Wings at JA Ramen (Photo by Taylor Noel Photography)

Now with 2 locations, JA Ramen’s menu is traveling into new territories

January 31, 2023
By Mark Whittaker
By Mark Whittaker

When word got out that a ramen joint was opening up in the middle of “restaurant row” on Campbell Avenue, residents cheered and it’s possible local neighboring restaurants panicked. In late 2019, it s was the Tucson golden age of ramen — the poke fad was losing steam and the birria craze was only in its infancy. It was all about ramen then. I mean, it still is but it was even more back then. 

(Photo by Taylor Noel Photography)

In October of 2019, Campbell Avenue was a virtual ramen desert so there was very little competition. One or two options, maybe, so this new venture might have a spirited chance. 

In fact, it totally did and coincidentally, JA Ramen moved into a spot that used to house a poke concept. 

The restaurant was an almost instant hit, not just with the surrounding community, but with anyone who wanted delicious and inventive bowls of hearty noodled goodness. It’s all about the broth, though. If you are going to serve ramen, professionally, you better bring that deep complex broth bravado with you. 

(Photo by Taylor Noel Photography)

Well, we all know what happened to most restaurants in 2020 and JA Ramen was not immune to the closures and subsequent worry that they would open their doors again. As their neighbors slowly began to reopen and serve food again, JA Ramen followed suit, and a general sigh of relief was heard across this great ramen-loving city of ours. 

JA Ramen owner Helena Le got word that a burger and milkshake eatery was shutting down on Congress Street, she, along with her brother and business partner, immediately sprung into action.

JA Ramen downtown (Photo by Taylor Noel Photography)

In October of 2022, almost three years to the day that the midtown JA Ramen turned the Open light on, the downtown companion did as well. 

Hailing from Vietnam, yet calling Tucson home for almost a decade now, Le has always worked in the restaurant industry without the notion of actually owning a restaurant. It just wasn’t for her. Long hours, financial ambivalence, staff issues, competition, supply costs, and did I mention long hours? All of it just seemed too much for the quiet yet quite tough Le.

That is until she made her brother a bowl of curry ramen to which he looked at her and said, “Yeah, you need to open up a ramen restaurant.”

Helena Le of JA Ramen (Photo by Taylor Noel Photography)

As a JA Ramen fan, seeing it is not only super delicious but just a few blocks from the house, I am so glad her brother said those words and lit that fire. 

Le knew that she was okay with going into the ramen business as it has always been one of her favorite things to cook, and at the same time being a very popular dish. For the downtown lunch crowd, this is a boon. Even if you are not in a hurry, JA Ramen has always excelled at its speed in service. 

Helena Le of JA Ramen (Photo by Taylor Noel Photography)

Now, this just isn’t a celebration of a local business owned and operated by a hardworking woman who has been providing bowls of sumptuous and savory ramen, curry dishes, and salads for the greater good of Tucson. Oh, no. 

There has been a titter of a rumor circulating in the local food underbelly that Le and her downtown spot are working on something even more popular than a bowl of sensationally steamy ramen. 


If you follow certain Tucson food feeds on social media, one question pops up more than it actually should: Best wings in Tucson? If they would just scroll down a bit they’d find a collection of answers. 

Le has been closely observing that obsession so she hatched a plan that wasn’t all that difficult to crack. She is putting wings on the menu for the downtown location. This is both smart because if you’re clubbin’ and drinkin’, you gonna need them wings. 

(Photo by Taylor Noel Photography)

We were more than lucky to have sampled three wing combos that Le is working on. 

The first to come to the table was Korean-inspired. They’re of the saucy variety mentioned earlier. Sweet, spicy, and finished with scallions, it was reminiscent of gochujang with a hint of Japanese and Vietnamese, but completely in the independent taste corner Le is known for.

Not only were the wings huge but perfectly cooked, giving the exterior a really nice crisp while leaving the inside delightfully tender. 

Hot Wings at JA Ramen (Photo by Taylor Noel Photography)
Hot Wings with jalapeño and onions at JA Ramen (Photo by Taylor Noel Photography)

Another bowl of wings quickly followed that were surrounded by jalapeño and onions. This, to me, always indicates that I am about to feast on something so volcanic that I may hallucinate a little — if not a lot. 

Turned out these wings were seasoned just enough to give an idea of the razor-hewed execution that goes into their take on the adored finger-spun nibbles. It was so nice to eat a wing with such great texture. I knew right away that people on social media will thumb in “JA Ramen” when asked about best wing destinations. The jalapeño and onions were just for looks, I suppose, though I ate those, too.

(Photo by Taylor Noel Photography)

The third and final wing installment to head our way was actually a mistake. 

These wings were drizzled with a light caramel sauce and then sprinkled with parmesan cheese. Le didn’t disclaim what went wrong, apparently, the parm was the culprit, but somehow those two elements fused together in the strangest and best way possible. She was actually embarrassed that it made its way to us. 

Thing is, we couldn’t put it down.

(Photo by Taylor Noel Photography)

Our brows furrowed and we were silent as we ate, pondering how this wing alliance came to make peace with itself. Wait, did Le just invent a dessert wing? It was then and there that we suggested that she keep this one on the menu. You can get a messy hot wing almost anywhere, but a sweet and salty Italian dessert exalted wing? No. Not that I can think of. Not yet, anyway. 

JA Ramen’s wings are not officially on the menu yet but they are available.

(Photo by Taylor Noel Photography)

That’s another food trend that Le is well aware of, secret menus

So when you pop into the downtown shop and approach the counter, maybe give a little wink before ordering one of their wings. If the wings go well for the Congress spot, Le plans on getting them up and jamming in the Campbell Avenue location. Although, this is all hush-hush at present (sort of).

Oh, and last but not least, JA Ramen’s downtown location has a full bar. 

(Photo by Taylor Noel Photography)

JA Ramen is located at 2643 N. Campbell Ave. and 54 W. Congress St. For more information, visit and follow JA Ramen on Instagram

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Mark Whittaker began his journalism career in San Francisco around 1997. It was for a small Northern California music magazine that segued into contributing to numerous magazines, websites, newspapers and weeklies throughout the 90’s and early 2000’s. Mark interviewed bands,...

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