THE GROWLER - THE RAMEN ARCHITECT

THE GROWLER - THE RAMEN ARCHITECT

If he weren’t a chef, John Ng of Zen Box Izakaya might be a kung fu master. This is literally true: the architect-turned-izakaya co-owner has been practicing martial arts for 16 years, having begun his training while living in San Francisco. “When I first came to Minnesota, I told my wife [Lina Goh]: ‘I really want to open my own kung fu school.’” Ng summarizes her brutally practical response: “I got immediately shut down by her, because ‘it would never make any money! Forget it!’ Which is pretty true,” he laughs.

MPLS ST PAUL MAGAZINE - "50 BEST RESTAURANTS - CRITICS' CHOICE AWARD 2018"

MPLS ST PAUL MAGAZINE - "50 BEST RESTAURANTS - CRITICS' CHOICE AWARD 2018"

This Mill District eatery celebrates the fun and electric side of Japanese dining culture through its street signage, its Hitachino beer tap handles, and its steady line of ramen obsessives waiting for tables. Married team John Ng and Lina Goh travel to Japan often, where they seek out the best ramen shops and learn noodle and broth techniques to bring home. Weekend specials often sell out, but the standard pork-broth tonkotsu never disappoints, especially sided by takoyaki octopus balls or flame-torched raw aburi salmon.

MPLS ST PAUL MAGAZINE - "50 BEST RESTAURANTS - CRITICS' CHOICE AWARD 2017"

MPLS ST PAUL MAGAZINE - "50 BEST RESTAURANTS - CRITICS' CHOICE AWARD 2017"

Pork Ramen at Zen Box

Ramen obsessives will find kindred spirits with Lina Goh and John Ng of Zen Box Izakaya, who travel to Japan on ramen trips and host the city’s popular Ramen Attack. Get the weekend special ramen before it runs out, or go for the standard-setting tonkotsu that wins every time.

MPLS ST PAUL MAGAZINE - "50 Best Restaurants 2016 "

MPLS ST PAUL MAGAZINE - "50 Best Restaurants 2016 "

Ramen is the hottest dish of the year, and no one is doing it better than John Ng and Lina Goh. From Kanazawa to Osaka, the co-owners have traveled to Japan countless times, undertaking a massive international study of ramen. They’ve become fast friends with some of the biggest names in the ramen business and have a reputation for putting together bowls of significant flavors. The broth is the key, carefully balanced with accompanying herbs and oils.

MPLS ST PAUL MAGAZINE - "The Birth of a Dish: Tonkotsu Ramen at Zen Box Izakaya"

MPLS ST PAUL MAGAZINE - "The Birth of a Dish: Tonkotsu Ramen at Zen Box Izakaya"

Mpls.St.Paul Magazine takes you into the kitchens of Upton 43, Heyday, Hola Arepa, Milkjam, Saint Dinette, and Zen Box Izakaya, all named 2016 Best Restaurants, for a behind-the-scenes view of how some of their standout dishes are made, from beginning to end.

STAR TRIBUNE - "Corner Bar Turns to the East"

STAR TRIBUNE - "Corner Bar Turns to the East"

Picture this: Walk into the latest entry in this gastropub epoch that we find ourselves living in, and here's what you won't find: an ironic slider, a tail-to-snout charcuterie parade, a farmstead cheese list as long as your arm, a chalkboard menu, or any other requisite of the genre.

EATER - "Zen Box Izakaya"

EATER - "Zen Box Izakaya"

When Zen Box Izakaya first opened, we barely knew what an izakaya was. Nearly all Japanese restaurants in Minneapolis were serving singularly sushi. Now we know we couldn't live without a cold Sapporo in one hand and a piece of chicken kara age in the other. This is also ground zero for great ramen. Chef and co-owner John Ng has traveled all over Japan to feed his ramen obsession and brings all those flavors back to our chilly little burg in occasional specials and the yearly Ramen Attacks!

FOOD SERVICE NEWS - "Zen Box Izakaya: Be Loud"

FOOD SERVICE NEWS - "Zen Box Izakaya: Be Loud"

"Zen Box Izakaya: Be Loud"

If Ireland coined the word “pub,” its equivalent in Japan is the izakaya. At least that’s the description given by John Ng and Lina Goh, the active co-owners (and husband and wife) of Zen Box Izakaya in Minneapolis. The izakaya in Japan is “a hangout, a place after work in which to be loud, be fun—that’s how it is at an Izakaya,” said Ng. 

Goh agreed. “The spirit of the Izakaya is to have happy hour all the time.”