Honolulu’s Japanese Food Guide: Ramen
Japan’s most ardent gift to the world of noodles comes by way of China, but like other culinary adaptations under the rising sun, ramen is now uniquely Japanese. Here are our favorites, categorized by their broths.
The spicy, nutty broth that, as Goma Ichi promises, “dances with sesame.” Honolulu’s leading contenders for best tantan ramen are eerily similar. See why, below.
Goma Ichi vs. Goma Tei
The names, the sleek interiors, the signature tan tan broths—if one reminds you of the other, it’s because Goma Ichi spawned Goma Tei. Not that it intended to do so. After Goma Ichi opened in 1995 as Honolulu’s first boutique ramen shop, a split between the business partners led to the openings of Goma Tei in prime mall real estate.
For a while, the menus were nearly identical. Tan tan ramen. Gyoza. Cold ban ban ji chicken. Goma Ichi came out with hot-sour sung hong ramen. Goma Tei followed.
Now Goma Tei has branched out, adding curry, loco moco and other rice bowls to its offerings. The running debate over whose tan tan is the best remains one of Honolulu’s most fervent, but even Goma Ichi fans fall silent when it comes to tantan’s signature topping. In Battle Char Siu, Goma Tei’s thick, melting cuts reign supreme.
Goma Ichi Ramen, $, 631 Keeaumoku St., (808) 951-6666
Goma Tei Ramen, $, Ward Center, 1200 Ala Moana Blvd., (808) 591-9188, Ala Moana Center, 1450 Ala Moana Blvd., (808) 947-9188
A cloudy, collagen-rich broth of simmered pork bones infused with chicken and vegetable stock—if you love paitan, Yotteko-ya’s the place. Get it spicy, Japanese-style (which means firmer noodles). Come early—Yotteko-ya only makes one batch a day, and they often sell out before the end of the night.
Yotteko-ya, $, McCully Shopping Center, 1960 Kapiolani Blvd. (808) 946-2900
Deep and layered with the umami notes of chicken, Menchanko-Tei’s Kikuzo bowl delivers on comfort. Its thin, straight noodles are lighter in flavor to match the chickeny broth.
Menchanko-Tei, $, 903 Keeaumoku St. (808) 946-1888
Hokkaido-style miso ramen isn’t usually hot or sexy, but at Menchanko-Tei, the spicy chige miso, which arrives in a cast-iron pot, changes all that. Thick, chewy noodles—the fattest ramen we’ve seen, actually—hold up to the hearty broth and are a joy in themselves.
Menchanko-Tei, $, 903 Keeaumoku St., (808) 946-1888