I don’t want to date this list, but at the time of writing my wife is away in Japan and here in Strathcona it’s pouring with rain in the most miserable way and the weather report says it probably won’t let up for close to a thousand years (or something). So my thoughts have naturally turned to ramen and where I should go to eat it, a feeling amplified by the fact that ramen-fetishist film Tampopo is screening in the city soon. Ramen is something Vancouver does better than any other city on this side of the Pacific. Here are eleven of my local favourite ramen-yas presented for our reader’s ranking consideration. If I missed the spot that you love deeply, please turn me on to what I’m missing on Twitter via @scoutmagazine.
The Ramen Butcher | 223 East Georgia St. | 604-806-4646 | www.theramenbutcher.com | A personal fave as it’s so close to my house (I eat here at least twice a month). Go for the “Classic” and spice up the salty, cloudy but none-too-unctuous tonkotsu broth with a side of impactful red garlic paste. Extra thin noodles made in house. Bonus: free kaedama (a fist-size ball of extra noodles).
Kintaro | 788 Denman St. | 604-682-7568 | No Website | The greasy grandfather of Vancouver’s ramen scene, where the excess of tonkotsu is laid bare via a veritable steam bath that coats everything – especially your nostril interiors – with a technicolour dream coat of pork (courtesy of two huge pots bubbling bar-side). Nightly line-ups for a reason. Rejoice in the gnarl!
Hokkaido Ramen Santouka | 1690 Robson St. | 604-681-8121 | www.santouka.co.jp | Not my favourite, but I know some ramen freaks who swear by it. They do consistent shio, shoyu, miso and spicy miso at this busy, boisterous, efficiently run spot (expect a line up). Pork broth satisfies. Aim for the miso-flavoured bowl sweetened with a hit of corn. Bonus: optional toroniku (pork cheek) chasu.
Motomachi Shokudo | 740 Denman St. | 604-609-0310 | No Website | Locally famous for its black charcoal ramen (bamboo, charcoal, miso), which is an altogether singular ramen-ya experience that I haven’t seen anywhere else. Don’t be put off by the colour as the taste is totally on point. Poor service is this place’s only consistent weakness. Endure it by focusing on the adventure.
Menya Japanese Noodle | 401 W Broadway | 604-873-3277 | www.menyaramen.com | Hard not to slurp their shoyu soup like a wild person. It sees an umami-bomb soy sauce, chicken, and vegetable base brightened with bonito, egg, cabbage, green onion and seaweed. Skip the cha-su pork in favour of chicken. Really balanced seasoning in the broth. Noodles nice and tender. Underrated!
Ramen Jinya | 270 Robson St. | 604-568-9711 | www.jinya-ramenbar.com | This place has had its ups and downs with consistency over the years (changing stocks, noodles, service issues), but my most recent pass saw a return to its original form. Their extra garlicky “Cha Cha Cha” tonkotsu bowl was better than I’d remembered it — nice and heavy. Slow-simmered broth a palate knockout.
Marutama Ramen | 780 Bidwell St. | 604-688-8837 | www.marutama.ca | Increasingly well known for its tori paitan chicken broth and aosa sea lettuce, this stylish (for a ramen joint) and popular spot benefits hugely from its sharp service team. Table turnover is quick so don’t sweat the queue. Focus on the all-dressed “Zenbu” option that includes pork belly, cha-su, aosa, and good ajitama.
Harvest Community Foods | 243 Union St. | 604-682-8851 | www.harvestunion.ca | I have a soft spot for Harvest as I was there when they debuted their first ramen, a top-to-bottom organic beauty with pork shoulder, candied bacon and exquisitely marinated egg. They do a well regarded veggie ramen too with a squash and miso broth, but I’ve never tried it. Because candied bacon.
Benkei Ramen Noodle Shop | 545 West Broadway | www.benkeiramen.com | They do a bowl here called “Spicy Akaoni” that I haven’t seen the local equal of. Loaded down with pan-fried minced pork, the broth is hit hard with sesame and slicked with a lot of roasted garlic oil; the whole thing leans to the unusually delicious, and it keeps me coming back. Plan B: chicken curry ramen.
The Ramenman | 841 Bidwell St. | 604-620-8806 | No Website | This adorable off-Robson hideaway feels like a delicious little secret and I half feel a fool for sharing the address. Kyoto/Osaka style Kansai chicken broth is fabulous, and they also do an option 100% vegetarian broth that is layered with shroomy and smoky nuance (uncommon in ramen-ya). An absolute charmer.
Gyoza Bar | 622 West Pender St. | 604-336-5563 | www.gyozabar.ca | Good-looking rooms and ramen have never been big buddies in this city, so this looker is a welcome addition on both the aesthetic and gastronomic fronts. Spice up the tamago-shoyu version and go to town (extra heat is an option). The egg revels in the hot broth. Fringe benefit: a deep selection of interesting gyozas.