My trip with friends to Iso Iso Ramen was a unique and flavorful experience. Located at 1001 W Main Street, it is only a 10 minute walk from Grounds. I personally love experiencing new restaurants around Charlottesville and enjoy eating Asian food, and Iso Iso Ramen didn’t fail to deliver on providing delicious food within a funky restaurant setting.
The Iso Iso chain was created in 2021 by a group of friends who desired to share their love for quality ramen. The name “Iso Iso” in Japanese means “cheerfully and excitedly.” As such, the restaurant strives to create the “Iso Iso” moment for customers while eating their savory dishes.
The restaurant opened July 7 in Charlottesville, the first of two locations of the Iso Iso chain so far. Since opening, they have made big strides to draw in new customers by listening to their feedback. For example, they’ve recently expanded their menu by adding vegan and vegetarian options.
Upon entering, I noticed that the restaurant incorporated modern and industrial looks. High ceilings, pop music playing and a bar-seating area created an upbeat atmosphere. Garage-like doors span across on one side of the wall, adding to its edgy feel. I thought that the mechanical figure of a bowl of ramen and an animatronic pair of chopsticks was a unique touch that added character. My friend and I were greeted promptly by pleasant staff members who helped us get our order in smoothly.
In terms of dishes, Iso Iso offers a variety — including a large selection of appetizers, poke bowls, rice bowls and of course, ramen. We shared Ika Gesso as an appetizer, a fried squid coated with their seasoned horse batter and topped with dry chili seasoning. It was served with a sweet and spicy dipping sauce dubbed the “Iso Iso sauce,” which tastes very similar to yum yum sauce, a sweet tangy, Japanese mayo-based sauce. The fried squid was served beautifully on a bed of cabbage. It was delicately crispy, savory and struck a good balance of flavors. Not only was the serving size perfect to share between, it was also cooked to perfection.
My friend and I both also ordered Tonkotsu and Black Tonkotsu Ramen with Chicken Katsu Tenders, respectively. Tonkotsu is a Japanese pork belly chashu, a marinated egg, scallions, red onions, bamboo shoots and corn with pork broth and shredded chili pepper. My Black Tonkotsu had Katsu chicken, black garlic oil and a fish cake in addition to the ingredients in the regular Tonkotsu.
Both dishes were aesthetically plated with good portion sizes. It was evident that the ramen was made fresh, and the broth was deliciously creamy. The scallions and onions gave it a nice crunch, and the fishcake and egg were a delicious, soft and chewy addition.
One of the chefs who assembles these delicious ramen bowls is restaurant manager Jackie Lin. Lin has been living in the U.S. for 14 years and has years of experience in the restaurant industry here. Lin noted that Iso Iso’s most popular Appetizers are Gyoza and Takoyaki and their most popular Ramen dishes are Tonkotsu along with its signature ramen, Iso Iso Ramen.
The staff were overall very friendly and I could tell that they also enjoy working with each other as they were laughing and conversing in the kitchen. The ambience felt more like a home kitchen than anything.
Iso Iso’s standout feature to me had to be their cat robot named Bella. This adorable little robot carries trays with food to tables and is weight censored — the robot will only move once dishes are added on and taken off. If you pet her ears, sometimes she will talk to you too, which I thought was very unique.
After my experience at Iso Iso, I can assert that the restaurant lived up to its motto for me. Not only was the food served at a high quality, but I felt like the people who work there also embody the essence of making ramen “cheerfully and excitedly.” I personally enjoyed my time at the restaurant and would recommend any University student who has the chance to visit to go with their friends. The restaurant is open every day of the week and weekend from 11 a.m to 9:30 p.m.