Traditional pho is still the king soup in Fort Smith for the many great Vietnamese restaurants, but the lowly ramen noodle soup is catching on around town.

Fifth Street Cafe downtown at Fifth Street and Garrison Avenue had it for a special in August and then again on Sept. 26. And mid-town's Ninja Japanese Express recently began offering "authentic Japanese ramen" at both the Rogers Avenue location and the newly opened Ninja Japanese Express II at 2254 Fayetteville Road, Suite B, in Van Buren.

A visit to 5612 Rogers Ave. at high noon on Friday found a hot bowl of grilled chicken ramen; perfect in a highly air-conditioned room with the temperature plummeting outside to a near-frigid 76 degrees. After a California sushi roll as a $4.95 appetizer, the ramen bowl with a miso soup base for $9.95 was enough food to last until a late dinner.

Although the ramen tried at Ninja Japanese Express on Friday was not too much different from a dressed-up version of a 50-cent package of ramen noodles from the grocery store, the miso soup broth seemed to be something more than just a rehydrated pack of flavoring. The manager said everything but the noodles are prepared in-house. The addition of green onions, shittake mushrooms and a boiled egg was complementary.

Other ramen options from the Ninja include a Tonkotsu pork bone base, or the Tokyo Shoyu soy sauce base soup.

At Ninja Japanese Express, the veggie ramen is $8.95; grilled chicken ramen is $9.95; seafood ramen is $12.95 and the char siew ramen (pork belly) is $10.95. Beef ramen is $10.95. The ramen soups with meat also come with a boiled egg, but additional toppings like garlic oil is $1, and extra pork belly is $2.95.

Fifth Street Cafe's Tonkotsu (pork bone) ramen soup, when it's on the menu, goes for $9.99 and comes with pork belly, ramen noodles, egg and veggies. Their veggie ramen is also $9.99 and comes with shittake mushroom and veggies with an egg roll. The Fifth Street Cafe manager said it takes two days to make the broth for their Tonkotsu ramen.

Other restaurant news

• Pig-N-Pepper BBQ opened up a new location in Alma Sept. 25 at 220 Suit A, U.S. 64, next to Magic Nails. The restaurant in Fort Smith remains open at 2700 S. Zero St.

• Sam's Southern Eatery continues to operate in its new location, 1813 Grand Ave., after moving from the east Rogers Avenue location that was flooded this summer.

• Larry B's Rhythm Room, featuring Hazel’s Gourmet Chicken & Waffles in downtown Van Buren, closed Sept. 13 after nearly two years in business.

"We are pleased with what we were able to accomplish which is bringing people together to experience great food, atmosphere, entertainment and service," a statement at Larry B's restaurant Facebook says. "There is no way we could have done this without the support of all our family, and our dedicated customers whom became a part of our restaurant family! Just knowing that we were one of the first to help bring life back to the historical downtown Van Buren area, brings joy to our heart. Even though this may be a bitter-sweet closing, we know that it’s the best decision, and we are looking forward to what the Lord has in store for us next. Please keep in mind to always support your local businesses as they all need you in order to keep the train running smoothly."