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Kamitoku’s Beef-Broth Ramen Bowls Get a New Home in Kaka‘ako
The truck stops here: Tuesday to Sunday, intensely beefy fare is at a full-service restaurant at Ward Village.
Kamitoku Ramen opened its new brick-and-mortar restaurant at Ward Village earlier this month, showcasing a menu familiar to followers of its beef-bone broths. It’s a big step up for the tiny chain: Kamitoku launched as a ramen truck in Waikīkī seven years ago, its only locale outside Japan, and expanded to University of Hawai‘i campuses and a stall at Shirokiya Japan Village Walk where I became a fan. All of those outposts have now closed but the new location continues the shop that has six decades of history in Tottori, Japan, where beef ramen is popular.
This beefy broth sets Kamitoku apart in a ramen scene where pork- and chicken-based broths are king. I enter the new location next to Piggy Smalls hoping the transition from food court to full-service restaurant will prove to be smooth. The menu is promising: bowls of ramen with beef broth options including miso, shoyu, tan tan, spicy and light; and sides like beef char siu, a beef char siu musubi, coconut shrimp, karaage chicken and takoyaki, most in the $5 to $9 range.
My fellow dining adventurer Thomas Obungen and I order several items—some new, some familiar, all promising.
The first thing that hits me in the Beefy Tan Tan bowl ($12.50) is the peppery broth extracted from roasted bones after several hours of simmering. It’s a heady and spicy bowl that makes you slow down a bit to take in the profound flavors dancing on your palate.
The Beefy Tsukemen ($13) catches me by surprise—the presence of bonito hits my senses first, then the signature beefy backbone of the broth registers at the back of my throat. Since the flavors in the concentrated dipping broth are so pronounced, I eat slowly and find that I need to pour a spoonful of the broth onto my noodles, or they start to stick together in starchy cohesion.
Like ramen veterans, we order gyoza and other sides to go with our noodles. Kamitoku’s deep-fried nanban gyoza is quite oily and creates a heaviness on the tongue. But the beef fried rice—fried in beef drippings from the roasting—is tasty, well-seasoned and unctuous.
Out of curiosity, we also try the $3 beef char siu musubi. A thin slice of seasoned beef blankets a generous portion of rice like a Spam musubi, layered with mayonnaise and topped with fried garlic bits. While this is a nice side dish, I would pay the same price for half the amount of rice to better balance with the beef.
There are some foods where a little goes a long way, be it a rich square of dark chocolate, a perfectly drawn espresso or a fatty piece of otoro. It’s the same with Kamitoku’s intense flavors, which, though very good and delivered with excellent service, can lead to some flavor fatigue. With its robust flavors, Kamitoku Ramen is an experience that you’ll want to take in small bites, but taking it is recommended.