When I first stepped inside Tomukun Noodle Bar, my first thought was how very “Ann Arbor” the establishment seemed — despite its Asian origins. Perhaps this was in part due to its mostly college-aged clientele, many of whom I recognized from campus during the school year. Or maybe it was just the Dave Matthews songs playing from the loud speakers that so strongly reminded me of Middle America.

Tomukun Noodle Bar

505 E. Liberty St., Suite 200
Entrées ranging from $7 to $11

The minimalist setting at Tomukun feels communal, similar to upscale cafeteria dining. The menu veers a tad pricey for student budgets, however. Entrées start at $7 — a dear price to pay for those more accustomed to Ann Arbor’s sandwich chain offerings.

A sole bench along the length of the restaurant seats many patrons. Consequently, one can’t help overhearing neighboring conversations. And, because of my close proximity to fellow diners, I couldn’t help but eye their entrées — enviably oversized bowls containing generous portions of savory broth and noodles. The consistent hum of slurping soup was very comforting to hear over the din of the diners’ conversations and Top 40 radio.

For my part, I ordered curry rice, which consisted of a heaping of white rice, steak, shrimp and vegetables, which I mixed together along with the spicy curry. Served hot with a tantalizing scent of spices, it was fairly delicious if a little unsurprising. I’ve had numerous curry dishes, and while this one didn’t stand out, it certainly didn’t strike out, either. The potatoes were average and perhaps a little bland, but the shrimp, which had been battered to perfection, were consumed quickly and enthusiastically.

My friend, who ordered the pho, a beef broth with rib eye, cilantro and onions, fared worse. And after trying a sampling of her meal, I would have to agree. The entrée was precluded by a small dish of raw vegetables, which we assumed would go into the pho after it had arrived. But disappointingly, the pho, even after the inclusion of vegetables as well as the sauces that had been provided, was mostly flavorless and watery.

At the table next to us, a customer was inhaling a scrumptious-looking appetizer of Tomukun pork buns, filled with pork belly, pickled vegetables and scallions. After watching her obviously and viscerally appreciate that appetizer from a close seat to my immediate right (even licking her fingers to enjoy every last morsel), I quickly concluded that I would have to make a return trip to Tomukun. Maybe then, I would be able to enjoy myself as much as she seemed to have.

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