Over the past year or so, every other new place opening up seemed to be an ice cream, Hawaiian poké, or ramen shop. While some frozen-treat places have since shuttered and poké places continue to pop up all over the city, ramen is shaping up to be a sustainable successor to sushi.
One needs only to consider the area around the Robson and Denman street intersection. There’s Kintaro, Motomatchi Shokudo, Marutama, the Ramenman, Touhenboku, Men-no Kura, Hokkaido Ramen Santouka, Danbo, Koyuki Sapporo Ramen, and Hida Takayama (inside the Robson Public Market). Is it overkill? Well, with Benkei Ramen and Hapa Ramen being the only closures in the area thus far, local appetites for the Japanese noodles appear bottomless.
Another consideration is other developing hot spots, including one within the downtown core. Ramen Gojiro (501 Dunsmuir Street), opened in March 2016 and specializes in Gatsuri-style bowls, which offer thicker noodles and heaps of bean sprouts. (It’s run by the Menya Koji Group, which also operates Ramen Butcher at 223 East Georgia Street.)
Japanese chain Yah Yah Ya Ramen, which opened its first location in Richmond, launched its second Metro Vancouver location at 570 Robson Street in November. It specializes in iekei ramen, in which pork, soy sauce, chicken bone, konbu, and vegetables are boiled for 12 hours and flavoured with green onions and garlic.
Meanwhile, California-based Jinya Ramen will be relocating from 270 Robson Street to a spot across from Yah Yah Ya in the Telus Building at 541 Robson Street. The new 2,961-square-foot location will seat 61 inside plus 28 on the patio and is aiming for a mid-April opening. It’ll feature an expanded menu to offer more small dishes and drinks in an updated setting more stylish than the current location, which opened in 2012.
With a second location in Kerrisdale (2129 West 41st Avenue), they’re also expanding into Burnaby with a third location to open this spring at Metrotown (at 4575 Central Boulevard in Burnaby) featuring seating for 54 inside and 48 on the patio.
The nexus of West Broadway and Cambie Street is also becoming a new noodle destination, with the lineup-attracting Hokkaido Ramen Santouka joining nearby Benkei Ramen and Menya Japanese Noodle.
Santouka’s second Vancouver location (558 West Broadway) features décor highlighting the culture of the indigenous Ainu people of northeastern Japan and offers two items not on their Robson Street menu. One is zangi, a Hokkaido style of chicken karaage served with tartar sauce. The other is the wonderfully cilantro-flavoured jalapeño ramen with tomatoes and onion (definitely one to check out).
Some inventive ramen bowls are also coming to East Vancouver at the inviting Kokoro Ramen (5695 Victoria Drive) in November. As kokoro means “heart” or “spirit” in Japanese, owner Yasuhiro Sumino aspires to help infuse the neighbourhood with a little Japanese heart and soul.
While the menu already offers everything from kombu-and-shiitake-infused vegetarian ramen to typhoon ramen with ground pork (mazemen, or ramen without broth), Sumino handily serves his choices in either black bowls for authentic recipes or white ones for healthier options (with reduced or removed fat, oil, and sodium). Plus, there are three new offerings to look forward to. (All have chashu, bamboo shoots, and green onions.) Tonkotsu bubble ramen, with pork broth blended “like a latte” (Sumino says), will be rolled out on March 15. In April, there’ll be salmon ramen with lettuce. Coming this summer is yuzu shio ramen, featuring a citrusy combination of pork and chicken broth with arugula.
For those seeking to avoid meat, the North Shore’s Workshop Vegetarian Café (296 Pemberton Avenue, North Vancouver) serves two organic vegetarian ramen choices: shoyu ramen, made of mushroom broth with greens and truffle shallot oil; and spicy ramen, featuring butternut squash and sesame miso broth with kale greens, mushrooms, and nuts.
But if size is what matters most, Ramen Koika (1231 Davie Street) has the ultimate answer. This Davie Village spot launched the Big Bowl Challenge, a test to see if you can finish the equivalent of four bowls of ramen in merely 10 minutes. Successful slurpers receive their meal free, plus a regular ramen bowl for free on the next visit. Thus far, there have been 69 participants and only 9 winners.
Think you can do it? Good luck. Of course, if you need practise, there are plenty of options to consider.