Roughly a year after opening, 237 has largely maintained its anonymity as one of the trendiest new eateries in downtown Winston-Salem. The exterior is marked not by its name nor any words at all, but rather a graphic of its signature item: ramen.
237 keeps it simple. For one, the name corresponds to the restaurant’s address: 237 Fifth Street. But with regard to ramen, customers can choose between four different bowls — beef, pork, spicy chicken and veggie — which range from $10 to $16. Though each type differs slightly, depending on the addition of enoki mushrooms, bok choy or roasted tomato for example, all include the signature marinated egg and noodles.
“The food is great. I’ve never had anyone complain, which as a server is an excellent thing,” Sarah Mohan, one of the restaurant’s waitresses, said.
Her statement held true, as not a single menu item disappointed. In addition to the ramen dishes, and the entree-sized Chicken Katsu Sandwich, small plates range from spicy chicken buns, edamame, gyoza and wonton nachos to japanese offerings like spicy tuna and salmon and avocado hand rolls. The hand rolls were presented simply, as they might be at a sushi bar in downtown Manhattan. Meanwhile, the gyoza, steamed rather than fried and sitting on a layer of sauce, were packed with flavor.
“237 adds another element to the ever growing multicultural restaurants in downtown Winston-Salem,” senior Mary Kern said. “The city is no longer defined by Southern food and barbecue.” Kern enjoyed her spicy chicken ramen bowl, saying it had stellar flavor and was very authentic. She added that the hand rolls were better than anything she’s tried in the city.
The menu is fairly limited, but offers just enough to give the consumer many options to choose from, and a reason to return. Plus, from other versions of the menu that can be found online, it appears as though the menu has undergone some changes throughout the past year.
Though the dinner menu may be limited, the Sake menu is anything but. Customers can choose between shots or bottles of a variety of sake that range in price, the most expensive bottle costing the customer a whooping $80.
237 and its neighbor, Small Batch Beer Co., are both owned and operated by Timothy Walker.
“Our owner is very well-versed in Japanese food and culture,” Mohan said about Walker. “It was always a passion of his to open something like this.”
Boy are we lucky that he did. 237 is the first ramen bar in the greater Winston-Salem area, the likes of which it seems have been long-awaited by locals. Though it replaced the popular Burger Batch, famous for its extravagant milkshakes and excessive burgers, Burger Batch was only a more instagrammable extension of Small Batch. Luckily, Small Batch retained many of the Burger Batch menu items, which gave Walker the opportunity to deliver something new out of 237.
According to Mohan the restaurant is consistently packed, though you wouldn’t know it from simply walking by. Shades cover each of the windows so that it is impossible to see into the restaurant, but it is equally dark inside as well. The only hints that reveal the building is in fact a restaurant are the small menu hanging on the window and the sign depicting a ramen bowl. A quick Google search will reveal that very few relevant results surface when searching the name of the restaurant. There is no website. Rather, the ramen bar tends to use social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook to market operating hours and new menu items. In fact, the secrecy adds to the intrigue.
“It’s a way to lure people in,” Mohan said. “It’s mysterious, which has helped cultivate a sort of fan base.”
To add to the mystery, 237 is only open two days a week and only for dinner. Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the restaurant only operated Wednesdays through Saturdays. To reduce operating costs, it is now operating just two days a week – Friday and Saturday. According to Mohan, the restaurant hopes to return to full operations as quickly as possible, when the pandemic slows down.
“I was shocked by how little reviews and information could be found online about this place,” Kern said. “There wasn’t even a phone number. I hope it gets the traction it deserves.”
It’s clear that despite the secrecy, locals have found 237 and have certified that it has a place among the other neighborhood favorites downtown. If you want to prove that you’re the friend who’s in-the-know, or are looking for a sleek date night spot, this is your place.