.Roji Ramen Is a HOG Heaven

Ninna’s closed doors are now open for Roji Ramen

Roji Ramen is the perfect place for diners who happen to share a passion for noodle soup and motorcycles. Co-owned by Suradet Detwongya and Chef Atthapon Inkhong, Detwongya is the motorcycle aficionado who came up with the restaurant’s theme. “Atthapon loves to cook, I love to ride,” he said. 

Detwongya explained that when they heard the space was available, they thought that it would be a great place for a ramen spot. Detwongya laughed and said, half-joking and half-serious, that “destiny” intervened. 2022 turned out to be the right time to open a business together.

His own personal photos are framed and hang at eye level on the wall. He and his pals appear like modern day Easy Riders, heading down the highway, possibly in search of a good meal. A bookshelf above the register contains a dozen helmets painted in bright shades of red and orange, silver and blue. The paraphernalia extends to, I assumed, empty gas cans and shiny pieces of disassembled Harley Davidsons. There’s even a scooter nestled inside an alcove above the entryway. Detwongya’s H.O.G. (Harley Owners Group) collection—not on display—extends back in time to include a couple of vintage models.       

There’s an element of kitschiness to the décor. It’s like a pop art museum dedicated to colorful chrome and masculine steel. But Detwongya’s aesthetic contributions don’t detract from or collide with Chef Atthapon’s dishes. Roji Ramen isn’t the first time Atthapon has been in charge of a kitchen. He owns several restaurants in San Francisco, including Rural Ramen, Mangrove Kitchen and Sun and Moon. But the Piedmont Avenue location is his first business in the East Bay.  

The concept of Roji Ramen’s menu is straightforward. There are three steps to “Make Your Own Special California Ramen.” The California elements, Atthapon said, consist of local meats and produce. These ingredients, though, still make the ramen bowl flavors recognizable. And the choices are also familiar. Step 1: Choose a broth—Tonkotsu, a creamy pork broth; spicy miso; or a vegetable broth. Step 2: Choose a “style.” Step 3: Add in any extras.    

My friend and I were entranced by the photo of the pork rib option ($17.99). But etiquette experts everywhere agree that when your friend states a preference for something, you quickly defer, demur and deflect, stating unequivocally that you weren’t in the mood for ribs after all. The image of bok choy and mushrooms drew me in, so I chose the vegetarian ramen ($14.99). For an appetizer, we shared a plate of lovingly seared shishito peppers ($6.59).

When we arrived, most of the tables at Roji Ramen, formerly the Thai restaurant Ninna, were occupied. To my left, a teenager sat by himself, unselfconsciously slurping down a bowl of soup and studying his phone. As the other diners finished their dishes and gathered their things to go, the only other people there were a mother and her young son sitting near the front window. As we stood up to leave, Prince’s “Purple Rain” was playing in the background. 

I paused and observed their interaction, unable to eavesdrop. But I did see her attentiveness and care. Her devotion. And I saw his trusting face look into her eyes for reassurance. It reminded me of Friday nights when I was a kid. I remembered when my mother would pick me up for a weekend visit and we’d sit together for an hour at Carl’s Jr. eating chili dogs and french fries, trying to reacquaint ourselves with our separate weekdays, always failing at that task. 

Now, when I eat out, to taste the food and to see what a restaurant is like, I’ve finally figured out that I respond to both the concrete and the ephemeral. The noodles, broth and vegetables at Roji Ramen are all enjoyable. But I’m ultimately satisfied by the evocation of a mood, the excavation of dear and distant, or even troubling memories, when food is served with good conversation, music and the element of chance.

Roji Ramen, open Mon to Sun 11am-2:30pm, Sun to Thurs 5pm-8:30pm, Fri to Sat 5pm-9pm, 4066 Piedmont Ave., Oakland. 510.596.5019. rojiramen.com

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