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?
We mean here? I’ll be leaving for Japan in 12 days and I can’t wait to eat ramen as soon as I get off the plane.
Love Ramen. Our Golf club was wiped out Sunday. Cold and totally wet we tried the Saimein at the course and was disappointed wirh the noodles. can’t wait to try your recommendations. thanks Cat!
I like Kiwami Ramen and Hokkaido Ramen Santouka.
CAT: Tried all 4 thanks to yours and NSHnl reviews. I personally like Santouka because the broth is light and subtle with just enough taste. I like the smaller diameter noodles as well. I would put Kiwami in a very close second. The broth is richer and more robust than Santouka. Noodles are good and cooked to perfection. I like Agu in the 3d spot for ambiance and overall taste. Robust broth and toppings are very good. Noodles are also cooked well. Kai is a distant fourth in my book. Too much oilyness for my taste. No real distinctive aspects other than it being new. In a pinch if the other 3 are not available would go back. Note that all have parking but very limited in the case of Kiwami. Like most ramen places, parking is a matter of timing and luck especially during the madness of holidays. Hey, maybe you should set up a “Ramen Crawl” where smaller size ramen is sampled at all four places so people can vote for their fav. Of course you would have to finish at a Sake place…wait, aren’t you supposed to have ramen after drinking?
funny, a lot of ramen-ya have opened up here in the bay area as well. in my medium sized city (suburb) of san mateo, there are about six ones, currently (one is a long standing staple but the others have opened in the past year). of course, there’s a lot of japanese (real japanese, not fake japanese run by chinese or korean proprietors, but authentic specialty places run by and staffed by japanese nationals) restaurants in our area as well. by my rough count, three izakaya and a yakitori place in addition to a michelin starred kaiseki place.
btw, if anyone comes to the bay area and wants to eat ramen, one of the shops near me specializes in a lobster tonkotsu broth that is out off this world.
my favorite is Sea Dragon Table for tan tan ramen. they also serve shanghai dumplings and gyoza.
Is that a ramen shop? Or Chinese noodle place?
I’ve tried Cat’s first three places. They’re all great! My favorite place is still Goma Ichi on Keeaumoku St. It’s a Nagoya-based shop and its broth is da best.
Besides for Santouka, I like Tenkaippin’s Black Garlic Tonkotsu ramen. The broth is so rich, fatty, and flavorful 🙂
I’ll always remember Kiwami Ramen because my family didnt care for their dishes, but I got to see the shivering Cat Toth at the table next to us.
That topped off a great vacation trip and knocked off 2 bucket list items: experience Christmas (decorations) in Hawaii, and meet Cat!
10 more days till I land in the land of ramen….. 🙂