The Original Ramen Burger versus Saimin Burgers
Forget traffic and Facebook. The work hours lost to the Ramen Burger may beat them all. (And they rise exponentially when you combine Facebooking with the Ramen Burger.) At least that’s the case on the days the original Ramen Burger came to Honolulu; over just a few days in the past three weeks, almost 2,000 Ramen Burgers were sold, with people waiting two hours or more for their hamburgers on ramen buns.
At ten bucks a pop, that means Keizo Shimamoto, the Ramen Burger creator, grossed $20,000. If he sells Ramen Burgers for a little over three months a year, he grosses half a million dollars.
No wonder a couple local companies want to get in on the action. And have a little fun creating their own versions.
Tanaka Saimin and, most recently, L&L Drive Inn, have added saimin burgers to their menus. How do they stack up against the original?
The quick answer (to make up your time lost in rainy day traffic): They’re not as good.
The long version (to read while stuck in traffic):
The original Ramen Burger
Noodles: Though Shimamoto says the secret’s in the sauce, the noodles are the real marvel for me. From the looks of it, I expect a hard brick, but in reality, they are lightly crisped on the outside and come apart softly when you bite into them.
Beef and sauce: The beef patty is topped with a teriyaki-like sauce (or tare, for the Japanese food nerds), giving the whole package a salty sweet flavor.
Fixin’s: green onions and arugula
Overall: It tastes great, and I applaud the noodle ingenuity, but I’d probably be just as happy with a teri burger on stir-fried ramen (a la yakisoba), or even better, a bowl of ramen.
“Ours is better than the one at Eat the Street,” my waiter says when I ask about the saimin burger. He brings it to me, with an extra stack of napkins and says, “See, no waiting in line, and you save a dollar!”
It’s also bigger. While the Ramen Burger is about the size of an English muffin, this is a regular hamburger size.
Noodles: Tanaka Saimin’s noodles are unlike most other saimin noodles—they're thinner, more like the skinny egg noodles in Chinese wonton noodle soups. They’re squished so tightly together they cease to be noodles and are more like a single mass of dough. Not a fan.
Beef and sauce: I love Tanaka’s sauce—a chile-flecked teriyaki sauce, heavy on the sweet and heavy on the salt, in true local style. Good char on the beef, but the patty is a bit mushy.
Fixin’s: green onions and watercress (love). Don’t love: the American cheese. Unnecessary: the pickles and saimin broth on the side.
Overall: I looked longingly at the bowls of saimin passing me by and wished I could have one of those instead.
L&L Hawaiian Barbecue
Noodles: They look unpromising—dense and tightly packed, but surprisingly, they’re not. They’re not quite as delicate as the original, but it’s a fairly good imitation.
Beef and sauce: The beef patty is dry, thin, pretty much flavorless. The sauce saves it a little.
Fixin’s: green onions and iceberg (which just wilts into nothingness)
Overall: "Bigger and better!" the sign advertises. But it’s not. It is almost half the price, though, which blows my friends’ minds away. They’d get it again. I guess the concept is just not my thing.
Oh, and regarding the possible legal action against L&L? Jeff Shimamoto, Keizo’s brother and a finance lawyer, doesn’t want to talk about it.
[2/5 correction: Bring in five cans to L&L for a free saimin burger, not 10]