Tucked into a cozy downtown storefront, red paper lanterns line the windows to greet customers at the recently opened Ramen & Bowl. The small space utilizes a mix of single and shared seating, echoing the ramen shops of Japan that inspired it. Likewise, the menu is streamlined, offering tempting variations on two staple dishes: ramen and donburi (Japanese rice bowls).

This latest culinary venture by Paul Han and his team joins eight other venues that they currently operate in Washington, including Japanese comfort food restaurant Fremont Bowl. The team started their career in the restaurant industry in 1994 in Tokyo, and have been serving the greater Seattle area since 2001.

Han moved into the local food scene in 2019 when his team took over operation of the Bellingham landmark Dirty Dan Harris Steakhouse in historic Fairhaven. Since then, Han and his team have wanted to share their favorite Japanese dishes with their new customers.

“[By opening Ramen & Bowl] we hope to familiarize our customers with more Japanese cuisine,” Han says.

When we visited there on a chilly March evening, the tables were filled with lively conversations shared over warm bowls. The walls were decorated with bright, stylized posters highlighting different aspects of Japanese culture and a neon sign featuring a cute cat eating noodles glowed in the corner.

The most common ramen options were shio (clear salt-based broth) and shoyu (soy flavored broth), but we were served their most popular dish: a specialty Tonkotsu Ramen ($14.95, +$1.50 for spicy and +$2 for super spicy) which features a rich pork bone broth. Along with the traditional noodles, the tonkotsu ramen includes tender chashu (Japanese braised pork belly) and beni shoga (pickled ginger) along with the standard menma (seasoned bamboo shoots), moyashi (bean sprouts), scallions, sesame seeds, ajitamago (marinated soft-boiled egg), and naruto (fish cake).

Our broth was made spicy, which added a sinus-clearing kick that helped flush the late winter cold out of our systems. A side of delightfully tart yuzu citrus paste added a tangy sweetness to the heat and balanced out the delicate flavors nicely.

In addition to the main entrees, Ramen & Bowl also offers a selection of vegetable and meat side dishes that are commonly found in Japanese barrestaurants and street stalls such as gyoza (fried pork dumplings), takoyaki (grilled octopus balls; a popular street food from Osaka), and karaage (marinated Japanese style fried boneless chicken).

“Our goal is to have authentic and delicious Japanese food be accessible to people who may have never had the opportunity to try it before,” Han states. “With Bellingham being filled with many young and open-minded people, we could broaden people’s palettes.”

Our empty bowls and full stomachs couldn’t agree more.

Ramen & Bowl is open Monday and Wednesday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., and Sunday from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. It is closed on Tuesday. Reservations are not needed, and delivery and pickup is also available.