Ramen roundup

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Melissa (M): Well, it’s finally feeling like winter in Hawaii, and as sure as people reach for that second blanket at night, they are looking for a bowl of steaming hot ramen to keep them warm. March is also National Noodle Month, with March 11 being National Eat Your Noodles Day, so we thought we should help you get some ideas on how to celebrate.

Will (W): When Frolic Hawaii said they wanted an in-depth write up of all the ramen shops in town; the Powers That Be thought, why not send the Chuugokujins (Chinese)? And we were happy to oblige.

Here’s a look at some of the newer or more popular ramen restaurants on Oahu. In the interest of our bodies’ reactions to so much carbs and sodium, we couldn’t try them all. Also, before you say we forgot anyplace in particular, we didn’t. We pared down the list with our own complicated criteria, sticking to hotspots in town and mostly places that have lines (so we could find out why). And, for ease of reading, this list is in alphabetical order.

AGU RAMEN

(three locations, with a fourth coming to Pearlridge Center)
925 Isenberg St
Honolulu, HI 96826
(808) 492-1637

Ward Centre
1200 Ala Moana Blvd, Ste 657
Honolulu, HI 96814
(808) 797-2933 

590 Farrington Hwy, Ste 510
Kapolei, HI 96707
(808) 797-2933

Agu Ramen is known for their extensive pupu menu as well as their more off-the-wall “craft” ramen. They take traditional soup bases and spike them with an array of classical and more eclectic ingredients. Parmesan cheese? Check. Garlic Butter. Can do. Love spicy? Try the epic level, it even comes with its own disclaimer!  Their aji-tama (soft boiled ramen egg) is no joke, and for an extra $2 you can get another one.  It’s worth it.  Trust.

Agu Ramen's "hot mess."

Agu Ramen’s “Innovative Hot Mess,” $20.

W: The hot mess is a combination of some of their more popular ingredients. It’s literally their version of everything INCLUDING the kitchen sink. I find the flavors all very strong and overall heavy.  Rich pork broth, umami rich parsmesan cheese, topped with garlic butter AND black garlic oil. Gut Buster 101.

M: I thought this would be a weird combination of ramen toppings, but it actually does work. I agree, the flavors are very heavy; I would prefer to split a bowl with someone and then have other appetizers on the side. It is very tasty, though, and if you’re splitting it with someone, the $20 doesn’t quite hurt so much.

Agu Ramen's

Agu Ramen’s “Yuzu Midori,” $14.

W: Ah Jidori, if you haven’t seen it by now, where have you been? These chickens are heralded to have the best “chicken” taste, clean, round flavors with a slightly sweet finish. This is my personal favorite bowl. Light, clear broth with hints of japanese citrus and green peppercorn, when they say YUZU they mean YUZU KOSHO. It’s bright, clean tasting, with bits of spice and acidity. Win.

M: They recently changed the recipe on this so it’s a little more sour. It’s good, not my favorite, but I can see why people like the clean and pronounced flavors.

GOLDEN PORK

1279 S King St
Honolulu, HI 96814
(808) 888-5358

One of the newer ramen shops to open here in Honolulu, Golden Pork’s main focus is their tonkotsu, or pork based broth. From there you can pick your noodle style, ramen (with thin noodles) or tsukemen (with thicker noodles, and broth served on the side for dipping); as well as your style of soup. You can choose from classic, which is a traditional tonkatsu, spicy red miso or black garlic original.

Golden Pork classic with some mentaiko.

Golden Pork’s “Classic” with some mentaiko.

W: Normally I’m not a big fan of thin noodles. They absorb the soup quicker lending to a soggy mouth finish, forcing you to eat them as fast and as reckless as possible. White shirts beware! But here at Golden Pork, they are cooked so perfectly, all of that is tossed out the window. The classic tonkotsu is absolutely delicious: Rich but not overwhelming, perfectly seasoned and not greasy. The char siu is tender and the wood ear adds a nice crunch to the bowl.

M: I still have a hard time determining which bowl is my favorite here. You can’t go wrong with the rich, savory flavors of the classic tonkotsu broth, but sometimes I want the extra complexity from the black garlic original (below). I love that the ramen here has consistent and good flavor; it’s a decent-sized bowl and is good value for lunch or dinner. And, despite the richness, it’s not overly heavy or oily.

Black garlic original ramen.

Golden Pork’s “Black Garlic Original” ramen.

Spicy red miso dragon ramen.

Golden Pork’s “Spicy Red Miso” ramen.

W: The miso and chili oil are a great addition to their tonkotsu broth, both lending notes of salt and spice that really perk up the bowl. Even at level 3, there was a good enough amount of heat without making it one note or inedible.

M: I do appreciate when people make spicy food dishes but the flavor of the other ingredients still come through. The spiciness here is like that, making it an enjoyable bowl of ramen (although I think the most I’ve done is Level 2) without being overwhelmed by all the heat.

GOMAICHI

631 Keeaumoku St
Honolulu, HI 96814
(808) 951-6666

Gomaichi, probably (should be) most known for bringing the delicious flavors of “Tan Tan” ramen to Honolulu. The cute shop is located amongst tons of eateries on Keeaumoku and has a strong following of fans.  The aforementioned Tan Tan is a pork-based soup base mixed with a bit of fresh-ground sesame and some chili, faintly resembling the Chinese “Dan Dan” or even “Ma Jiang” sauces.

Goma Ichi's tan tan ramen.

Gomaichi’s “Tan Tan” ramen.

W: The few times I’ve tried their Tan Tan, I’ve always had the same response. It tastes good, but personally I feel there’s a lack of depth to the broth and could use a few more hours reducing; because for me, it’s a little thin in consistency. But I am thankful for Gomaichi, otherwise who knows if Tan Tan would have made it here to Honolulu. Side note, I also never get any vegetables in my bowl, but they are in all the pictures.

M: This trek was the third time since the age-old argument, “Goma Tei or Goma Ichi?” was started with my ramen-loving friends. I’ve tried to give Goma Ichi a chance, but their Tan Tan always comes out much more watery than I’d like. And, unfortunately, the Tan Tan has gone a little farther downhill since the last time I tried to give it a chance.

Goma Ichi's sun ho ramen.

Gomaichi’s “Sun Ho” ramen.

W: We tried the Sun Ho out of curiosity, other ramen shops have it as well but we never got around to it, so I don’t have anything to compare it to. Sun Ho also spins out from The Middle Kingdom, this time honoring the more familiar flavors of “Hot and Sour Soup”. With that said, I for the most part, liked this bowl. Shoyu based with heavy doses of bright vinegar and a generous topping of “La Yu”, Japanese chili oil. I do wish I got some vegetables though….

M: I have had this at Goma Tei and it’s not my kind of broth, since it’s sour. But as with the Tan Tan, the flavors here were a little watery.

GOMA TEI

(Four locations)
Ward Center
1200 Ala Moana Blvd, Ste 42
Honolulu, HI 96814
(808) 591-9188 

Ala Moana Center
1450 Ala Moana Blvd
Honolulu, HI 96814
(808) 947-9188
 
Kahala Mall
4211 Waialae Ave
Honolulu, HI 96816
(808) 732-9188
 
Pearlridge Center
98-1005 Moanalua Rd
Aiea, HI 96701
(808) 488-9188
 

Currently with four locations and growing, it’s easy to understand why most people believe that Goma Tei was first to market with Tan Tan ramen.  They aren’t.  Goma Tei has a varied menu offering not only Tan Tan, but also Shoyu, Sun Ho as well as a Ma Po ramen on their menu.  But Tan Tan is really where they shine. And with multiple locations, getting to one to try shouldn’t be difficult.

 
Goma Tei's tan tan ramen.

Goma Tei’s “Tan Tan” ramen.

W: My favorite Tan Tan. I can easily eat a bowl three to four times a week if I just worked out a little more. Why? Strap in and let me tell you. Super firm noodles, bathing in a hot broth of pork, chicken, toasted sesame, ground and pureed with just a hint of chili to tickle the throat. Their char sui is also generous. Easily one inch thick and rendered so well the thin layers of fat just melt.  They recently imported a new sesame grinder, so now there’s that much more fresh sesame goodness in each bowl! Oh yea and look! There’s vegetables!

M: The Tan Tan at Goma Tei is also my go-to there. I like the richness with the spiciness, and the noodles are just the right consistency. Like Golden Pork, this bowl is a good value, and — for me, at least — has consistent and good flavor.

Sayaka sensei with Will on our ramen adventure.

Sayaka-sensei with Will-kohai our ramen adventure.

Two-thirds of the way through our quest, NHK World Meteorologist Sayaka Mori came from Japan to educate us on how real folks at home eat noodles. Guess what was the a-ha moment for us? She sprinkled black pepper into her ramen. All the time? Yes. Regardless of broth? Yes.

Suddenly, we realized that every ramen joint we’d been to, had a black pepper shaker on every table. We started adding black pepper to our ramen, and it really did add another layer of flavor to each bite. Doomo arigatoo, Sayaka-san! We feel more Japanese now. Too bad we didn’t have you teach us at the beginning of our little ramen adventure.

HOKKAIDO RAMEN SANTOUKA

801 Kaheka St
Honolulu, HI 96814
(808) 941-1101

This Japanese ramen chain can be found throughout Asia as well as the mainland U.S. In Honolulu, it’s a cute ramen boutique with white booths and a tight alabaster counter that winds around the open kitchen. With a variety of ramen broths to choose from (in addition to different sizes of noodles), as well as set meals including rice bowls and salads, it’s impressive the variety of items they can produce in their tiny kitchen.

Here's the toroniku miso ramen, which I ordered with a soft-boiled egg on the side for $1.50. The eggs here are perfectly runny. The toroniku is served on the side because keeping them in the hot broth will change the flavor of the bowl. The miso broth is savory, but not too overwhelming.

Here’s the toroniku miso ramen, which I ordered with a soft-boiled egg on the side for $1.50. The eggs here are perfectly runny. The toroniku is served on the side because keeping them in the hot broth will change the flavor of the bowl. The miso broth is savory, but not too overwhelming.

W: This is probably the star of their menu. Their toroniku (braised pork jowl), is incredibly soft and tender. The meat practically melts in your mouth. Their aji-tama is nicely done as well with flavors permeating into the yolk while maintaining a nice silky texture. The noodles served at Santouka are thin, which more times than not get soggy quick, in my opinion.

M: I like the broth here and I love the toroniku, but the noodles aren’t very good — kind of dry. I found out that they are frozen and shipped from Japan, not fresh, which makes a huge difference in their consistency and how it works with the broth once it’s served. When the egg is good, it’s good; sometimes, however, I’ve had it hard-boiled all the way through. The noodles are the real deal-breaker for me, though.

JUNPUU

1010 S King St.
Honolulu, HI 96814

The newest shop to enter the ramen arena in Honolulu, Junpuu recently held a corner space in the Shirokiya food court before venturing out into their own brick and mortar. Famed for their miso ramen, they also have a variety of different broths to choose from. All ramen bowls are about $10.

Junpuu's black garlic miso ramen.

Junpuu’s “Black Garlic Miso” ramen.

Junpuu's standard miso ramen.

Junpuu’s “Miso” ramen.

DSC01855

Junpuu’s “Tokyo Tonkotsu” ramen.

W: Of the bowls we tried, the stand outs were probably the Black Garlic Miso and the Tokyo Tonkotsu.  Having been told that Miso was what they are aiming to be known for, perhaps I was expecting too much. The Black Garlic oil gave the bowl a nice smokey finish, but not a fatty mouth feel and the Tonkotsu was nice, round and clean tasting.  Apparently Tokyo style means a cleaner taste compared to southern styles.  The eggs were nice but were extra.

M: I tend to like food with a sweeter profile, but even I didn’t care for the Miso ramen as it seemed to be a little too sweet and didn’t match the overall bowl. I liked the Tokyo Tonkotsu, as it was savory and rich (but not too rich). The Black Garlic Miso was nicely smoky but a little too oily for me. Overall I thought Junpuu was adequate. It wasn’t bad, it had good value and was filling. I just wouldn’t eat the Miso ramen.

KAMITOKU RAMEN LUNCH WAGON

234 Beach Walk
Honolulu, HI 96815
(808) 469-2505

Situated in a small food truck park in Waikiki, Kamitoku specializes in a Tottori-style beef broth ramen. We are told that Tottori is a beach town, but we’ll save that for another post. With numerous choices and toppings we went straight for the two most signature. Side note, they do not come with cracked black pepper as pictured.  We went “Authentic Japanese” and added it. See above for details.

Beefy.

Kamitoku Ramen Truck’s “Beefy Wild” ramen.

W: Overall for me a solid bowl of noodles, I enjoyed the beef-based “Paitan” style ramen with a drizzle of garlic oil.  The brisket was nice and tender as well and menma is my all time favorite ramen toppings.  The egg, as you can see was pretty standard. In comparison to other ramens, I would say the portion is also a bit on the smaller side. Perhaps beef bones just costs more than chicken and pig bones.

M: This was also in the “adequate” category for me. It had nice flavor, the noodles matched the broth, and I liked having lots of toppings. I wasn’t as wowed by the beef, but probably because I’m used to having tender pork on my ramen. And the dry, fully-boiled egg was a disappointment compared to other eggs. Overall, though, still good for what it was.

Kamitoku Ramen Truck's "Beefy Wild".

Kamitoku Ramen Truck’s “Beefy Lite” ramen.

W: On the placard, it says this is the Tottori standard. The clear broth was rich, with deep beef flavors. The noodles were cooked well with the same “meh” egg, menma, etc. Overall a nice straightforward bowl of ramen, but I would rather order the Beefy Wild again.

M: I was okay with this one and would probably order it again. I was surprised that I liked the lighter, clearer broth. Then again, it seemed like there were more veggies in this bowl, so there was more varied texture. Again, pretty adequate.

MANICHI

(Two locations)
1430 Kona St
Honolulu, HI 96814
(808) 943-1430

Windward Mall
46-056 Kamehameha Hwy
Kaneohe, HI 96744
(808) 235-7670

The award-winning Manichi offers a variety of broths that are infinitely customizable. You can start with three soup bases, Original Tonkatsu, Miso and Shrimp base, and through a guided menu, choose which combinations will most satisfy your taste buds. Next you move to the toppings portion of the menu where they have a slew of ingredients to finish your bowl of noodles.  Come during their happy hour and the first topping is on them!

Man Ichi

Manichi’s “Kuroton” ramen.

M: I’m going to speak for both Will and myself on this one. I liked Manichi when they first opened, as the ramen seemed to have better flavor and more care put into each bowl. But we went back, and the broth was oily and the noodles a bit soggy. It wasn’t so bad that I wouldn’t give them another chance — hey, good help is hard to find — but I would have to be in the area.

MENYA MUSASHI RAMEN

560 Pensacola St, Ste 105
Honolulu, HI 96814
(808) 589-0634

Named after the fabled Japanese swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi, this create-your-own ramen, ramen shop is like flipping though a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book. Choose from four soup bases: Tonkotsu, Shoyu, Goma, and Spicy; with two styles of noodle, thin (for ramen), and thicker (for tsukumen, for dipping); then a choice in portion size for noodles; and then pork belly or fried chicken for protein. WHEW! Not to mention once the noodles arrive, they are greeted with three dainty jars of condiments for you to add at your leisure — fried garlic, pickled ginger and spicy rice crackers.

Menya Musashi's spicy tsurumen.

Menya Musashi’s “Spicy” tsukumen with kakuni.

W: Currently my favorite spot for tsukumen. The broth is full of flavor and holds up well to the springy noodles even till the last bite. What’s nice about the soup is that there’s enough balanced flavor I can enjoy it straight, without having to ask for some broth or hot water to dilute the soup down.

M: I was pretty vocal about how bad the service was when they first opened and how the owners totally snubbed us for the grand opening to boot. (Thank goodness I’m a waitress so could water two 10-tops when the Menya servers would not.) On top of that, the ramen wasn’t anything special, so Will had to drag me back to have more noodles for this blog post. Well, all is forgiven, Menya Musashi. Your ramen has greatly improved in flavor, and there seems to have been a complete turnover in staff (with training!) so I can eat a meal like a regular customer and not like a waitress on break. And look at those noodles! I love the thickness and the consistency. I’ll go back without putting up a fight, Will.

RAMEN NAKAMURA

2141 Kalakaua Ave
Honolulu, HI 96815
(808) 922-7960

Probably the most famous ramen shop in Waikiki. Now owned by a celebrity newscaster in Japan, you can often spot it by the line of people (usually Japanese tourists) waiting outside to grab a stool. Don’t worry, even in the peak of lunch hour, the line moved quite fast and we were seated promptly.  Their menu is big offering a large scope of different ramen to choose from. BUT NOTE; THEY ARE CASH ONLY.

Ramen Nakamura's signature oxtail ramen.

Ramen Nakamura’s “Signature Oxtail” ramen.

W: I am not a fan in general for oxtail anything. I find it cumbersome to eat. That said, this soup broth leans heavy into traditional Chinese flavors, with the ginger, celery and carrots. I know, oxtail IS Chinese you say. Noodles were average. No egg in sight.

M: I love oxtail anything, and I agree, it was more like an oxtail soup with ramen than something more innovative. That being said, though, I still didn’t find this bowl of oxtail ramen lived up to the hype. It was just okay and I felt a little ripped off for $12. It’s a big bowl, but I wasn’t inclined to eat most of it.

Da kines "Tomato" Ramen

Ramen Nakamura’s “Tomato” ramen

W: We ordered this out of pure curiosity. I’ve seen this offered at other establishments but never had enough brass to order it. While the flavors weren’t offensive, it’s pretty much what you would think tomato ramen would taste like: A tomato-infused broth with warm tomato wedges and chewy bits of parmesan cheese that won’t melt. And strips of onions, just because. It’s a little sweet, a little tart, a lot different. It’s like an Asian’s interpretation of a tomato soup if they never had it and you just described it to them, using Pictionary. Still no egg.

M: This was just too weird for me. And you know me, I like weird foods.

Da kines "Cold" Ramen

Ramen Nakamura’s “Cold” ramen

W: The cold noodles were nice and chilled with a good amount of springiness to them, perfect for a hot summer day. Mixed with a bit of vinegar, soy and mustard I can easily understand the popularity of cold ramen. The toppings though … felt a bit like a college student’s 2 a.m. hangover prevention meal. It offered a little store bought kimchi, some shredded chicken meat, ocean salad and some vegetables, including whole grape tomatoes for color. Oh but I finally got an egg, bonus grey ring and all.

M: Ramen salad. This is not really what this blog post is about, but okay … maybe you’re looking for something different when you head out for a bowl of noodles. Maybe your doctor says you need more veggies in your life. IF that’s the case and IF you happen to be in Waikiki at the time, then maybe.

TENKAIPPIN RAMEN

617 Kapahulu Ave
Honolulu, HI 96815
(808) 732-1211

Tenkaippin is probably most associated with the public television show, Ultimate Japan, as it plays on the TV screen constantly in the restaurant. Their signature ramen is Kotteri, which is an ultra-rich bowl of noodles, whose recipe is so secret, they won’t do take out or let you take the leftovers home in fear of you researching it.

Will wearing his Cup Noodle chicken bandana while surveying the ramen.

Will wearing his Cup Noodle chicken bandana while surveying the ramen.

Tenkaippin's signature

Tenkaippin’s “Kotteri” ramen.

W: I’ll be quite frank. This is not the ramen for me.  I have numerous friends, most who are Japanese, that claim this bowl of ramen tastes most authentic to ramen found in Japan. For me, the soup is way too thick, and the flavor not seasoned enough. Like drinking lightly seasoned gravy. I’ve come to try this bowl multiple times always with the same results. The chili garlic sauce did help a bit at the server’s suggestion though.

M: I did think the broth was really thick, but it didn’t bother me as much. I have come here a few times after a run (when I was running) and found it good for refueling. This was the first time I put the chili garlic sauce in, though, and I really liked that.

WAGAYA

2080 S King St
Honolulu, HI 96826
(808) 949-0670

This place has a bit less fanfare than some of the other ramen shops in town, but isn’t short on deliciousness. With menu offerings like daikon salad, grilled gyu-tan and braised kakuni, it reads more like an izakaya with a ramen focus than a standard ramen-ya. In any case, we both loved the ramen.

Wagaya's

Wagaya’s signature ramen (shiro), $10.95.

M: Our server recommended the original Wagaya ramen, and this did not disappoint. I liked how the noodles matched the rich, savory broth, and the egg was perfectly runny. I also appreciated the veggies and wood ear mushrooms for contrast in textures and flavors. This was a very good value with good service. I’d go back.

Wagaya's

Wagaya’s “Spicy” tsukumen, $11.75.

W: A delicious bowl of noodles. It may not look like much, what with a more rustic presentation, but I actually prefer my toppings served in the broth.  Yay to hot toppings.  The only thing I didn’t care for were the strips of nori, as it clumps up once it hits the hot broth. But maybe I’m doing it wrong.

YOTTEKO-YA

1960 Kapiolani Blvd, Ste 214
Honolulu, HI 96826
(808) 946-2900

Their slogan is ROCKETED FROM KYOTO! With such fervor, how can you doubt their intentions to serve good ramen? If that wasn’t clue enough, loyal fans have been queueing up well before lunch service starts for years, aiming to grab one of the limited seats this second-story ramen shop offers. And no matter what time of day, there is always just one front-of-house person hosting, serving and bussing the tables, all without breaking a sweat. They offer their noodles Japanese style, which are firmer as well as Local style, which gives you a softer noodle.

Finally getting a bowl at Yotteko-ya.

Finally getting a bowl at Yotteko-Ya.

Yotteko-ya's

Yotteko-ya’s limited pork kakuni ramen.

M: They only serve so many bowls of kakuni ramen per day, topped with their special pork. This was tasty, and definitely a good value.

Yotteko-ya's

Yotteko-Ya’s “Paitan Kakuni” Ramen

W: This bowl probably epitomizes what they excel at. Their paitan is so rich and unctuous without being too much. Perfectly seasoned and the noodles, a medium gauge always have the right amount of chew. Their Kakuni which is offered in limited quantities is a generous portion of braised pork simmered in soy and ginger. This has been one of my favorite bowls of ramen for years.

Of course, everyone has their own preferences, so what’s yours? How will you celebrate National Noodle Month? Hopefully, this little directory will help you decide.