3 New Ramen Restaurants in Honolulu: Agu, Santouka and Kiwami
Just when you thought you’d chosen your favorite ramen, three new spots open up, making you question your loyalties.
The shoyu tonkotsu ramen at Agu Ramen, with bonito-infused soy sauce and black sesame paste adding complexity to straight-up pokiness.
photo: steve czerniak
If there were ever a ramen restaurant for date nights, this would be it. Inside the made-over, former Da Kitchen space, the dining room is intimate with dark wood and red accents. And if you really want to turn the heat up, order the spicy tonkotsu ramen, doused in chili oil and garnished with fresh jalapenos; it is the first Japanese dish I’ve had that makes me sweat.
The new ramen places these days tout their tonkotsu broths—tonkotsu meaning pork bone, referring to the rich, almost creamy soups achieved after a lengthy boil of bones (up to 20 hours) to extract all the flavor.
At Agu, the noodles are thin, as if in deference to the pay-attention-to-me broths, varying from the almost gravy-thick, porky kotteri tonkotsu, showered with garlic chips, to the lighter, shoyu- and chicken-based broth made from Jidori chicken (the Kobe beef of chicken). Agu’s most compelling bowl is its shoyu tonkotsu, with a bonito-infused soy sauce and black sesame paste adding new complexity to straight-up porkiness.
$10.75 and up, At St. Louis Alumni Association, 925 Isenberg St., 492-1637, aguramen.com.
Hokkaido Ramen Santouka
The new ramen shop next to Don Quijote in town is a sleek and shiny place of white and metal and glass. One of the windows looks over stockpots of broth at a roiling boil, fed by a measured drip of water to replace the evaporation.
Santouka started when its founder, Hitoshi Hatanaka, watched Tampopo, and stopped for noodles after. He was disappointed in the ramen quality and vowed to make a better bowl. He opened his first ramen shop in 1988 in Hokkaido; now, there are more than 40 locations throughout Japan, the U.S., Singapore, Taiwan and Southeast Asia.
The noodles here are thicker and firm, the broth milky—the essence of pork liquefied. One of Santouka’s main draws is the toroniku ramen, a bowl accompanied by thin slices of pork cheek, so tender that it will make you reconsider pork belly as your favorite cut.
$9.50 and up, 801 Kaheka St., 941-1101, santouka.co.jp/en.
When Kiwami Ramen closed in the Waikiki Shopping Plaza about a year ago, noodle fans were left with nowhere to go for tsukemen ramen, in which the noodles and the broth—more of a concentrated dipping sauce—are served separately. But recently, Kiwami reopened on Keeaumoku Street, in the short-lived udon shop Tsuku Tsuku Tei.
Here’s hoping Kiwami succeeds where the previous noodle tenant could not. Kiwami’s options are refreshing in their lightness, as compared to the heartier, pork-forward ramen broths that have been filling the bowls du jour.
For the tsukemen, the noodles are a fat, chewy, wavy variety that allows the dipping sauce to cling to its edges. Sauce options: shoyu, shio (salt), and spicy (not very).
The shoyu ramen is another popular order at Kiwami. Here, the noodles are straighter and thin, the chicken-based shoyu broth clear and subtle, the bowl topped with bamboo shoots, green onions and a thin slice of char siu—this, a mere garnish, rather than the star of the bowl.
$8.50 and up, Kiwami Ramen, 641 Keeaumoku St., 955-1122, kiwami-ramen.com.