It’s always soup season at Eat Arkansas. The heat index was over 100 degrees when Gold Bowl — the new downtown restaurant offering ramen bowls, hibachi dishes and boba tea — opened for business two weeks ago. It didn’t matter. My co-workers and I had been anxiously awaiting a piping hot bowl of ramen (the spicier the better) since we heard a new ramen shop would be located mere blocks from the Arkansas Times office. The craving intensified when the opening was delayed about a week pending approval from the fire marshal. I had to field the question “is Gold Bowl open yet?” on the daily.
Unless you avoid flavorful downtown eateries, you’ve probably visited the space in the ground floor of the Pyramid Building at 215 Center St. It was Three Fold’s original location and the site of its pop up restaurant, Haybird. It was also Hanaroo Sushi Bar’s second and final location.
Gold Bowl is from the same owners as Mr. Hui’s Chinese restaurant in the Pleasant Ridge Town Center at 11525 Cantrell Road. The menu is a blend of traditional Chinese and Japanese cuisines. Appetizers include egg rolls, vegetable spring rolls, edamame, steamed and fried dumplings, crab rangoon and Takoyaki (Japanese octopus balls topped with house sauce, Japanese mayo and bonito flakes, the menu says). The main menu features several hibachi dishes, fried rice, lo mein and specials like sesame chicken, General Tso’s chicken, orange chicken and sweet and sour chicken.
Did I mention they also serve ramen? On our first visit I ordered the Kimchi Ramen ($10.95) with thin sliced chashu pork belly, long, thin noodles, marinated egg, chunks of kimchi, corn, kikurage mushrooms (also known as wood ear) and a fish cake. The generous portion is served with chopsticks and a large tortoise patterned spoon.
The kimchi (a traditional Korean dish of salted and fermented veggies, often cabbage) broth has a spicy, tangy umami flavor that probably has the kind of restorative powers former Arkansas Times editor Lindsey Millar searches for when he slurps soup in the winter.
Partner Vicky Xie said it’s the pork broth (tonkotsu) used in the chashu ramen dish, with added kimchi and spicy chili oil. The flavor was so good I didn’t want to tamper with it by adding more chili oil, but you can request it on the side if you desire more spice. Also, I must add, the marinated egg was my favorite egg bite of the year. Flavor explosion.
On a subsequent visit I ordered the Szechuan Beef Noodle Soup ($12.95) with stewed beef, baby bok choy, cilantro and pickled mustard greens. This was another very impressive broth, packed with flavor and so spicy. I could see the marbling in the tender chunks of beef, which were a little fatty, but it’s worth the price of admission for the tenderness and the bold, rich flavor. Remember this soup if it’s ever cold outside again.
Arkansas Times reporter Mary Hennigan ordered the Shoyu Ramen with chicken with a little trepidation because she has a low tolerance for spicy foods and still has a developing palate. She said it wasn’t spicy, but tasteful, and that the bean sprouts gave each bite an appropriate crunch.
Hennigan also ordered the strawberry slush from the drink menu and said the warmth of the broth acted as a flawless remedy to the brain freeze the slush was giving her between bites. Packaged in the sealed-top boba cups, the strawberry slush “tasted just like a melted, then frozen, strawberry Starburst.”
In addition to the frozen slushes, Gold Bowl offers a variety of flavored boba teas and hot teas.
The menu also features a beef ramen with sliced beef, a seafood ramen and a vegetable ramen with a tomato base broth.
We also enjoyed the crab rangoon ($5.95) and the fried dumplings ($5.95). Arkansas Times barbecue editor Brock Hyland said the steak hibachi he ordered was on par with his past hibachi bar experiences.
Xie said they’re still trying to figure out customer demand with certain menu items. She said they’re considering adding some more traditional Chinese dishes. She said that soon a miso and a spicy miso ramen will be added to the menu.
Gold Bowl’s hours are 10:30-8 p.m. daily. You can order online at its website or call 501-615-8591 or 501-615-8459.