Minizo's Munny population has exploded. The colony of vinyl toys was kept in check when the cart was downtown. But Minizo is now on Northeast Alberta Street, where a shop sells the toys around the corner and there are fewer grabby street kids to thin the countertop herd. At this rate, the two cooks manning this wheeled spinoff of downtown restaurant Shigezo will soon struggle to squeeze your bowl of shoyu ramen through the creature-filled window.
Such a calamity is perhaps Minizo's most pressing concern, as its redone menu is very impressive and its service still whip-quick.
First, my big complaint: The wonderful chicken katsu burger has disappeared. Minizo is now in the Alberta 15 pod, which is branding itself as a destination for Asian food, and Katsu Zoku sells an almost identical sandwich a few feet away. So the burger is gone, along with the katsu curry.
The new gyudon ($7) almost makes up for it. It's a simple dish, just thin shaves of marinated beef and soft onions over grains of puffy rice and a bright ginger garnish, but it offers a umami fix that'll leave your tongue hanging. Gyudon is the roast beef sandwich of Japan, but I'd trade every Arby's in town for one fast-food joint serving these bowls.
Speaking of Japanese chains, it's worth mentioning that Minizo's big brother, Shigezo, is the lone American outpost in a group of overdecorated comfort-food restaurants on par with Cheesecake Factory. Here, though, the formula is too novel to be tacky, and fresh-pulled ramen noodles, made of "specially purified wheat flour and eggs," will quiet any qualms.
Minizo's abu ramen ($6) is rich with kaeshi (soy sauce with sugar and mirin), freshened by green onions and bean sprouts and hearty from pork and a soft-boiled egg that goes runny with a chopstick prick. It's a filling and flavorful bowl, pleasantly brackish and deeply satisfying. (There's also a vegetarian version, $6.)
It's good to see Minizo bringing this ramen to Alberta. It would be even better if it still had a spot downtown. We could use one in Southeast, too. Then again, maybe it's better to be cautious—look at how fast those toys reproduced.
EAT: Minizo is at the Alberta 15 cart pod, Northeast Alberta Street and 15th Avenue. Hours vary. shigezo-pdx.com.