Right off the Bland Street light rail station in Charlotte lies Futo Buta, a hip, idiosyncratic ramen-ya that serves some of the best ramen in the Queen City. It doesn’t adhere to strictly serving traditional Japanese ramen, but instead “funkifies” some of its its offerings. Izakaya items like the Rice Crispy Squares are playful: small rafts of crisped fried rice coax you to slather on a mound of spicy tuna tartare. The Low Country Smoked Pork Belly steamed buns infuse a lil’ Southern twang and are hit with a stuffing of sesame slaw and a smear of Korean sweet and spicy gochujang sauce.
My husband and I entirely bypass the small bites, though as enticing as they are, on a late afternoon drop-in and make a beeline straight towards the ramen. The top three listed bowls of ramen (tonkotsu, miso, shoyu) on the menu are the most popular, denotes our server, who is sporting a black Ramones presidential parody rocker t-shirt that reads “Ramens” (very clever). We waver a little bit and consider ordering the seasonal ramen, but revert back and choose from the holy trinity.
The pair of teeming bowls of ramen arrive to our counter and the first thing that pops is the beautiful stoneware bowls crafted by North Carolina potter William Baker Pottery. The next thing that starts to seduce the senses is the rich and warm porky broth from the tonkotsu ramen that glistens just a tiny bit with bubbles of pooled fat. The bowl is garnished liberally: buttery pecan-smoked pork belly slabs; delicate woodear mushrooms; a silky, custardy, slow cooked onsen egg (a departure from the ajitsuke egg that you normally will find at ramenyas around the area); a fan of nori; a pinch of pickled ginger; a smattering of scallions; a sprinkle of aromatic sesame seeds. Each black ladle of broth is soothing and flavorful, salty but not jarringly so and made even better with a healthy dotting of chili oil.
The miso bowl offers a lighter variety of ramen, its base derived from a glossy amalgamation of chicken and dashi broth that still maintains a level of pleasing creaminess and full-bodiness. Again, the supple pads of smoked pork belly dissolves on the tongue; its buttery texture nicely juxtaposes with the studs of crispy white corn and the crunchy emerald strands of bok choy and teepee-shaped heap of bean sprouts. The ramen noodles hold up well against the hot broth, still bouncy and chewy, and perhaps a little more toothsome than your usual alkaline ramen noodles.
We walk out of Futo Buta, satiated and warm in our bellies, with only one regret: no room to try the much-vaunted soft serve ice cream. Until next time.
Futo Buta | 222 E. Bland St. Charlotte NC 28203 | 704-376-8400