Winter in Hawaii means one thing to me: ramen.
It was the first thing I had wanted to eat on Sunday night when gray clouds dumped heavy rain all across the island. (I wound up eating shoyu pork and butter flake biscuits — though no complaints.) There’s just nothing more comforting on a cold, rainy night than a bowl of hot noodles.
Ramen shops on Oahu are like donut shops in L.A. — they seem like they’re everywhere. Many shops serve a basic noodle dish that’s satisfying but nothing special. But there are a few standouts among the generic ramen-ya in Honolulu.
So what sets them apart from the rest?
Dashi. Unique toppings. Quality of the noodles. The list goes on and on.
Here are the ones folks are talking about, all recently opened in Honolulu. I’d love to hear your opinion on them.
Kiwami Ramen, 641 Keeaumoku St., (808) 955-1122, www.kiwami-ramen.com
This beloved ramen shop was located in the basement food court of the Waikiki Shopping Plaza, then closed when the center was being renovated and devastated ramen lovers around the island. But in October, the ramen-ya re-opened on Keeaumoku Street in the space vacated by the short-lived udon shop Tsuku Tsuku Tei. Kiwami is best known for its tsukemen, or dipping-style ramen. (The noodles and a more concentrated broth are served separately.) The fat, chewy noodles, which come either hot or cold, are always cooked perfectly and the chicken-based dipping broths — in shio (salt), shoyu or spicy — are rich and flavorful.
Hokkaido Ramen Santouka, 801 Kaheka St., (808) 941-1101, www.santouka.co.jp/en/
The highly anticipated opening of Hokkaido Ramen Santouka, Honolulu’s newest ramen shop, lived up to its hype. Though it opened a couple of months ago, there’s still a long line to get into this popular Japanese ramen chain restaurant. Though Hokkaido is more known for its miso-based broth, this shop serves tonkotsu ramen, which is linked to the Kyushu area of Japan. Tonkostu broth is made from simmering pork bones, giving it a distinct taste and richness. Hokkaido Ramen Santouka has a mild, pearl-colored broth that’s tasty, but good luck trying to drink the entire thing. (Read: super rich)
Japanese Ramen Kai, 1430 Kona St., (808) 949-8888
This small ramen shop near Ala Moana Center has a basic lineup of ramen with six different types of broths, including the popular tan tan, a Chinese-Japanese hybrid using sesame and chili pepper heat. The noodles here are firm and chewy and the Hokkaido-style miso broth is nicely balanced.
Agu Ramen, 925 Isenberg St., (808) 492-1637, www.aguramen.com
Another ramen shop that just opened in Honolulu, across from Old Stadium Park in Moiliili, is more bistro than ramen-ya. Agu Ramen specializes in tonkotsu ramen with the thinner, Hakata-style noodles you find in Fukuoka (pictured at top). The bowls come with a soft-boiled egg, among other toppings, and the broth isn’t as rich as it looks. Agu also serves a lighter jidori (chicken broth) ramen, too, made with organic, cage-free chicken raised on a vegetarian diet. The gyoza here is easily one of the best on the island.
Got a favorite?