Monta Ramen is a legitimate jackpot of authentic Japanese ramen.

Recently I took a trip back to the States to visit friends and family, and while I was there I took a side trip to Las Vegas. It’d been several years since my last visit, so I checked out the new hotels that had opened up, caught a show, broke even doing some modest gambling, and admired the city’s unmistakable and ever-evolving skyline.

Then I went to get ramen.

That’s not to say I got off the plane from Japan immediately craving Japanese food. But for the past few months, my friend Marcus Lai (from games website Punch Jump) had been gushing about Monta Ramen, located in Las Vegas’ Spring Mountain neighborhood, and I wanted to see how it stacked up against the ramen served in Japan.

We rolled into the parking lot at about 11:15, 15 minutes before the restaurant opens and, for a SoraNews24 writer, way earlier than normal for lunch. As we stood by the door, other customers began lining up behind us, just like at popular ramen joints in Japan, and this gave me a spark of hope that Monta just might serve some seriously good Japanese food.

At 11:30 an employee opened the door, and immediately every seat was filled. Monta’s interior has an L-shaped counter with an open kitchen beyond, as well as tables, and while it’s not especially spacious by American standards, you won’t be bumping elbows with your fellow diners.

But as I took a look at the menu, I felt just a little apprehensive, not because the ramen listed didn’t look or sound good, but because there was so much variety.

In Japan, the most popular ramen restaurants often specialize in one style of ramen, usually one that’s indicative of the local characteristics of the region where the chain is based. Monta, though, has six different kinds of ramen, and I was worried that might translate into a “jack of all flavors, master of none” situation.

Tonkotsu (pork broth) ramen is the first style listed in the menu, and a sign on the wall said it’s also Monta’s most popular (followed by spicy tonkotsu and tonkotsu/soy sauce), so that’s what I opted for. Marcus, without even looking at the menu, asked the waitress for his usual, miso ramen, and when she came back with our bowls, my seesawing expectations rose again.

▼ Tonkotsu ramen

▼ Miso ramen

Without getting too deeply into the history of ramen, tonkotsu is most popular in western Japan, while miso ramen reigns over the country’s north. But in addition to having differently flavored broths, tonkotsu and miso ramen usually use different noodles, with thin, firm noodles being the norm for tonkotsu and thicker, softer ones for miso. And sure enough, Monta follows this tradition.

▼ Tonkotsu noodles

▼ Miso noodles

Finally, after months of anticipation, I took a bite, and discovered that Monta’s tonkotsu ramen is legitimately tasty enough to go toe-to-toe with ramen restaurants in Japan. Richly flavorful but not oily, it works in perfect tandem with the firm, thin noodles, and would be completely satisfying even in the highly competitive restaurantscapes of Tokyo or Fukuoka.

Next up I sampled the miso ramen, which in addition to the marque ingredient also use pork and chicken broth. Sometimes, miso ramen can come off a bit cloying, as the soybean paste has a distinctive flavor that sometimes pushes the other seasonings out of the way. Monta’s miso ramen, though, is extremely balanced, and doesn’t sit as heavily in the mouth or stomach. Hard-core miso lovers might find it a bit mild, but the taste of miso is definitely there, playing nicely with the other sensations on your palate.

Monta was now two for two, and my previous concern about the variety had now become an issue in the opposite way, because now I wanted to try all six broths, but knew I wouldn’t have room for them all (sadly, there’s no ramen sampler/flight). Luckily, my generous wife offered to share some of her tonkotsu shoyu ramen, a multi-faceted mix of pork, chicken, and soy broth. While it doesn’t hit the taste buds with as focused or strong a punch as the standard tonkotsu, its complementary complexity is delicious in its own way, and the sort of thing you might find in a ramen restaurant in Tokyo’s cosmopolitan Ebisu or Hiro districts.

▼ Also available are traditional ramen sides such as gyoza (pot stickers) and fried rice, as well as mini rice bowls topped with chashu pork slices or mentaiko (spicy cod roe).

The restaurant even has a kaedama system, where US$1.50 gets you a refill of noodles added to your leftover broth. And speaking of prices, unlike other overseas restaurants that apply premium pricing to dishes that are inexpensive in their native Japan, Monta’s ramen ranges in price from $6.95 to $7.95, which would be extremely reasonable for Tokyo, Osaka, or any other major Japanese city.

▼ Tonkotsu shoyu ramen

When I have Japanese food in the U.S., I often find myself mentally qualifying my opinion with “This is pretty good, compared to other Japanese restaurants in America,” or “If you can’t get on a plane to Japan, eating here is a pretty good second option.” But with Monta Ramen, I’m happy to just be able to say “It’s great,” even judged against the standard of ramen restaurants in Japan.

Restaurant information
Monta Ramen
Address: 5030 Spring Mountain Rd, Ste 6, Las Vegas, NV 89146
Open 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. (Sunday-Thursday), 11:30 a.m.-1 a.m. (Friday-Saturday)
Telephone 702-367-4600

Photos ©SoraNews24

Follow Casey on Twitter as he continues to eat Japanese food on both sides of the Pacific.