When word got out that a ramen joint was opening in the middle of “restaurant row” on Campbell Avenue, residents cheered, and it’s possible nearby restaurants panicked. By the end of 2019, it was the golden age of Tucson ramen: the poke fad was fading, and the birria craze was only just beginning. Back then it was all about ramen. I mean, it still is, but it was even more so back then.
In October of 2019, Campbell Avenue was a virtual ramen desert, so there was very little competition. One or two options, perhaps, so this new venture might have a bright shot.
In fact, it totally did, and coincidentally, And ramen moved to a spot that housed a poke concept.
The restaurant was an almost instant hit, not just with the surrounding community, but with anyone craving delicious and inventive bowls of hearty noodle goodness. It’s about the broth, though. If you’re going to serve ramen, professionally, you better bring along that deep, complex broth swagger.
Well, we all know what happened to most restaurants in 2020 and JA Ramen hasn’t been immune from the closures and the resulting concern that they would reopen their doors. When their neighbors slowly started reopening and serving food again, JA Ramen followed suit and a general sigh of relief was heard in this great ramen-loving city of ours.
YES owner of Ramen Elena Le Hearing that a burger and milkshake restaurant was closing on Congress Street, she, along with her brother and business partner, immediately leapt into action.
In October of 2022, nearly three years since the day Midtown JA Ramen transformed the To open light on, the center mate also did.
Originally from Vietnam but living in Tucson for nearly a decade now, Le has always worked in the restaurant industry without the idea of actually owning a restaurant. It just wasn’t for her. Long hours, financial ambivalence, staffing issues, competition, supply costs and did I mention long hours? It all seemed too much for the quiet but rather tough Le.
That was until she made her brother a bowl of curry ramen to which he looked at her and said, “Yeah, you need to open a ramen restaurant.”
As a fan of JA Ramen, since it’s not only super delicious, but just a few blocks from home, I’m so glad his brother said those words and lit that fire.
He knew she was okay with going into the ramen business as it has always been one of her favorite things to cook and at the same time it is a very popular dish. For the downtown lunch crowd, this is a plus. Even if you are not in a hurry, JA Ramen has always stood out for the speed of his service.
Now, this isn’t just a celebration of a local business owned and operated by a hardworking woman who has provided bowls of sumptuous and flavorful ramen, curry dishes, and salads for the greater good of Tucson. Oh no.
There was a chuckle of a rumor circulating in the local food underbelly that Le and his downtown spot are working on something even more popular than a sensationally steaming bowl of ramen.
If you follow a few Tucson food feeds on social media, one question pops up more than it really should: Best wings in Tucson? If they scroll down a bit, they’ll find a collection of answers.
He watched her obsession closely, then came up with a plan that wasn’t all that hard to crack. She’s putting wings on the menu for the downtown location. This is smart because if you go clubbing and drink, you’re going to need wings.
We were more than lucky to have tried three wing combos that Le is working on.
The first one to come to the table was Korean inspired. They are of the sassy variety mentioned earlier. Sweet, spicy and finished with shallots, it was reminiscent of gochujang with a hint of Japanese and Vietnamese, but completely in the independent taste corner that Le is known for.
Not only were the wings huge but cooked to perfection, giving the outside a nice crunch while leaving the inside deliciously tender.
Another bowl of wings surrounded by jalapeños and onions quickly followed. That, to me, always indicates that I’m about to feast on something so volcanic that I might be hallucinating a little, if not a lot.
It turned out that these wings were seasoned just enough to give a sense of the razor-sliced execution that goes into their take on the beloved finger-spun appetizers. It was so good to eat a wing with such great texture. I knew right away that people on social media would type in “JA Ramen” when asked about the best destinations for wings. The jalapeño and onions were just for looks, I suppose, although I ate those too.
The third and final outing from the winger heading our way was actually a mistake.
These wings were drizzled with a light caramel sauce and then sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. She didn’t deny what went wrong, apparently the parm was the culprit, but somehow those two elements melded together in the strangest and best possible way. She actually she was embarrassed that he came to us.
The thing is, we couldn’t put it down.
Our brows furrowed and we fell silent as we ate, reflecting on how this alliance of wings had come to make peace with itself. Wait, did she just make you a dessert wing? That’s when we suggested she keep it on the menu. You can get a hot messy wing almost anywhere, but a wing enhanced by sweet and savory Italian dessert? No. Not that I can think of. Not yet, however.
JA Ramen wings are not officially on the menu yet but they are available.
This is another food trend that Le is well aware of, secret menus.
So when you walk into the downtown store and walk up to the counter, maybe give a wink before ordering one of their wings. If the wings are good for the Congressional commercial, Le plans to put them up and play at the Campbell Avenue location. Although at the moment this is all secret (more or less).
Oh, and last but not least, JA Ramen’s downtown location has a full bar.
JA Ramen is located at 2643 N. Campbell Ave. e 54 W. Congress St. For more information, visit thejaramen.com and follow JA Ramen on Instagram.