Tucked alongside University Avenue, a few blocks from UC Berkeley, the newly opened Masa Ramen Bistro offers dishes and an ambiance to make patrons “reminisce of home.”
Owners Clyde Ulep, Jackie Ulep and Tim Masa Kawamota are from Hawaii, and are using their restaurant to provide Japanese dishes and Hawaiian comfort food to the Berkeley area. The restaurant is located at 1923 University Ave., the former location of Plearn Thai restaurant, and has been building a regular customer base since its soft opening Sept. 15 — the number of customers has doubled each week, according to Kawamota.
“There’s a lot of Hawaiian people that have or have recently moved to the Bay Area for a long time,” Kawamota said. “It’s kind of hard to find that home-cooked meal.”
The restaurant’s name originates from Kawamota’s middle name, Masa, which roughly translates to “intelligence” or “wit” in English.
As an ode to Hawaii, the menu features items such as the 808 Chicken, a Hawaiian-style fried chicken. Kawamota said the 808 references Hawaii’s area code — there, the dish is called Mochiko Chicken.
However, Kawamota’s favorite dishes are the oxtail soup and the spicy ramen options.
“We have Broke Da Mouth ramen; that’s our signature because we added cheese to ramen,” Kawamota said. “A lot of thought went into incorporating that flavor into the ramen so that it would match. You can’t just throw cheese on any ramen.”
Kawamota said the restaurant’s “contemporary” concept is complemented by decor featuring elements from both Hawaiian and Japanese culture.
While the walls are adorned with posters and a depiction of Hawaii, Kawamota noted the difficulty of finding authentic decor in the United States. He said he hopes to pick up more Japanese decorations during a trip there next year.
Masa Ramen Bistro also offers a 10% student discount for local high school and college students. The restaurant is planning a grand opening in late October.
Patron Tessa Machida said she has already recommended the restaurant to others and appreciates its accessible location close to work.
“The service was really nice and I like that it’s not just strict Japanese,” Machida said. “It’s Hawaiian fusion, so that’s also really cool.”
Another patron, Kathleen Arata, has returned to the restaurant three times since its soft opening. She noticed more items were added to the menu, including a spiciness scale and hot green tea.
Arata said she will be a regular customer because of the restaurant’s convenient location. She noted one of the owners’ friendliness as well.
“The community’s support has been awesome,” Kawamota said. “Our goal is just to make everybody feel at home.”
Yansu Tan contributed to this report.