Fans of ramen in Atlanta know the name Mihoko Obunai well. The chef’s creatively composed bowls of broth and noodles have left guests scrambling for seats during her Monday night Ramen Freak pop-up she held weekly at Sound Table. Bowls sold out quickly leaving scads of disappointed noodle soup connoisseurs to try again the following week. Good news, Atlantans: Obunai can now be found doling out her ramen daily at Nexto adjacent to the Beltline in Old Fourth Ward.
Having come to the United States to attend New York University, Obunai worked shifts at a small Japanese restaurant in between classes. It New York, she remained tethered to Japan and centered in her joy of being in the kitchen. Her mother inspired a love of cooking from a young age, often preparing 10-course meals for the family with Obunai by her side. Upon graduating, Obunai joined the Peace Corp and traveled to Peru where she befriended a group of chefs. Through their encouragement, she entered and graduated from the French Culinary Institute.
Obunai moved to Atlanta in 2005 to open Repast. Her kitchen prowess lead to her being named a “Rising Star Chef” by Star Chefs, and she garnered an appearance on Food Network’s Chopped. She briefly returned to New York City to train under her mentor chef Jack Nakamura at Ramen Lab, and in 2015, Obunai’s skills were put to the test during the first-annual Ramen Battle in Brooklyn, in which she was crowned champion over her four male competitors. Here, Obunai shares what she likes to eat when she’s not chipping up ramen for the masses.
I usually cook a Japanese breakfast of very simple steamed brown or white rice, miso soup with tofu, Wakame and scallions, Natto (fermented soy beans), and pickles.
I am usually at Nexto working, so I have been eating a lot of ramen in five minutes or less.
Kimball House has the best oysters. I like the Northwest Coast for oysters. I usually eat a dozen (sometimes two) with their cheese plate and vegetable sides.
Las Brasas (Decatur) for ceviche. It reminds me of when I used to live in Peru and eat ceviche every day.
Dried squids with kewpie mayonnaise and togarashi.
Favorite Cocktail or Beer
I don’t drink cocktails or beer. I drink red wine and sometimes bourbon.
Fancy Night Out
Sitting at the sushi counter at Brush Izakaya and eating chef Jason Liang’s omakase.
My mother is a great cook. I learned a lot from her when I was little. I have a lot of respect for her cooking and she has been a big influence for me. We still spend time together in the kitchen whenever I go home to Japan. She makes the best sukiyaki.
The Farm in Bloomington, Ind. Owner/chef Daniel Orr is my mentor chef. I used to work with him 70-plus hours a week as his line cook back in the ‘90s in New York City. He is originally from Indiana and he opened his restaurant there after he left New York City. He also owns a farm on the property and raises animals and grows organic vegetables for the restaurant. I have done ramen pop-ups at his restaurant the last two years. People in Indiana are so respectful of diverse foods and cultures.
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