This was a ramen joint I had been meaning to try for months. I am friends with the owner and have often heard her stories about growing the cilantro and other vegetables and agricultural products used in her cooking (you can see the fairly large farm plots right outside the spaciously large windows), and her experiences trying out different, creative recipes. To be totally honest, she had me at cilantro. The main issue with this place is that it is not the most easily accessible without a car from central Utsunomiya. It is close-ish to Interpark and Suzumenomiya (about 3 km away from that station), but still quite a bit away if you’re not driving (or biking). Plus it’s only open for lunch.
That being said, find someone with a car, because this restaurant is excellent (and I’m not just saying that out of friendship).
Atariya is family owned and run; most (if not all) of the staff are brothers and sisters of the owner. It has your standard ramen (I overheard most other customers ordering the shio [salt] ramen, the most popular version at the establishment), but what makes this place stand out is the influence of other Asian flavors. Apart from spicy Sichuan ramen, the restaurant also has two varieties of Thai-influenced ramen: tom yum and tom kha. The former comes with a choice of chicken, pork, or shrimp, while the latter comes with the choice of chicken or shrimp; you also choose either red or green curry paste to add to the tom kha. I chose the green shrimp tom kha and some gyoza.
After everyone at our table ordered, we were then asked who likes cilantro; I promptly raised my hand, and was later greeted with my own heaping dish the size of the palm of my hand. A bit later the soup noodles came out, and as expected, they were absolutely delicious. The flavors went together perfectly, and it was great being able to customize the amount of curry flavor to add in.
However much I want to rave about the ramen, I have to say there was an unexpected surprise delight, and that was the gyoza. Utsunomiya is famous for them, and I have always eaten them with the thought that it’s hard to make really bad gyoza, so it’s hard to make really good gyoza; so while most of the gyoza in the city are quite good, it’s a bit hard to be blown away by them.
I stand corrected. The gyoza at Atariya are the most wonderful pot stickers I have ever eaten in Japan. The wrappers are deliciously chewy, and the center is juicy–almost like you’re eating xiao long bao (one of my all time favorite foods), and I’m not exaggerating, because the juice squirts out when you take a bite. It’s hard to explain this in terms that would not apply to the other gyoza I have had before, but just trust me on this. Make a trip to Atariya, and don’t forget the gyoza.
Basically, just eat everything.
Open from 11-3, closed Mondays