Metro, Food, Newton, Food Guide 2022

At Little Big Diner, Popular Ramen Bowls Meet an Unbeatable Atmosphere 

Little Big Diner is a place where the hum of good energy and the conversation of satisfied diners lie just beneath the gentle sizzle of oil from the open kitchen. Soft clinks of silverware overtake the melody of upbeat music in the background.

Founded by David Punch in 2016, Little Big Diner is tucked along the tree-lined Centre Street in Newton Centre. A playful orange cartoon octopus graces the restaurant’s black-and-white facade, smiling above the groups of people that gather outside seven days a week eager to be seated. 

“People get on a waitlist to come and eat and that speaks for itself, in my mind,” said Daniel Mygan, the executive chef at Little Big Diner. “People are willing to wait an hour outside or around the area to come in just to have a bowl.”

The restaurant has six tables, as well as counter seating that now acts as a takeout packing spot, according to Mygan.

Little Big Diner’s small size belies its rich flavors and unbeatable sensory experience. The dining room is small, but not cramped, and the background noise would not overpower intimate conversation.

On a brisk April night, customers enjoyed steaming bowls of ramen filled with crisp strips of nori, tender and smoky chashu pork, and a perfectly done ajitama egg, sipping broth from wooden spoons that look like soup ladles. 

“I was actually very happy when I saw the spicy pickled cucumbers because that’s one of the side dishes that I eat a lot at home. I’ve been missing home too, so I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is really nice,’” said Hannah Choi, LSEHD ’25, who is Korean-American.

Baishali Das, a diner enjoying a bowl of tan-tan ramen at the outdoor high top tables, said she was also happy with her meal. 

“It’s good,” she said. “It’s spicy, and that’s what I like.” 

Mygan said the tan-tan ramen is his favorite dish on the menu. 

“It’s very thick and hearty,” he said. “It’s got the chili pork on it. It’s definitely more of a wintertime thing or late spring. I actually really liked eating the broth with rice rather than noodles a lot of the time.”

Mygan has worked with Little Big Diner for about 10 months, but he has 12 years of experience as a chef and a longtime love for food inspired by his grandmother. 

“I love her food,” he said. “She came from Italy, from a big Italian family. I was always in the kitchen with her when I was younger. I was like super eager to help but more eager to eat the food.”

In high school, Mygan found his first job cooking at a small country club.

“It was just kind of like a summer gig for me to make some money,” Mygan said. “But I fell in love with the kitchen scene—the adrenaline from it and the creativity you can have.”

After attending culinary school, he worked his way up through the restaurant industry before becoming the executive chef at Little Big Diner, where his responsibilities cover everything from putting out the occasional wayward flame to cooking up new menu items. He said that, soon, tan-tan ramen will not be on the menu, as he has a number of new recipes in the works. 

Mygan has experimented with adding a dash of Asian-American fusion to a menu that already boasts a range of Japanese, Korean, Hawaiian, and Southeast Asian fare. As an ode to the hotdogs and hamburgers popular at Fenway Park, the wagyu beef hotdog is topped with tonkatsu sauce, kewpie mayo, nori, and bonito flakes. 

The search for something creative and delicious never comes at the expense of consistent quality, though, Mygan said. 

“We do like 300 spicy miso bowls a week,” Mygan said. “Each one, I imagine, is the same as the first one. To be able to have someone come in a couple of times a week and eat the same thing and still love it is huge for me.”

Central to Little Big Diner’s mission to deliver consistently good food is its commitment to using ethically sourced ingredients. 

One of the restaurant’s business partners is Heiwa Tofu, a small, family-owned business based in Rockport, Maine. Heiwa’s handcrafted tofu is made with locally sourced, organic, non-GMO soybeans. Other partnerships include Sun Noodles—which handmakes ramen noodles—Bell & Evans and Coleman Natural—both of which provide all-natural meats—and Red Gate Grocer, which offers cage-free eggs, according to the restaurant’s website

“The food it produces is much—in my opinion—cleaner and tastier,” Mygan said. “It feels good to do it. It is good to know that the ingredients we’re using are ethical, sustainable, local, and good.”

Mygan said he also takes pride in the minimal waste Little Big Diner produces. He said extra and unused foods are usually put toward staff meals or given to staff members to bring home to their families. 

Stepping into the cozy interior of Little Big Diner, a graffiti-style painting of a blue ramen bowl with the hallmark orange octopus on it greets customers. It quickly becomes clear that food at Little Big Diner is a labor of love from start to finish, as shown by the kitchen’s attention to excellent texture and flavor, appreciation for a good meal, and care for community and environmental impact.

Mygan said his hopes for the diner and his work are simple. 

“I just want people to enjoy their food and have a good time and leave beyond satisfied,” he said. “We’re so small, but I just guess I want the community to recognize us, support us, and come in and love the food.”

Little Big Diner at 1247 Centre Street is open seven days a week from 5 to 9:30 p.m. on Monday through Saturday and from 5 to 9 p.m. on Sundays. 

Images by Annie Li / Heights Editor

April 25, 2022