Marukame Udon

Niku udon, with thinly sliced beef

Now a little over a year old, Marukame Udon isn't the newest udon on the block, but it's still one of my favorites. It's cheap (bowls start at $3.75 and top out at $6.25 for a large), the noodles are made fresh, and the cafeteria-style setup is fun and fast.

There's almost always a line out the door, but it goes quickly. You can always pass the time by watching the cooks sheet and cut dough.

Slide your tray along and choose from seven different bowls. Among them: curry udon; niku udon, with thinly sliced beef; ontama udon, with a soft poached egg; kamaage udon, served in hot water and a dipping sauce with plenty of sesame and ginger; zaru udon, a cold udon with dipping sauce.

In the background: tempura; in the foreground: kamaage udon

Then you pick from an array of tempura including chicken, eggplant, asparagus, squid, soft boiled egg, kakiage (a fried puck of thinly sliced vegetables including onion and gobo). Depending when you catch the tempura out of the fryer, it may be cold, but still surprisingly crunchy.

Five bowls, five pieces of tempura and a spam musubi later, we walked out, our wallets only $36 lighter, and we were bid farewell with as much exuberance as we were greeted. The staff is at times boisterous; one half expects them to jump up on the counter, slinging noodles Coyote Ugly style.

Fun, delicious times.

Marukame Udon, 2310 Kuhio Ave., 931-6000 (We parked at the Top of Waikiki parking garage, with a $5 flat rate from 6 p.m. to midnight.)