Fresh from my eleventh trip to Japan, I’m remaining vigilant in my ramen watch for Seattle. There have been numerous changes since my comprehensive critique of our ramen scene in 2011, many of those changes happening on the north side of the city.
Taichi Kitamura did indeed develop a ramen recipe (actually, more than one), serving up some of my favorite ramen at Showa until the izakaya closed recently. Aloha Ramen, which I like less, plans to move from Greenwood to Lake City late in the summer, putting them out of desirable geographic reach for many.
Boom Noodle has gone downhill since the departure of executive chef Jonathan Hunt. Consistency always varied among its shops, with the ramen best wherever Hunt was present. There’s a similar problem with Samurai Noodle, though on its better days it might be tops in the Seattle area. That said, I still enjoy “grandma’s ramen” at Tsukushinbo, which also happens to be the best bargain of all.
I’ve yet to try Kukai in Bellevue, partly because I’ve heard negative reviews from the local Japanese community. Meanwhile, I await the opening of Tanaka-san, though with concern that the ramen might be too high-end.
In that developing Nihonmachi in Wallingford, there are two options in the world of ramen. 4649 Restaurant (aka “Yoroshiku,” which is a way to read the numbers aloud, and means “pleased to meet you”), in the former Joule space on 45th, serves shio ramen, pictured above. At $9.50 for the basic, the bowl is a little on the small side and the broth a bit bland (it needs more shio punch), though the chashu is good. (Reason, perhaps, to order the meatier chashu-men for $11.95.)
Incidentally, I found the meat portions of the yakitori, however flavorful, to be meager as well. Better at 4649 are the salads. Ruibe, which is Hokkaido-style beef carpaccio over vegetables, served with ponzu dressing, is a fine choice for freshness and flavor. The other salads (choices include tofu, salmon, ramen, and a 4649 house salad) looked delicious as well, and I’ve heard good things about them from numerous diners.
A little further east on the same street, Miyabi 45th is doing a ramen pop-up this coming Sunday and Monday. Mutsuko Soma makes some exquisite soba, and while she won’t be making ramen noodles this time around, she’s putting a lot of effort into the broth (bet on bone marrow for some flavoring) and toppings. Soma will be serving shoyu ramen (my favorite type) which will come in three varieties: basic ($12), chashu ($14, with five slices of pork), and Jiro-style ($17, with a double portion of noodles and “a mountain of everything”). You’ll want to call the restaurant to reserve, as seating will be limited. Soma says she’ll continue ramen pop-ups if these two are successful—based on her standard of quality, I’m sure they will be.
While ramen in Seattle still lags far behind what you’ll find in Vancouver/Richmond and Japan, at least the bowls (most, that is) are better than a ramen experience I had last week in Tokyo. I happened to be in the city during a brief promotion of ramen burgers at Lotteria, a fast-food chain. At a hefty 634 yen (as with 4649, there’s wordplay happening, as 634 can be read as “musashi”—the noted Menya Musashi chain is providing the ramen for the promotion) per burger, it served notice that I much prefer my ramen noodles in a soup bowl than in a bun, whether in Japan or here in Seattle.
A big shot of a little 4649 yakitori: