Ishin Udon, restaurateur Mike Tran’s newest restaurant, opened its doors last Tuesday in the same Asiatown strip mall that he’s transformed into a dining destination since the debut of his wildly popular Chinese eatery, Mein Restaurant, in 2015. Fashioned after the udon noodle shops that Tran encountered during his travels to Japan, Ishin is Tran’s seventh establishment in a growing empire of restaurants that include Aka Sushi House, Tiger Den, Mein, Ohn Korean Eatery, Night Market Thai and Blkdog Coffee.
Like many of Tran’s other spots, the 1500 sq. foot space is tightly-packed and stylishly appointed. Built-in wooden booths offer seating for parties of six, two and four, partitioned in such a way that the seating may be combined for larger parties. Walking into the restaurant, eyes are immediately drawn to the back wall, which is swathed in a bold, fuschia-colored floral wallpaper with a large white crane. The crane, Tran says, is symbolic of happiness. The same wallpaper motif on the covers of his menus. Meanwhile, an array of rectangular canvases featuring the boldly-colored, circa-1960’s retro designs of Japanese graphic designer Tadanori Yokoo, lend a hip, young feel to the space, complemented by the exposed brick wall at the entrance.
A small opening through the back wall gives allows for glimpses into the working kitchen. Adding to the atmosphere are the noren Japanese canvas signs — printed with the Ishin Udon logo in Japanese characters — hanging above the large booths at the right wall.
Ishin Udon will specialize in udon noodle soups, udon pasta, and curry dishes, with appetizers such as shrimp tempura and kimchi. Tran says that those who are not familiar with udon should taste the beef udon — the most classical preparation on this menu — first. Topped with thin slices of beef and green onion, the beef udon is served in a clear dashi broth. Highlights on the pasta menu include the crab and truffle udon, which is served in a creamy Italian-style pasta sauce, and curry rice plates. Tran says he will offer uni carbonara as a special, and may add stir-fried yaki udon or yaki soba in the future.
Ishin Udon is now open for lunch and dinner service Tuesday through Sunday. Currently, Tran is still waiting for Ishin’s beer and wine license, and until then, the restaurant is BYOB. Before heading to Asiatown, take a peek around the restaurant courtesy of Eater photographer Mai Pham.