On a random trip to United Noodles with Teresa, I’m trying to mentally piece a meal together and my brain is totally fried. I’m tired, I’m hungry, but look over there! It’s a Unideli! I can kill a bowl of ramen and be back on my game in no time!
Unideli’s pretty rad. I dig their stuff, even if I can recognize a lack of “authenticity,” which inevitably arises in any discussion of ramen. At its heart, though, Unideli exists to highlight the ingredients available in the greater grocery store, and therein has a different authenticity. I once worked at a Korean restaurant where the owner wanted to put the ramen he grew up eating on the menu, which was really exciting to me because I’d never at the time had any sort of authentic ramen experience. So when he shows up with a bunch of ramen packets, and I’m like “what’s this shit?” But that’s the ramen he, a Korean-born-and-bred person, ate growing up. Just like mom used to make — from a packet. Unideli makes food entirely out of stuff available to buy at United Noodle, so you won’t have complex bone broths, but you get a tasty bowl that they’ve added soft-boiled eggs and chashu made in house, topped with chili oil and scallions. And therein, you’re getting an authentic experience of ramen you can do at home, which is pretty damn respectable, and pretty damn clever.
But when I go up to order, I’m made aware of a weekly special they have available. And it’s a burger. A Juicy Lucy to be precise. They call it a “Juicy Liu”. Teresa goes, “I think you have to.” I don’t want to talk about a burger special at a place that doesn’t actually do burgers on the regular, but they do specials every week, and different burgers seem to pop up often enough, and I really liked it, so I’m talking about it. It’s a ground beef patty stuffed with what they call “garlic chive cheese.” I’m always suspicious of something called “cheese” without specifying variety (mind you, I love American cheese), but I’d place this somewhere near a gouda. The patty’s then put on a bed of kimchi, slathered with a gochujang mayo, and topped with slivered carrot, cucumber slices and a few sprigs of cilantro. The whole ordeal is served in a pork fat-seared steam bun, which honestly didn’t do much flavor-wise, but added a good crisp to the steam bun. It turned out quite well-layered and the flavors somehow balanced nicely, as flavors switched quickly between the carrot-cuke-cilantro gave a banh mi effect, and the gochujang-kimchi combo obviously gave it that Korean kick. I really think that “cheese” tied the whole thing together.