Tonkotsu Ramen at Samurai Noodle
Samurai Noodle spearheaded the ramen craze in Seattle. The ramen menu is expansive, though Samurai is probably best-known for its Tonkotsu Ramen, pictured ($7.25). The broth is made from long-cooked pork bones and bacon fat, yielding a sort of liquid bacon. In the broth are thick slices of tender pork, wood ear mushrooms, and green onions; you can purchase a wide variety of extra toppings, though you’ll certainly want to add pickled ginger and sesame seeds from the condiment tray at your seat. You can choose the level of “doneness” of the house-made noodles, and substitute, as I would, thicker, slightly jagged noodles for the thinner, straight ones that come with your tonkotsu order.
Bottom line:Most customizable bowls in Seattle and house-made noodles, but overall quality can vary day-to-day and location-to-location.
Samurai Noodle: 606 5th Avenue South, Seattle, WA 98138 (map); 206-624-9321
4138 University Way Northeast, Seattle, WA 98105 (map); 206-547-1774
412 Broadway East, Seattle, WA 98102 (map); 206-323-7991
Tokyo Ramen at Boom Noodle
Boom Noodle is a sleek spot for slurping (perhaps with a cocktail) a wide variety of noodles, including the four main categories of ramen (shoyu, shio, miso, and tonkotsu), and all without MSG. Pictured is the Tokyo Ramen ($11.95), with a soy sauce-seasoned chicken-pork broth. The contents are fairly simple: slightly fatty chashu (Boom uses braised pork butt), menma (bamboo shoots), green onions, and egg. If you want to expand your range of ramen, there are other options, such as spicy pork, kimchi, and an intriguing spicy yuzu-shio with chicken.
Bottom line:Wide variety of ramen and non-ramen noodle dishes, but as with Samurai Noodle, consistency can be an issue.
Boom Noodle: 1121 East Pike Street, Seattle, WA 98122 (map); 206-701-9130
2675 Northeast Village Lane, Seattle, WA 98105 (map); 206-525-2675
504 Bellevue Square, Bellevue, WA 98004 (map); 425-453-6094
Miso Ramen at Showa
Showa is a fun little izakaya with a funky little kitchen that serves up some surprisingly excellent ramen. The secret has something to do with blended pork fat that yields an aspic-like quality when cooled. (Chicken and clams also contribute to the broth.) The resulting broth is milky and cloudy, almost tonkotsu-like in both appearance and taste. Pictured is the Miso Ramen ($9.75), which comes with wavy yellow noodles, chashu, menma, lots of green onions, and a soft-boiled egg. It’s well worth adding wakame and corn for $1.50, as the sweetness of the corn is a great match with the slightly salty and earthy miso flavor.
Bottom line: The porky broth is rich and creamy (and you can get great gyoza the nights they serve them), though some mourn the loss of the earlier version of this ramen, which was less tonkotsu-like and more sappari (light and refreshing).
At Revel, Korean influences play a big part in the bold flavor of the fabulous food throughout the menu. Therefore, it’s no surprise that kimchi is the key to Revel Ramen ($14). The house-made noodles are tasty couriers of broth made from pork bones (including feet) and chicken bones, along with tahini and garlic. As with any ramen, eat the noodles quickly to keep them from getting too soft, but note that the broth gets better over time as the kimchi penetrates it. The thinly sliced pork belly has just enough fat to contribute fantastic flavor, and you’ll also find green onions, nori strips, slices of ginger, and a perfectly soft-cooked egg in this excellent bowl of ramen, which is only available weekends during brunch service.
Bottom line: This is a refined bowl of ramen with a nice balance of flavors and textures, though note it's the most expensive in the group and the smallest in size.
Shoyu Ramen and Gyoza with Rice at Tsukushinbo
Ramen is even scarcer at Tsukushinbo, a mainstay in Seattle’s old Japantown district. Here, the Friday special is Shoyu Ramen and Gyoza with Rice ($8.50). This is a simple soy sauce based broth, the kind your Japanese grandmother might make, and includes pork, spinach, seaweed, bamboo, and green onions. Nothing fancy, but fine quality, and quite filling as it comes with three pork dumplings and rice. Note, though, that ramen is a Friday-only affair. And while Tsukushinbo recently increased the number of bowls from 20 to about 30, if you show up halfway through lunch service, you’re rolling the dice on availability. People start lining up at 11:30 in anticipation of the opening.
Bottom line: This ramen lunch offers great value, though it's probably the simplest of the group.
Tsukushinbo: 515 South Main Street, Seattle, WA 98104 (map); 206-467-4004
Shio Ramen at Aloha
One of two dedicated ramen restaurants in Seattle, Aloha Ramen is where chef Lorenzo Rangel (an Okinawan who worked for years in Hawaii) arrives as early as 6am to make his pork and chicken broth. You can choose from a long list of ramen varieties, including a unique black sesame ramen. Shio Ramen ($7.50), pictured, is the best of their bunch. Using salt as the primary seasoning, the delicate soup comes with thin-sliced pork, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, and green onions. Many customers upgrade to a combination meal that adds gyoza or garlic fried rice, a house specialty.
Bottom line: Aloha ekes into the recommended list solely based on its shio ramen (best of the shio broths in town), which is difficult to perfect due to its delicate nature.