Whimsical Wara Wara brightens Providence’s East Side

Inventive Asian tapas and noodle dishes, with a side order of Godzilla, are highlights of this new spot by the owners of Ebisu Japanese Restaurant.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- What a lovely, lovely addition Wara Wara is to the Providence dining scene. This ramen noodle and Asian tapas restaurant opened a month ago on Hope Street on the East Side. It replaces Blaze, which moved to Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket. 

The back story

Kazu Kondo and X Premwat, co-owners with Nick Mazonowicz, also own Ebisu Japanese Restaurant on Pontiac Avenue in Providence.
“We love the location,” said Kondo. “We have been looking for space on the East Side for a couple of years.”

The look

The restaurant was designed by Kyla Coburn, whose wonderful whimsy here includes a dramatic anime-style mural of a Japanese woman that covers an entire wall. 
“We love to go to restaurants she has designed,” Kondo said. So asking her, a RISD contemporary of Mazonowicz, was a natural. She reused everything that was there, but you wouldn’t know it, and that includes the old tables, which are are beautifully decorated and lacquered. The space offers window bar dining on one side, as well as a full bar separated from the dining room by a half wall. The top of that wall is decorated with toy Godzilla toys of varying sizes. No detail is too small for Coburn, who painted the floor a lovely blue and adorns each table with an Asian tea light she made herself. The chairs are retro and as cool as the raw bar (for the local New England oysters), which sits in a giant stone. I love it all. 

The food 

The menu includes homestyle ramen bowls made on induction burners at a bar that faces into the kitchen. You’ll find plenty of sake selections, by the glass and the bottle, and a menu of sake cocktails. I had one with coconut that was nice. There are salads, from kimchi to crispy kale, as well as vegetable, meat or seafood tapas. I savored the Hakka Eggplant ($7) with the subtly spicy hoisin sauce for texture and flavor. I adored the Pork Belly Bun ($7), which had a light bun enveloping meat that was about as lean as I’ve seen pork belly, and that is good. Kimchi added heat, as did spicy honey miso. The Lemongrass Pork Sausage ($7) was delicious in a ginger scallion vinaigrette. Excellent, too, was the Pan-Seared Scallops ($12) with carrot purée, bacon for saltiness and mango salsa. The portion was small but satisfying. The Crispy Brussels Sprouts ($7) in a fish sauce and the A.K.A Yakitori ($8) were nice additions to the table, too. I could do without the boring tongue dish. But I loved, loved, loved the Miso Ramen bowl with melt-in-your-mouth roasted pork; and the Tan Tan Men Ramen with spicy ground pork and bok choy, both $12. I enjoyed the savory but light broth, satisfying noodles and meat combinations. Wara Wara has a brunch menu on Sunday. Many items are gluten-free and vegetarian for special diets. 

The vibe

It’s loud and lively and the place was hopping on the Tuesday night of my visit. Every table was full early on. I enjoy trying many things and sharing small plates with my companions. You don’t have to do that, but you’ll miss out on the fun of many flavors.

The verdict

I can’t wait to go back for the eggplant, ramen noodles and that pork bun. 

Details: Wara Wara, 776 Hope St., Providence, (401) 831-9272, warawarari.com. Open Monday to Saturday 4:30 to 11 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. with the brunch menu served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Lunch service is promised soon. 

(401) 277-7266
On Twitter: @gailciampa