Where to Little Big Diner in Newton, an East Asian soul food joint from Dave Punch, who runs sophisticated Sycamore nearby.
What for Ramen, rice bowls, and long lines, soundtracked by Weezer.
The scene As if you crashed the spiciest party on Earth. Slender men slurp ramen with workmanlike intensity. Elegant ladies perch on bright orange stools overlooking the open kitchen, fidgeting with chopsticks, inquiring about ingredients. Parents gripping baby buckets congregate at the door, hungry and hopeful. Manager Blayne Daley — a vivacious presence at Cambridge's now-shuttered Asian restaurant East by Northeast — rattles off wait times with sugary sass. Some stay; others slink away. Weezer's "Hash Pipe" blares in the background.
What you're eating "Little big bowls" ($12 and up) are made for Instagram — white or brown rice, bright herbs, tart house-pressed pickles, and glistening protein (pork belly, tofu, or chicken). Ask for a dab of house-made hot sauce, dip your chopsticks into the bowl, and swirl, Bob Ross style. There's also ramen ($14 and up) — earthy forest mushroom, spicy miso with egg — ladled with enormous spoons that look like gardening tools, plucked from a tableside caddy. Light eaters might try grilled shrimp salad, electrifying picnic food, tinged with lime and served on squishy buns. There are chalkboard specials, too. Today it's banh mi, Vietnamese sandwiches with grilled cauliflower, chicken, or shrimp ($9 and up) with spicy mayo, cilantro sprigs, and pickled vegetables.
Care for a drink? Opt for a Singapore sling ($10) or fashion your own "In Flight Service" ($9) with your choice of spirit and mixer. There are also cups of sake ($7 and up), Japanese rice lager ($6), and cold-brew iced coffee ($3).
Overheard Hair complaints; spice skepticism. "I look disgusting. I needed a shampoo," a woman tells her wedding-ringed mate as she settles onto a stool. "Well, it is our first date," he deadpans. "I want ramen, but I can't take spicy!" a bejeweled lady hollers after her waiter, a lanky man who glides around the narrow space like an English butler. "Mom, I'm not using direct deposit. I don't even get paid every week," says a haughty teen. A family materializes at the door. "This is the first time our wait hasn't been two hours," says Daley. "Noodles are delicious!" someone screams. "Can you believe I'm the only one at book club who doesn't love Miami?" a bespectacled lady asks her friend.
1247 Centre St., Newton, 857-404-0068, www.littlebigdiner.com