Perhaps it's because it's located off the main Robson strip, set back among a row of shops along Bidwell. Or perhaps it's because there's been so much attention focused on the likes of hot spots Hokkaido Ramen Santouka or Marutama Ra-men with their line-ups.
Whatever the case, the fact that The Ramenman, which opened back in October, has flown under the radar of many ramen lovers has kept this West End spot a best-kept secret. Thus far, it has mostly relied upon word-of-mouth. But, of course, not for long.
The fact that it closed for almost eight weeks in March and April didn't necessarily help matters.
Owner Jun Okamura, who also runs Juno Vancouver Sushi Bistro on Davie Street, explained to the Georgia Straight in an interview at his newly reopened restaurant that they had only planned on closing for three weeks for renovations. He said he wanted to install more kitchen equipment, such as a noodle cooker, more sinks, and an ice machine. Also, the grease trap (inherited from the previous establishment) was old, rusted, too small, and had a terrible smell.
A city inspector, however, discovered that the previous owner (who had run the Korean restaurant Pork Belly Beer House at their 841 Bidwell Street location) had illegally installed several items, such as an air-conditioning unit, that were not compliant with regulations.
Accordingly, the renovations took much longer than expected.
But as they say, good things come to those who wait.
In their expanded kitchen, they can now make noodles in-house, and there's a new five-seater bar.
The restaurant has retained its hip décor—it's minimalist without being austere, thanks to intriguing and organic flourishes, such as an eclectic collection of oversized lightbulbs.
The 25-seater room will also soon open its patio, which will accommodate up to six to eight more diners.
While regulars will be happy to know that their favourite items are all still on the menu, some popular specials have been adopted as regular offerings.
In addition to their housemade pork scallop gyoza, their curry rice became an unexpected hit when patrons saw staff eating it and began to ask for it too. Unlike Japanese curry made from Glico mixes using roux (a thickening agent), this curry recipe is from kitchen manager Adam Lee.
"We don't want to do what everyone else is doing," Lee, who hails from Toronto, says.
And rightly so. With so much competition in the ramen market these days (not to mention ramen creeping on to mainstream menus), it's important for noodle shops to stake out new territory while still retaining appeal to traditional ramen devotees.
Keeping that in mind, The Ramenman makes its mark with its interesting variations.
Its signature, and most popular, dish is its chicken broth ramen made with truffle oil, garlic, white wine, and clams. The clams (added live during cooking) add a compelling layer of flavour without upsetting the well-balanced broth.
Another notable item is their stew ramen. Okamura explains that the chicken bones used to make the broth are ground up and added to create a thicker stew broth. Chili powder and burdock oil are also in the mix. Lee adds that this type of broth is popular in the Kanto region and Kyoto in Japan.
Vegetarians will be pleased to know that the vegetarian miso ramen is made from shiitake mushrooms and smoked kombu (kelp), rather than just a meat-based broth with vegetables. It also includes bamboo shoot, green onion, cabbage, crispy lotus root, spinach, black pepper, chili pepper oil, and egg.
Okamura adds that with a few adjustments, they can also make this ramen into a vegan version by not using egg-powder noodles, and leaving out butter-salted cabbage and their 63° egg.
The 63° egg (also known as onsen egg) is soft-boiled while the menu also offers ramen egg, which is marinated in sake and hard-boiled.
Of particular note is their deliciously tender pork and chicken. Lee says they employ sous-vide techniques to cook their meat for several hours at 63°, resulting in pink-hued meat (yes, they have been approved by Vancouver Coastal Health) that retains its moisture.
To top it off, they also offer Granville Island sparkling sake, in addition to Kita Shuzo Toku Bechu Junmai sake and local craft beer from Strange Fellows and Fernie Brewing.
There's more in store down the road, including a clear chicken broth ramen with duck as well as some other items in development.
While there are plenty of places in Vancouver that stick to serving traditional ramen, spots like The Ramenman are helping to expand and advance the local noodle scene.