only did the menu have no prices, it was also incredibly short. The only ramen they had on the list was tonkotsu ramen or also known as pork bone ramen. For drinks, they offered 2 kinds of boozy slushies, one which was an old fashioned flavor and the other was the special of the week. For those who like fizzy drinks, they had a few different kinds of beer.
Ignoring my slight disappointment with the lack of variety, I ordered one tonkotsu ramen with everything and the slushy of the week. My friend ordered one bowl of ramen but asked for her meat to be given to me since she can’t eat red meat.
We didn’t wait long; our order arrived quickly with an addition of two free water bottles. We first created mementos of our meal by taking numerous pictures of the ramen and snapped our wooden chopsticks apart when we were ready to eat. The first thing I put into my mouth was some noodles and a chunk of meat. The noodles were perfect, not too soft and not undercooked. The meat was so tender; it melted on my tongue. By the time I finished slurping up the noodles, the taste of the broth consumed my mouth. It was amazing. The bamboo shoots were soft with a crunchy center, the seaweed wasn’t soggy and the egg was cooked just right. They even added narutomaki, a common Japanese fish cake with a decorative swirl. Both my friend and I acknowledged how delicious the entire dish was, from start to finish. The ingredients were well balanced and made me feel very good.
After the meal, we drank the slushy I ordered. It was very strong but sweet; it had a slight hint of lemon. Although it came in a small cup, it was hard for both of us to finish. The ice forced us to drink slowly, otherwise we were punished with a terrible brain freeze. After five minutes, we finished the drink and were given our bills. The ramen and slushy were both $10 each. The price for the ramen was fine but the price for the drink was rather unexpected. Affording it wasn’t why I was slightly unhappy; we suffered to finish the drink. Regardless, we paid our bills, left a nice tip and rode the Greenline bus back home.
Now, for a college student, this place is a rather expensive eatery to go to, especially when Subway and Lil’ Caesars has $5 meals. However, if you’re looking for a good meal or you love ramen, love Japanese culture or you’re simply really into anime, Red Light Ramen will satisfy your taste buds. If you’re still not sure, take a look below at the ratings I’ve given this little ramen shop.
The restaurant is very small. I don’t know how many customers Ardent gets during regular operations but Red Light Ramen is incredibly popular and that really emphasizes how small the restaurant is. If you really want to eat sitting down right away, make sure to be in the first 20 people in line.
For a very popular late night eatery, I’d give it 3 ramen bowls for space.
The menu is very limited. I can understand why but at the same time a wider variety will keep people coming for more than a month or once in a while. The menu only consists of tonkotsu ramen, 2 kinds of boozy slushies, and about 5 different kinds of beer. In a nutshell, this place isn’t vegetarian or non-alcoholic friendly.
I have to give Red Light Ramen 2 ½ ramen bowls on their menu.
The ramen was remarkable. The meat and veggies were soft. The noodles were cooked just right. The broth was hot but not too hot. My only slight complaint would be that it is slightly salty, but traditionally ramen is slightly salty and they did provide free water bottles.
I give it a 4 ½, simply because I can’t bring myself to rate anything at a 100 percent.
When they first opened, the price for a bowl of ramen was at $7. I went just recently and the price was at $10. So it went up. I’m assuming they realized how popular the ramen was or the ingredients for it went up in price and they decided to charge more. With that said, I have no regrets and it’s definitely worth the price. If the price was $12, I would pay that much for it too.
I can’t speak for the beer since I didn’t order any but for the slushy I’d say order it if you really want to taste it. If you’re on a budget then don’t. I was very surprised that the slushy was $10. Although, I will admit that it had a really smooth taste; perhaps it was very good quality alcohol. Still, I’ve had delicious Mexican margaritas for less than that.
I give the price a 3 ½ ramen bowls.
The atmosphere was very lively. A variety of music was played and servers were very polite and quick. Because all the customers crammed into the small restaurant to escape the cold, the restaurant was very loud. For an “exclusive” late night restaurant, they really embraced the dark and mysterious theme. So much so that it was particularly hard to see at times.
I give the atmosphere a 3 ½ ramen bowls.
All rating aside, tasting what Ardent’s Red Light Ramen has to offer is a definite must in anyone’s late night adventures. So before you go home and open that cheap instant ramen, take a detour and look for the red light. You won’t mind the light never turning green.