BY BRADLEY HAWKS
When HinoMaru first opened on Ditmars just about a year ago, it caught the eye of noodle enthusiasts everywhere, especially considering the lack of slurpable options in western Queens.
Featuring a menu focused around eight regional ramen preparations, Chef Koji Miyamoto’s soup broth simmers with pork bones for nearly 12 hours.
The 60-seat space is comfortably open, with two large rooms separated by a long noodle bar, where guests can watch the chef at work in the large open kitchen. HinoMaru means “circle of the sun,” a nod to the Japanese flag. Masks of Tengu (the Japanese spirit of mischief) adorn the walls.
The cooks can regularly be seen preparing housemade gyoza (pork dumplings), or a rendition of takoyaki that surpasses any other version in the city—even the popular East Village stands. Takoyaki, a common street food, are like piping hot seafood-stuffed zeppoles topped with bonito flakes that dance in the steam.
The menu now includes all of the original regional soups and dishes, along with the addition of a chalkboard of daily specials and a second printed page of nearly 20 Japanese tapas-style plates and seasonal noodle and rice bowl additions–even a few sushi rolls–almost all under $10.
A recurring favorite is the uni ramen, like a seafood carbonara, with the noodles tossed in a very light parmesan cream, with a generous heap of sea urchin on top, along with fish cakes and nori shreds. During the summer, look for the cold seafood ramen, topped with crumbled bits of yuzu jelly that melt into broth as they are stirred in.
The softshell crab nikuman (steamed buns) with scallions, cucumber straws, and sriracha mayo are exceptional. The crunch of the breaded shellfish tucked into that soft (even the slightest fingerprint dimples the bun) Pac Man-shaped rice flour bread is fantastic. The steamed nikuman are also available stuffed with spicy crab, tender pork belly, and even tempura shrimp.
The menu also includes some less traditional and surprising dishes, like browned, scored links of kurobuta sausage, served on a bed of satsuma potato puree, a golden sweet potato whose rich color symbolizes wealth. Or perhaps try a basket of fried pig ears, heavily seasoned and playfully crunchy.
Expected sweet endings include chewy, frosty orbs of various flavored mochi, but a delicious surprise reveals a silky coconut panna cotta, topped either with strawberries or diced mango, like a heavenly creme parfait.
The service is impeccable. The prices are extremely affordable. The space is pristine, and surprisingly spacious, including a sweet graffiti garden patio in back. HinoMaru recently attained a beer and wine license, but also serves tea and traditional Japanese sodas. The chorus of staff chiming “domo arigato gozaimashita” as guests exit the restaurant may be unfamiliar to the neighborhood, but it’s music to the ears, and a siren song to return soon and often.
33-18 Ditmars Boulevard, Astoria
Sunday – Thursday noon -10:30 p.m.
Friday and Saturday noon -11 p.m.
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