When it comes to making Toronto a culinary hot spot, the city's restaurateurs are starting to use their noodles.
With the arrival of Momofuku Noodle Bar, Toronto has seen three new ramen noodle shops open within the past year, with two others slated for release in the coming months.
Fans of the New York City brand quickly flocked to Momofuku at the Shangri-La hotel on Wednesday. Owner David Chang announced the restaurant's opening via Twitter just an hour before service.
But Chang's addition is only part of the growing love for the humble Japanese noodle dish. The well-known college staple is getting an upscale take, and is finding a home on some of the city's hottest new menus and storefronts.
Sansotei Ramen, which recently opened its doors on Dundas Street, offers a small menu of the popular alkaline noodles with traditional toppings such as pork shoulder and pork belly. Owner Michael Zhang fell in love with the dish during his trips to Japan, and is happy to see the trend finally hit the city.
"It's time Toronto has some authentic, decently prepared ramen," Zhang said. "It's good news, because now Toronto has better options, and there are a lot of people who crave ramen out there," he said.
Zhang believes the city remains "at least five years" behind the leading lights of the North American food scene and is slowly catching up to trends found in New York, Los Angeles and Vancouver.
Another noodle house vying for attention is Kinton Ramen on Baldwin Street, operated by the same group behind the successful Guu izakaya.
"People used to think that ramen was only something for the winter," said chef and manager Aki Urata. "Now more people realize it's good and some customers are eating it three times a week."
Urata said Toronto still hasn't reached its capacity for these restaurants, contrasting the city with Japan where ramen shops can be found on every street corner. The chef is eager to open more Kinton locations in the future.
He attributes some of Kinton's early success to the restaurant's ability to provide a hearty meal at a price point that caters to both workers and students, something he says some other ramen bars lack.
Despite the new shops, Urata remains confident at his restaurant's ability to continue thriving in the business.
"I like competition. It makes our dishes stronger and grows the ramen population," said Urata.
Diners can soon expect two new options. Vancouver-based Raijin Ramen is ready to open on Gerrard Street, while Japan's popular Santouka chain is expected to open later this year.