Chef/restaurateur JW Lee, the owner of Menya Noodle Bar at 951 16th Street, says his downtown ramen shop serves an average of more than 400 customers a day. That's a lot of noodles. But Lee isn't resting easy; he just opened a second spot at 1590 Little Raven Street. The new one is called Menya Ramen & Poke, and also offers a range of Japanese rice bowls and raw-fish bowls built on rice or fresh greens.
Lee has been quietly building a small restaurant empire in the metro area, beginning with Wasabi Sushi Bar in 2003; he also runs Menya Japanese Kitchen at 5910 South University Boulevard in Greenwood Village. Lee's vision for Menya includes quick service, inexpensive noodle bowls and a ramen and izakaya experience similar to what you'd get if you visited Japan.
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"Ramen becomes a little more trendy and expensive when it comes to Denver," Lee explains. "But it shouldn't hit your pocketbook." So his new shop offers ten ramen options priced at $10.50 and $11.50, depending on what you order. Poke bowls come in at $10, with your choice of six different seafood proteins (or tofu), a base of white rice, brown rice, salad or noodles, and a dozen or so free sauces and toppings. Other bowls like chicken curry, bulgogi, chashu and tantan are similarly priced. Smaller bites include pork buns, lettuce wraps, kimchi and avocado boats stuffed with poke.
For the technically proficient, Menya has a touch-screen kiosk where you can place your order and pay without interacting with a clerk, or you can step up to the counter if you prefer ordering from a human who can answer any questions you might have. While you're perusing the menu, note the Menya logo, which shows a tangle of noodles hanging from a pair of chopsticks. Those noodles actually spell out the words "ramen house" in Japanese.
Menya is open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on the plaza at Riverfront Park, in the former home of Little Raven Bistro.