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OS Reviews: Kokoro Japanese Restaurant

Downtown State College’s newest Japanese restaurant, Kokoro and Su Ji Chang Fen Dian, opened in October at 404 E. Calder Way.

Kokoro offers a wide variety of Japanese cuisine but specializes in ramen noodle bowls and intends to “make ramen with Kokoro (heart).” The restaurant also offers nearly a dozen appetizers from gyoza to spring rolls. The ramen noodles are delivered fresh from Manhattan’s Chinatown, and Kokoro’s pork and beef originate from an Amish butcher in Lock Haven.

Our staff ventured downtown to give Kokoro a try and see how it stacks up against other State College staples.

Anna Wiggins: Spicy Breaded Fried Chicken Ramen and Bao Buns

I didn’t know what to expect before trying Kokoro ramen. I had never had authentic ramen before but was certainly curious and eager to try it. I swung by on a cold and dreary day — perfect soup weather.

I ordered the spicy breaded fried chicken ramen, which came with broth, noodles, half an egg, corn, scallions, the fried chicken cutlet, and what I believe was kikurage, a type of mushroom. It was a perfect blend of really yummy and comforting flavors. The broth was hearty, the chicken packed just the perfect amount of spice (the heat was there, but not at all intense), and noodles are always a welcome carb. I will say — I was a little intimidated by the kikurage. I had never seen or had it before, and although it wasn’t my favorite, I definitely could see how others could enjoy it. All in all, this was a really delicious and comforting first ramen experience.

Additionally, I’ve been wanting to try bao for years, so I knew I had to order it when I saw it on the menu. I’m so glad I did. The dumpling shell is not like a potsticker or gyoza wrapping, which is what I’m most used to. Instead, it was a really delicious and fluffy bread, which was delightful. The pork filling was equally as delicious, and I’m glad I got to cross this bucket list food item off with Kokoro.

Food aside, the service was fantastic. The owner was super friendly and even gave fellow staffers Keeley Lamm, Grace Cunningham, Colleen Nersten, and myself a few free appetizers and desserts to try. Truly, Kokoro was a great experience, and I’m really happy I got to try this place out. When in need of ramen on a cold and rainy day, I will be back.

Colleen Nersten: Spicy Tantan Ramen and Beef

I really enjoyed my Kokoro experience. I ordered the spicy tantan ramen, which included homemade chili oil, corn, ground beef, and vegetables. It honestly wasn’t spicy at all, but it was served hot and was very flavorful. I asked the owner what his favorite dish was, and he gave a really wholesome response that everything was his favorite and that he wouldn’t serve anything he didn’t love. After this conversation, he brought our table a free bowl of juicy beef in broth to try. The owner went above and beyond and spent time getting to know us and told us about how he ended up in State College.

The ramen was $14, and he gave me a 10% off student discount, which was appreciated. I’m a huge Tadashi fan, and I’ll certainly continue to eat there, but the service at Kokoro was more personable and that alone will bring me back in. There was also a sign on the wall that people who were in need of a meal could get one for free, no questions asked, which was awesome to see. 

Grace Cunningham: Creamy Tomato Ramen and Veggie Spring Rolls

Mother Nature certainly set the vibes for a good ramen day. It was cold and wet outside, so sitting in Kokoro with a hot bowl of soup in front of me was *chef’s kiss.* I chose the creamy tomato ramen and the veggie spring rolls, and I’m so glad that I did. The spring rolls were super crunchy and satisfying, and the ramen was filling. The whole experience was awesome, and our server was incredibly friendly. When I ordered my meal, he asked if I was vegetarian so that he could make sure my food wasn’t contaminated at all. I’m not vegetarian, but it was very nice that he cared to ask. This was a lovely comfort meal, and I’ll definitely be going back soon.

Gracie Mullan: Pork Ramen and Bao Buns

The food was quite good and you get a lot of food for the price. The price is on the higher end, so this may be a place you go to ~treat yourself.~ The pork broth was light and tasty, but if you are not a fan of seaweed, ask for it on the side.

The bao buns were my favorite, and the filling was delicious. The service at Kokoro was wonderful and you get your food fast. Students who show their Penn State ID also get 10% off at checkout. I recommend Kokoro to anyone craving some comfort food.

Keeley Lamm: Shoyu Tonkotsu and Pork Gyoza

Kokoro is awesome. The food is great and the service is stellar. I ordered Kokoro’s signature dish, shoyu tonkotsu, which consists of pork belly, a soft-boiled egg, nori, scallions, corn, and mushrooms. It’s definitely a big portion, so its $15 price is justified and more than filling. Each ingredient compliments the other and the broth pulled the whole bowl together.

I also got to sample the pork gyoza thanks to a kind employee, and it might’ve been the highlight of the meal. The gyoza, which is essentially a potsticker, was so good and the veggie and pork filling was a welcome blast of flavor. Thanks, Mintu.

I can absolutely see myself going back to Kokoro for a warm bowl of ramen. It’s a great rainy-day spot.

Marie Moyer: Beef Ramen and Bao Buns

I haven’t had traditional ramen in a hot minute, so I was super excited to try Kokoro. The restaurant was sit-down style with a server and menus at the table. My server, Toby, was super friendly and gave us recommendations on the menu.

The menu had an extensive list of appetizers and sides, which included shrimp tempura, spring rolls, and pork dumplings.

For a starter, I had the pork bao buns. They had a nice fluffy texture and the meat inside was super flavorful. The dish was accompanied by chili flakes to dip the buns in and it added some variety to the taste. An issue I found was that the buns were a little dry if you didn’t get enough meat in a bite. I think having another dipping sauce might’ve helped.

The ramen itself was quite good. Despite being beef-based, the broth was light, refreshing, and flavorful. It had a slight kick to it with chili flakes in the soup. The noodles were chewy and complimented the broth well. The corn added a little sweetness. The only complaints I had were that the mushrooms in the dish overpowered the broth in some areas and the beef was on the chewy side.

Overall, I do see myself coming here again, at least for some dumplings for snacking. The atmosphere was very welcoming and the servings were huge. Students also get a 10% discount if they bring their IDs.

Nina Jeffries: Shoyu Tonkotsu

If you like a classic cup of ramen noodles, this is the meal for you. It’s very flavorful and if you grew up watching Studio Ghibli films, this will definitely satisfy all those “Ponyo” lovers who love ham!

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