By Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor Published Apr 19, 2022 at 11:01 AM

In December, we spilled the beans that Kawa would be bringing their expertly prepared ramen and sushi to the 3rd Street Market Hall at 275 W. Wisconsin Ave.

And, while you’ll have to wait another month for their sushi bar to be up and running, Kawa has officially opened its ramen bar at the Downtown food hall, where they are serving up steaming bowls of comforting noodle soup, snacks and a menu of rice bowls.

The new vendor stall is among the largest in the food hall, and it comprises two distinctively designed sides. The ramen bar, which softly opened last week, reflects a modern, slightly industrial aesthetic framed out in metal and tile and showcasing ramen-bar-style seating. 

Ramen sideX

Meanwhile, the sushi side (which is slated to open in about a month) features a more traditional Japanese aesthetic, which will be augmented by fresh seafood cases and a chef’s table right inside the vendor stall where diners will be able to experience omakase-style dining.

In between the two is a check-out area where guests can examine the menus on mounted television screens and order any number of dishes to enjoy anywhere in the food hall.

Snacks

Among the items you’ll find on Kawa’s menu are simple snacks, including steamed edamame seasoned with sea salt ($5); pan-fried chicken and vegetable gyoza ($8); and umami-rich takoyaki, the traditional Japanese street food comprised of a ball of fluffy wheat dough filled with savory tender octopus. Kawa’s are served with mayo, katsu sauce and bonito flakes ($8).

But you have to try the karaage chicken (often known as Japanese fried chicken), a dish ubiquitous at izakaya spots in Japan.

karaage chickenX

It’s irresistibly crispy on the exterior, remarkably tender on the interior and served with chopped cabbage (be sure to dress it with a bit of the accompanying apple cider soy) and house dipping sauce for $9.

Ramen

Virtually every ramen shop in the Milwaukee area offers tonkotsu ramen, which is built on a base of long-simmering pork-based broth which has a rich, creamy consistency. It’s a delicious standard that’s served at Kawa’s East Side location, as well as at places like Hungry Sumo and Tanpopo. And it’s among the most popular ramen styles found across the U.S.

But Selina Zheng, owner of Kawa, says she explicitly wants to introduce Milwaukee to something different at the 3rd Street Market Hall. 

“I very much want Milwaukeeans to have more food options,” she says. “And I want them to experience other classic ramens, other than tonkotsu.”

So Kawa 3rd Street is highlighting two distinctive types of ramen broth, both made with chicken, and both served with a topping of housemade chashu chicken, which is cooked via sous vide (to keep the chicken tender) and then finished on the grill to give it it signature grilled flavor.

The first type of broth is tori paiton, a cousin of tonkotsu that’s made with chicken. Tori paiton is made with both chicken bones and whole chicken, which are cooked at a high temperature for at least six to eight hours. During the cooking process, the cartilage releases collagen, the marrow in the bones releases gelatin and the fat from the skin, wings and meat is broken down and released into the broth. That results in a visibly cloudy broth with a creamy, rich texture that’s somewhat similar to tonkotsu, but with an intense chicken flavor.

The tori paiton broth is used in Kawa’s Paiton Chicken Ramen, which is topped with scallions, housemade soy egg, chicken chashu and house fermented bamboo shoots ($16).

Tori paiton ramenX

The chicken ramen exhibits a rich, creamy texture and a deep chicken flavor that’s reminiscent of the best, most flavorful chicken soup your mother never made

You’ll also find a slightly augmented version of the creamy white paiton broth in their Hell Fire Ramen, which is topped with scallions, soy egg, chicken chashu, wood ear mushrooms, bamboo shoots, chili threads and house chili oil ($17).

Hell Fire with tori paitonX

This version is just as rich and creamy as the chicken paiton, but it offers a slightly more layered flavor profile and plenty of heat from the housemade chili oil (which is made with ten different types of chillies).

The second type of broth is chintan, a chicken-based broth which is made with whole chicken that’s  cooked at a lower temperature. It’s visibly clear, with a light texture and a more nuanced flavor. And yes, you may have encountered chintan broth before. It’s sometimes just called “clear chicken broth.” It’s also used to make shoyu ramen (the chintan broth is flavored with a soya tare). 

In the case of Kawa’s Yuzu Chicken Ramen, you will find chintan broth flavored with yuzu (a fragrant, tart citrus fruit grown widely in Japan, China and Korea) topped with scallions, housemade soy egg, chicken chashu, house fermented bamboo shoots and wood ear mushrooms ($16). 

Yuzu chintan ramenX

Because Kawa wants to guarantee consistency in flavor from bowl to bowl, the yuzu’s citrus flavor is imparted through the use of an aroma oil (fat infused with yuzu) which is added to each bowl before serving. The oil not only provides an aromatic element for the bowl of ramen, but also a consistent way to measure the amount of yuzu flavor in each bowl.

The subtle yuzu flavor is beautiful, fresh and nuanced. In fact, if there is a ramen I’d like to eat during the summer months it’s this one.

Rice bowls

If you can’t wait for sushi, you might be able to sate your craving with one of Kawa’s fresh poke bowls, which begin with shiny, expertly prepared sushi rice and beautifully seasoned sushi-grade salmon or tuna. That’s rounded out with seaweed salad, avocado, green beans, spicy mayo and eel sauce ($18-$19). Guests can substitute house salad for sushi rice if desired.

Of course, if you’d prefer your rice bowl to contain cooked items, you’ll find a variety of selections that meet your needs. Choose from grilled chicken or salmon teriyaki with sesame, seaweed salad and pickled radishes ($15-$16); Gyu Don with tender sliced beef, onions, sesame, soy dashi, egg and pickled radishes ($18); or an Unagi Bowl with grilled eel, sesame, pickled radishes and eel sauce ($18).

Oh! That delicious karaage chicken is also available in rice bowl form, served with cabbage salad, apple cider soy and house sauce ($16).

More at the food hall

Kawa joins a growing slate of tenants at the new Downtown food hall, which includes Dairyland (burgers, chicken sandwiches, frozen custard), Mid-Way Bakery (bakery, desserts, soups, salads, sandwiches), Amano Pan (breads, pizza), Hot Dish Pantry (pierogi, hot dish), Strega (appetizers, pastas, desserts) MaKE Waves (smoothies, juices, acai bowls), Greenhouse (salad, sandwiches) and Middle East Side.

Of course, there are still numerous vendors on the way, including the Strange Town Bottle Shop (natural wines, vegan grab and go items), Dawg City (hot dogs, sausages), Anytime Arepas (Venezuelan arepas, desserts),  Supernova Coffee & Doughnuts (doughnuts, coffee), Paper Plane Pizza (pizza) and Kompali Tacos & Tortas.

3rd Street Market Hall is open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.