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Weapon Ramen + Chirashi (and okonomiyaki)

Liberty Public Market’s ramen redux excels down-menu

A chirashi rice bowl topped with miso marinated black cod, and more
A chirashi rice bowl topped with miso marinated black cod, and more

Masks on, because I’m pretty sure this is what the CDC was talking about when it said vaccinated people could uncover in public spaces, except in crowded settings. It’s Saturday afternoon, and Liberty Station is looking fairly close to normal: parking lots close to full, traffic building to get in or out, and people everywhere.

Place

Liberty Public Market

2820 Historic Decatur Road, San Diego

Especially in and around the Liberty Public Market. Packing a collection of food vendors under one roof didn’t create the most conducive environment for a pandemic, and I witnessed some pretty thin attendance here over the course of last year. But now, on a sunny Saturday, its halls are teeming, hungry eyes peering out over every masked face, in search of tables opening up on either of the Market’s two dining patios.

In early May, 2021, Liberty Public Market draws post-pandemic crowds.

Quite a few of these guests are lining up for Nashville hot chicken at Fluster Cluck, but I’m here to visit the booth next door, which used to be a RakiRaki Ramen counter. It’s not anymore, but there’s still ramen to be found: Weapon Ramen.

Despite the name, the new food stall will do no damage to this city’s fondness for ramen. Its OG Tonkotsu ramen ($14) delivers an impeccable rendition of the crowd-pleasing Hakata-style, with thin noodles in pork bone broth, topped with menma (bamboo shoots), kikurage (wood-ear mushrooms), negi (scallions), and chashu (pork belly). There are also chicken bone and vegetarian options, and for $2.50 you may add a “butter bomb” to blast any broth with additional miso, sesame, spice, or fermented black garlic flavor.

But wait! you say. Ramen is fine, but San Diego is crazy about hot chicken now. Do you see the line?

Hakata style tonkotsu ramen from Weapon Ramen

Yes, yes, ramen has been popular for a while, and Nashville hot chicken is the shiny new toy of San Diego feeders. But my top reason for checking out Weapon is the chef behind the broth: Phillip Esteban.

Chef Esteban’s very active 2020 saw him: A) win an episode of the TV cooking competition Chopped, and B) help feed food insecure San Diegans to the tune of a quarter million meals. He did the latter on the success of his Filipino delivery concept, White Rice, which is slated to open within Liberty Public Market this year. Given RakiRaki only closed recently, it’s kind of amazing that Esteban managed to open Weapon Ramen so quickly. But having spoken with the former Consortium Holdings R&D chef (disclosure: I know the guy), I know he’s got no shortage of influences and ideas, and has a pocketful of restaurant ideas.

Apparently, he had already developed a Japanese restaurant menu in that pocket, one that’s faithful both to the spirit and palate of Japanese cuisine. And there’s more to it than ramen. Indeed, there’s a lot worth exploring here when you look past the noodles at the top of Weapon’s menu.

Okonomiyaki, a Japanese savory pancake made with eggs, cabbage, and in this case chashu pork

An example for all you fried-chicken heads out there: Japanese fried chicken, karaage is finding a moment. You’ll find that here, along with sandwich featuring the fried chicken filet, katsu.

Better yet, take a look at the chirashi menu. These rice bowls topped by fish go for $14-15 apiece, and often highlight San Diego fresh catch seafood. The signature bowl may include crab, rock fish, and more; and a second bowl combines line-caught albacore with spicy tuna and smoked trout roe. But I can’t resist a good miso marinated black cod, and find it here over a bowl of sushi rice, and dressed with pickled radish, cucumber, roe, and shredded seaweed.

As captivated as we are with this chirashi, perhaps my favorite Weapon Ramen find is a dish less common to San Diego: okonomiyaki. This is a savory Japanese pancake made with eggs and cabbage, typically topped with scallions, bonita flakes, and a mix of sweet and savory sauces. Here, it’s all that, plus hunks of that chashu pork belly.

I’m thrilled to find it on a menu, and even happier when I sink my teeth into the perfectly executed pancake, which lands somewhere between fluffy omelet and thick crepe. The layering of flavors is so good, I momentarily forget about ramen, hot chicken, and much else other than ordering another.

If a savory pancakes could possibly start a trend, this would be the one do it. Though, I suppose Weapon Okonomiyaki doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

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A chirashi rice bowl topped with miso marinated black cod, and more
A chirashi rice bowl topped with miso marinated black cod, and more

Masks on, because I’m pretty sure this is what the CDC was talking about when it said vaccinated people could uncover in public spaces, except in crowded settings. It’s Saturday afternoon, and Liberty Station is looking fairly close to normal: parking lots close to full, traffic building to get in or out, and people everywhere.

Place

Liberty Public Market

2820 Historic Decatur Road, San Diego

Especially in and around the Liberty Public Market. Packing a collection of food vendors under one roof didn’t create the most conducive environment for a pandemic, and I witnessed some pretty thin attendance here over the course of last year. But now, on a sunny Saturday, its halls are teeming, hungry eyes peering out over every masked face, in search of tables opening up on either of the Market’s two dining patios.

In early May, 2021, Liberty Public Market draws post-pandemic crowds.

Quite a few of these guests are lining up for Nashville hot chicken at Fluster Cluck, but I’m here to visit the booth next door, which used to be a RakiRaki Ramen counter. It’s not anymore, but there’s still ramen to be found: Weapon Ramen.

Despite the name, the new food stall will do no damage to this city’s fondness for ramen. Its OG Tonkotsu ramen ($14) delivers an impeccable rendition of the crowd-pleasing Hakata-style, with thin noodles in pork bone broth, topped with menma (bamboo shoots), kikurage (wood-ear mushrooms), negi (scallions), and chashu (pork belly). There are also chicken bone and vegetarian options, and for $2.50 you may add a “butter bomb” to blast any broth with additional miso, sesame, spice, or fermented black garlic flavor.

But wait! you say. Ramen is fine, but San Diego is crazy about hot chicken now. Do you see the line?

Hakata style tonkotsu ramen from Weapon Ramen

Yes, yes, ramen has been popular for a while, and Nashville hot chicken is the shiny new toy of San Diego feeders. But my top reason for checking out Weapon is the chef behind the broth: Phillip Esteban.

Chef Esteban’s very active 2020 saw him: A) win an episode of the TV cooking competition Chopped, and B) help feed food insecure San Diegans to the tune of a quarter million meals. He did the latter on the success of his Filipino delivery concept, White Rice, which is slated to open within Liberty Public Market this year. Given RakiRaki only closed recently, it’s kind of amazing that Esteban managed to open Weapon Ramen so quickly. But having spoken with the former Consortium Holdings R&D chef (disclosure: I know the guy), I know he’s got no shortage of influences and ideas, and has a pocketful of restaurant ideas.

Apparently, he had already developed a Japanese restaurant menu in that pocket, one that’s faithful both to the spirit and palate of Japanese cuisine. And there’s more to it than ramen. Indeed, there’s a lot worth exploring here when you look past the noodles at the top of Weapon’s menu.

Okonomiyaki, a Japanese savory pancake made with eggs, cabbage, and in this case chashu pork

An example for all you fried-chicken heads out there: Japanese fried chicken, karaage is finding a moment. You’ll find that here, along with sandwich featuring the fried chicken filet, katsu.

Better yet, take a look at the chirashi menu. These rice bowls topped by fish go for $14-15 apiece, and often highlight San Diego fresh catch seafood. The signature bowl may include crab, rock fish, and more; and a second bowl combines line-caught albacore with spicy tuna and smoked trout roe. But I can’t resist a good miso marinated black cod, and find it here over a bowl of sushi rice, and dressed with pickled radish, cucumber, roe, and shredded seaweed.

As captivated as we are with this chirashi, perhaps my favorite Weapon Ramen find is a dish less common to San Diego: okonomiyaki. This is a savory Japanese pancake made with eggs and cabbage, typically topped with scallions, bonita flakes, and a mix of sweet and savory sauces. Here, it’s all that, plus hunks of that chashu pork belly.

I’m thrilled to find it on a menu, and even happier when I sink my teeth into the perfectly executed pancake, which lands somewhere between fluffy omelet and thick crepe. The layering of flavors is so good, I momentarily forget about ramen, hot chicken, and much else other than ordering another.

If a savory pancakes could possibly start a trend, this would be the one do it. Though, I suppose Weapon Okonomiyaki doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

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