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 V.25 No.40 | October 6 - 12, 2016 

Restaurant Review

Konnichiwa! Konbanwa!

Magokoro serves up soul food

Twelve years ago, during a surprise afternoon snow in Zama, Japan, I missed a train but discovered ramen—real ramen—the way it is supposed to be made. Since then, especially when days grow short and nights colder, I’ve longed to recapture that deep-hearth-fire-within delight of this Japanese soul food—something I assumed couldn’t be found here. So I opened the glass door on Magokoro with a cautious optimism.

Magokoro dishes
Hosho McCreesh
Ma- meaning “truth” and kokoro meaning “mind and spirit,” Magokoro call their fare “honest food from the heart” and greet guests with simple, minimalist design—a smiling logo and a window full of origami cranes in their humble, welcoming space. Their lunch menu offers the widest variety, with dinner being strictly noodles—so it pays to plan ahead. They have seating for about 25, and were busy during both lunch and dinner without feeling rushed or cramped. The service was friendly, and understated—which I prefer.

There are appetizers galore that light eaters could make an excellent and exotic little meal of. The squid salad ($3.75) is a sumptuous blend of calamari, sea and land vegetables, rice wine vinegar, and sesame oil resulting in a cool, chewy mouthful that balances the brine with tiny slices of pepper. The aji fry ($5.50) is two small butterflied mackerel, coated in panko and deep-fried to perfection. Timid eaters should think of it as an elegant and elevated fish stick with a ginger sauce, because you won’t want to miss it. If sea-based apps aren’t your thing (though, when they’re this good, they should be), there are vegetable egg rolls ($2.50) in a buttery, flaky crust that are a light, clean starter. Their gyoza ($4.50) a.k.a. pot-stickers, are a macerated blend of pork and chicken, steamed up and flash-fried to finish them, served with a bright and tangy vinegar-like dunking sauce. The potato croquettes ($3.95) are, again, panko-crusted and golden-fried like a giant, luxurious tater tot or mashed potato pancake. So c’mon fearful eaters, turn over a new leaf this fall!

Generous, folded hunks of sushi-like tuna and the salty bright orange pop of masago over lettuce and a hefty bowl of rice make the tuna donburi a solid choice for lunch—a meal big enough to satisfy, though nothing too heavy about it. The spicy, almost smoky sauce that accompanies it has a luscious, mellow heat that ties your whole bite together. The chicken kara-age teishouki ($11.95) is marinated bits of chicken, fried up and served alongside a nest of shredded cabbage, and lettuce with a citrus-mustard dressing that’s smooth and creamy. I would’ve liked more salt and pepper on the chicken, but better still would be a side of the tuna’s spicy sauce. If you dine-in for lunch, you’ll also get miso, and a couple of mini sides: in our case some terrific pickled veggies and a fried cube of tofu—all certainly worth it.

Generous, folded hunks of sushi-like tuna and the salty bright orange pop of masago over lettuce and a hefty bowl of rice make the tuna donburi a solid choice for lunch—a meal big enough to satisfy, though nothing too heavy about it.

If it’s dinner you’re in for, then you’ll need to know there is no takeout—perhaps a symptom of too many mishaps when transporting giant bowls of soup? And a giant bowl is indeed what we recommend. The karamiso ($9.95) is built on a rich, miso broth, made all the more earthy by the (I think) spicy leeks. The hearty stock and fatter noodles make for a sturdy meal, but the pork—oh, the pork—is truly a thing of beauty. It’s moist and juicy, initially cooked as a roast, then sliced and seared on the grill—so that the veins of gristle turn into a buttery joy that reminded me of foie gras. Ooohh la la! That same pork comes with the spicy tonkatsu ($9.95)—a smoky pork broth ramen, with a more traditional noodle, and ribbons of hot pickled ginger. The surprise in this bowl is their house-made spicy garlic paste, which nestles into the stock for a slow, patient pepper heat. Both bowls are finished with green onion, bamboo shoots and half a soft boiled egg and are works of edible art.

While walking around Zama, I happened on a old man, stricken with a palsy yet still up his rickety ladder, shaking terribly—determined to prune his garden. That patient, focused intention became a powerful metaphor for the artistic life, and living in our truest hearts. Magokoro feels very much of that tradition. It’s not flashy or snooty—just humble, grounded, exacting in technique and execution. It’s artistic without being pretentious, and it goes without saying that I’ve found my go-to for ramen. I cordially invite you to discover it for yourselves.


5614 Menaul NE
Hours: Tue-Sat 11am-3pm, 5:30-8:30pm
Vibe: Simple, happy, minimalist
Alibi Recommends: Squid salad, aji fry, karamiso, green tea

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