PEORIA — Yi Pin Xiang is the name of the new noodle joint at 1219 W. Main St. You don't have to pronounce it, just eat there.
The place actually opened late last year, offering yet another Asian outlet to the Main Street/Campustown corridor already blessed with Thanh Linh, Taste of Thai and, across the street, Pho on Main 2 and the Panda House.
The distinction here is this is Peoria's first Tonkotsu Ramen restaurant. Think Japanese. Think soup broth lovingly prepared from pork served with fresh ramen noodles.
Before you think of those inexpensive little packs of noodles that sustained you in college, think again. In Japan, every area has its own signature ramen dish.
But Yi Pin has even more to offer. The menu is short and sweet — well, not all sweet but first let's talk about atmosphere.
It's cozy in here. We stopped by for dinner recently and, from our booth, noticed the interesting decor. Wooden slats adorn walls that also feature engravings. Japanese music plays quietly. You feel good here.
Our server was both attentive and helpful. She brought us water and a pot of hot tea and allowed us to get settled. For an appetizer, we decided on dumplings ($5.99). These delicate little packages with a pork filling were shared using the soy-flavored sauce provided. We were off to a good start.
Not having much experience with the whole Japanese cuisine thing, I went with a bento box, selecting the pork teriyaki variety ($9.95). It's not really a box but comes in a neatly divided plate with five compartments. There's a place for the tempura, rice, lettuce, pork and, in a tiny space, some pickled cabbage or something. The teriyaki pork was excellent, crunchy on the outside but tender inside.
The tempura was particularly good. Who knew that vegetables with a doughy crust could taste so good? The lettuce and rice served as a good complement for the pork.
My dining companion opted for the vegetable spicy miso ($10.50) that comes in a big bowl of broth with tofu, vegetables and other goodies. It was spicy enough but she wasn't thrilled with the tofu. She said it was mushy.
There's a lot of broth and noodles on the menu here but there also is a trio of curry rice dishes along with other bento boxes (chicken, beef and combination).
There's no alcohol or dessert on the menu but if you're in the mood for something extra after your meal, there's One World and the Little Raven Creamery nearby to serve that sweet tooth.
Take-out is a breeze, too, since you can order online but do you even need to say that anymore?
All told, it's a great addition to Peoria's Asian corner.
Steve Tarter covers city and county government for the Journal Star when he's not visiting area restaurants. Contact him at 686-3260 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at Twitter@SteveTarter and facebook.com/tartersource.