On a cold wintry day, when the skies are gray and the rain is beating against the windows , there is nothing better than a bowl of piping hot noodle soup. Pho , perhaps, or ramen. And so, last Sunday afternoon we found ourselves at Rai Rai Ramen 1980 Route 27, North Brunswick N.J. 08902. It is situated in a little strip mall whose other occupants are two Indian restaurants ( Paradise Biryani Pointe and Dosa Grill). We go to them often and I’ve had my eye on Rai Rai for some time.
First of all, it should be mentioned that Rai Rai is a Pan Asian restaurant rather than a Japanese joint. In addition to the ramen bowls and the Japanese  staples like pork tonkatsu and chicken teriyaki , it has a full Chinese menu and an eclectic mix of other Asian dishes including kimchee fried rice and Roti Canai. Even among the ramen varieties , you will find hybrids such as kimchi ramen and mapo ramen. .Not that it matters. Authentic or not , the food is good and most customers go to Rai Rai for the ramen.
The décor at Rai Rai is pretty basic. As soon as you enter, you see the cash register counter and a disused sushi bar along the wall, front to back; along the other wall is a row of teal colored banquettes and down the middle is an assortment of tables of various shapes and sizes, and matching chairs. There must have been some paintings and wall decorations but they are eminently forgettable ; I can’t remember what they look like . The owner, a Chinese ( Taiwanese?) gentleman who doubles as a waiter, is very friendly and takes the time to explain the food to you. A good thing because there are not too many other waitpersons. When we were there, the place was half full and service was pretty good but I can see that it might be a problem when it is busier.
I ordered the Gomoku Ramen($ 11.75) , my wife the Hot and Spicy Seafood Ramen( $12.95) and both were very good. Gomoku , the owner told us, is a regional style of ramen. The pork broth was complex and pleasing, the noodles firm and slightly chewy, and the toppings included slices of braised pork, fish cake, seaweed, half a shoyu flavored hard boiled egg and corn. I was doubtful about the corn but, in fact, its sweetness added another dimension of taste. All the toppings were very good but the egg and the corn were my favorites.The owner , when he took our order, asked whether I wanted the dish regular or less salty. I opted for the ” regular” but that was a mistake. If offered a choice , take the” less salty” option. My wife’s dish was hot and spicy as advertised , the broth flavorful and lighter than mine and the toppings included shrimp, fish, crab legs, squid and broccoli. In addition , we also had a Roti Canai appetizer( $ 4.50) which was different from any that I have eaten in a Malaysian restaurant. At Rai Rai, what we got was a pair of mini parathas ( the only way to describe them). Not bad , but a lttle disappointing.
Notwithstanding the generous portions, prices are a little on the high side. The bowls of ramen are between mostly $12 and $ 14 which is higher than I am accustomed to paying. I was a little disappointed to find that Guo Bao , the Taiwanese street food which consists of slow braised pork belly topped with garnishes and wrapped in steamed pillowy Chinese bread, was no longer on the menu because of a lack of demand. I will be back again however to try out more ramen varieties , several of which are intriguing. I want to try out the Hakata ramen, the Oxtail ramen and the Shiyo ramen. I am curious too about the Chinese menu. Are all these dishes really available ? And is the fried rice really as good as it is cracked up to be. It will be fun finding out.