Vancouver Weekend: We're Thinking....Ramen

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      Need something to do this weekend? Here are five ramen spots to hit when the rain just won't let up.

      Hokkaido Ramen Santouka, 1690 Robson Street

      There's no way to describe this bustling place but as pure addiction. Vancouver is blessed to have this masterful spot that draws droves of diners to line up and pack its compact premises to the rafters. Since opening in 1988 with origins in Asahikawa, Hokkaido, this noodle house has pretty much perfected the art of ramen. The noodles strike the right balance between tender and firm. And then there's the tonkotsu (pork bone) broth. Oh, the delectable broth! With just the right amount of saltiness and richness of flavour, it complements the four types of ramen—the creamy shio; shoyu, with a hint of fish; miso, made with akamiso or red miso; and kara-miso ramen, made with three types of chili. Side dishes, such as gyoza, tokusen toroniku (pork cheek), and negi meshi (rice with katsuobushi or dried tuna, nori, and green onions), round out the satisfying culinary experience. Be prepared: you'll be back for more.

      tonkotsu soup with a spicy garlic paste.">
      The Ramen Butcher's "red" ramen uses a tonkotsu soup with a spicy garlic paste.
      The Ramen Butcher

      The Ramen Butcher, 223 East Georgia Street

      With its cool, concrete walls, double-height ceilings, and funky art pieces—check out the dozens of paper cranes floating daintily above the glittering RAMEN sign—the Ramen Butcher fits swimmingly into the hip, up-and-coming block it occupies in Chinatown. Its tasty rainy-day fare, meanwhile, ensures it gives neighbours Caffe Brixton, Fat Mao, and yes, even the highly acclaimed Phonm Penh some healthy competition. Butcher lays outs its tonkotsu offerings in colour-coded terms that are ideal for ramen newbs (order red for a spicy garlic-paste variety, orange for a base infused with succulent miso-marinated ground pork, and so on), but its use of a thinner-style, housemade noodle and flavourful toppings like black fungi and pickled ginger should also keep noodle buffs intrigued. And the pork—whether you opt for lean, medium, or fatty versions—is consistently seared to perfection, never crossing into that dreaded dry-and-chewy territory. Vegetarians, don’t fret: a green-based broth topped with fresh veggies, plus a side dish menu that includes a meat-free cheese gyoza, makes the Butcher a must-visit for proponents of all diets.  

      The egg is the star at Marutama Ra-men, along with other toppings like cha shu and sea lettuce.
      Marutama Ra-men

      Marutama Ra-men, 780 Bidwell Street

      Set back from the main ramen strip on Robson Street, with a traditional wood-panel façade, this Japanese chain shows an understanding of ramen in its classic bowls that rivals the leading competitors in the city. What makes them notable is that their clean and delicious tori paitan (chicken broth) offers a lighter and less fatty yet umami alternative to the tonkotsu (pork-based) standard. Adding to their appeal, their noodles are also made in-house. Bowl options include tamago (boiled egg), cha-shu, aka (with ground nuts and chili), and tan-men (with vegetables). There's also an a nontraditional selection with aosa (sea lettuce), which adds a somewhat stronger taste and complexity to the broth than the usual nori. Side dishes like dashimaki (omelette chopped into bite-sized squares), kakuni (braised pork belly), and daikon (stewed white radish) help to complete the picture.

      The only time a lineup doesn't snake outside the West End's Kintaro Ramen is when it's closed.
      Google Street View

      Kintaro Ramen, 788 Denman Street

      This unpretentious eatery nestled at the corner of Denman and Robson is considered one of the top ramen shops in town. Kintaro has been open since 1999, serving hearty bowls of ramen to regular customers in a hassle- and fuss-free atmosphere. Ramen lovers don’t complain about the simple décor, because they come here for the fresh noodles and flavourful broth. Guests have the choice of a rich, medium, or light soup, and either fat or lean barbecue pork for each ramen serving. Try the classic shoyu ramen, made with a special soy-sauce soup with pork-bone stock, and topped with an abundance of bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, green onion, and dried seaweed. The miso ramen—self-proclaimed as the best in the house—is a soup flavoured with a blend of soy-bean pastes from different Japanese regions, and combined with 12 spices. Make sure to come early during rush hour: its popularity means there’s usually a line of people waiting to get their hands on a bowl.

      Ramen Koika's black garlic ramen is topped with roasted garlic chips, cha shu, black tree fungus, and roasted seaweed.
      Craig Takeuchi

      Ramen Koika, 1231 Davie Street

      This cozy noodle house's location in the Davie Village isn't the only thing that sets it apart from others. The expansive menu is progressive and adventurous, thanks to the innovative predilections of owners Caleb Yoondoh Lee and Sophie Won, who also run the nearby Hatzu Japanese Bistro (formerly Sushi Bella Denman). While the usual noodling suspects (shoyu, shio, miso) are available, one thing that's different is that both pork and chicken broth options are available. In addition, there are ramen selections that you won't find elsewhere. In their wok-based selections, wok-fried ingredients infuse the broth with an appealing smoky flavour. Sapporo miso ramen is one such example, featuring the deep, dense flavour of Aka and Sendai miso with ground pork, bean sprouts, green onion, bamboo shoots, and corn. Garlic addicts and vampire hunters: the black garlic ramen is a must, with its black-garlic-oil-saturated pork broth, roasted garlic chips, tender cha shu, soft-boiled egg, black tree fungus, bamboo shoots, and roasted seaweed. This being a Korean-influenced spot, kim-chi ramen is also available, featuring a complex layered chicken-based broth with shredded pork, mushrooms, onions, cabbage, and—of course—kim chi. If you want to spice up your life even more, take their Red Ramen Challenge: if you can down a bowl of the hottest level of spiciness (level three, or "burning in hell" hotness) within 15 minutes, you get the ramen free.  

      Running every Thursday, Vancouver Weekend spotlights five Straight-approved places around the city worth discovering.