Vol. 4 | Fall 2019

HO K K A I DO R AM E N A N D I Z A K AYA 825 Great Northern Blvd, Helena, MT IRRASSHAIMASE! Irrasshaimase! That's what staff will yell out to you when you enter Hokkaido Ramen & Izakaya restaurant. In short, it means "welcome" and it's the beginning of a dining experience you won't find anywhere else in Helena. General Manager John Schneider says it's a part of the vibe and energy they want to present to customers when they walk in the door, whether it's the first time or fiftieth. "We want to give them a little more than they expect," said Schneider. Izakaya by definition is a Japanese-style pub. "It's the kind of place you stop in after work for a drink and appetizers with friends," said Schneider. The atmosphere is friendly and casual and the staff seems happy and upbeat. The tables only seat two to four people with some room to add another chair or two. And they all surround a sushi bar in the middle. It's not a huge space but it is open and inviting. Schneider says the idea is quick service with a fast turnover. There is also an outside patio area perfect for warm-weather months where Schneider says they plan to have live music on certain nights. The menu has two sides and they keep it simple. There are hot and cold appetizers along with a selection of sushi rolls on one side, and on the other side are nine varieties of ramen to choose from. In case you're wondering, these are not the freeze- dried kind of noodles you might have survived on in college either. These are the traditional Japanese-style ramen noodles being served up in high-end restaurants across the country, giving cooks a chance to take you on a flavorful journey. Hokkaido Ramen & Izakaya might be the first and only ramen noodle restaurant in Helena but ramen has been a hot culinary trend for several years now. Tom Cai owns Nagoya Japanese Steakhouse in Helena and Salem, Oregon. He added ramen to the menu at his restaurant in Salem and it went over so well he decided to bring it to Helena. Cai is from China but learned to cook in Japan and

PHOTOS by JASON O'NEIL WRITING by BROOKE BOONE MILLER

1 2 | T H E LO C A L - H E L E N A Pictured: Hokkaido Ramen and Izakaya

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