I fully admit that one hip dining trend that totally passed me by is ramen. I subsisted on instant ramen noodles, spaghetti, and canned tuna and sardines for far too many years of my life, fueling myself through far too many degrees. And while I still like those ridiculously salty and unhealthy noodles today, I’ve had a hard time wrapping my mind around $10+ bowls of “fancy” ramen, after dining on 7-for-$1 Maruchan and Nissin noodles for so long. I’ve even tried a few ramen bowls from nicer restaurants, but found them bland and disappointing, and often overloaded with those long, thin, alien-looking mushrooms with the tiny caps that ruin the whole thing for me.
But my best friend was in town recently to judge the National Pie Championships with me, and on the rare times we get to visit each other (me being in Orlando or him back in Miami), we always try to show off the newest and/or best restaurants in our home cities to each other. One place I’ve been hearing great things about restaurant is Susuru (https://www.susuruorl.com), the new Japanese izakaya (casual pub) down near Disney World, close to where he was staying. It’s extraordinarily easy to find if you take I-4 to exit 68 and get off on State Road 535, also known as Apopka-Vineland Road.
Susuru features a quirky, funky, retro-hipster-otaku decor that you never see anywhere:
As a lifelong action figure collector, I got a kick out of the view in the hallway when I left the men’s room:
And as a cat lover with a few maneki nekos at home to hopefully bring some luck, I loved this little dude next to the bar:
I’m sure my readers care far more about the menu, which wasn’t available on Susuru’s website when I checked, so here it is. Note that this is a Japanese restaurant that serves no sushi. Also note that none of the food is too expensive, so I encourage you to order several different dishes and share them:
My buddy and I each ordered tonkotsu ramen ($10), with pork chashu, shoyu soft egg, bamboo shoots, scallions, nori, and tonkotsu broth. I have to admit, I was still a little skeptical, given my limited experience with overpriced and mediocre “fancy” ramen, but this was so delicious, I can’t stop thinking about it almost two weeks later. (“Or talking about it!”, my wife would say.) The broth was so rich and flavorful, almost creamy despite containing no dairy at all. Even the bamboo shoots, which I had misgivings about, were soft and yielding, like thick al dente pasta sheets. I’ve never been able to cook an egg to that perfect soft-boiled consistency, with the rich, runny yolk that infused the broth. The noodles were so far beyond the instant ramen bricks of my college days, it was like graduating from your school cafeteria lunches to a gourmet feast. And the pork! The PORK! It melted in my mouth. It was sliced thin, and it was so tender and unctuous. Once again, perfect in every way!
We also split the mentaiko fries ($6), which were McDonald’s-style fries topped with spicy cod roe mayonnaise and shredded nori (seaweed). I love anything salty, spicy, and fishy, but these were almost like a salt overload. Delicious, though. I have to imagine this would be a great dish to order while drinking beer.
Skewers, skewers, all kinds of skewers! These skewers of meat are cut into perfect, uniform, bite-sized pieces and grilled over a charcoal flame. From left to right, we ordered sausage, chicken hearts, short rib, chicken skin, and the two on the right are both chicken thighs. The Kurobota (pork honey sausage) had the texture of a hot dog and didn’t taste that different, although it picked up nice flavor from the charcoal grill they used. The short rib (in the middle) was a little tough, although still very rich and tasty. I am drawn to sausages and short rib dishes anywhere I go and count them among my favorite meats. That said…I never thought I’d end up liking chicken more than sausage or short rib, but I sure did here. All three types of chicken skewers (yakitori) were indeed better — not that I disliked the sausage or short rib! But they were among the most delicious chicken-related items I’ve ever eaten in my life. They had a fantastic taste they picked up from being grilled, especially those thighs. My only disappointment was that they ran out of chicken oyster yakitori, an off-menu special for the evening. Those two tiny, dark morsels of meat are my favorite part of the chicken, which is why I usually gravitate toward preparing thighs or roasting whole birds at home.
If you’re skeptical about chicken hearts, I implore you to give these a try. I’ve bought hearts at Publix to cook at home (marinate in a vinaigrette dressing and then saute them). I love the rich, organ-y flavor, like delicious chicken liver, but mine always come out chewy. These were anything but chewy — far more tender than I ever expected chicken hearts could be. Whoever is working the grill at Susuru is a master at his or her craft.
So I’m definitely a huge fan of Susuru. If you spend time down near the theme parks or come to Orlando on vacation, venture off park property and go check it out. Seriously, if it wasn’t an hour from home, I would become a regular for sure. I’m already planning my next Susuru adventure!