As you have or have not known, Honolulu is home to some of the best Japanese foods in North America, thanks to the large percentage of Japanese people living on the islands. Speaking of Japanese foods, who doesn't love ramen? I mean - the real ramen, not the instant package kind. Yes, ramen is also one of my most favorite Japanese foods to eat, ever. Ramen is appropriate in any occasions, really. Going for a casual dinner? Taking a girl out? Eating by yourself? Yes, yes, and yes. Hungry Chopsticks editor will narrow down some of the best ramen spots in Honolulu for you, ranging from Tokyo style to Kyoto style!
When it comes to noodle soup, I break down all the elements into different categories for the sake of analysis. I was born a pho eater, so trust me on the noodle soup department, guys ;). I will break it down to 3 categories: the noodle, the broth, and the chashu/pork belly.
Wagaya in Mo'ili'ili prides itself on the signature Tokyo-style tonkotsu ramen, called Wagaya Shiro.
The bowl comes with noodle, tonkotsu broth, wood ear mushroom, greens, soft-boiled eggs, and a few thin slices of chashu.
The noodle: Typical curly ramen noodles cooked al dente, which is right on my preference. No comment on the noodle much, this is pretty easy to nail down for a ramen restaurant.
The broth: Since tonkotsu is pork bone broth, the broth is milky and fatty yet light, maybe because it is done in Tokyo style. I've had tonkotsu broth that is really salty and dense, which is not the case at Wagaya. I think Wagaya's tonkotsu broth would please the tastebuds of people who like light broth, and would definitely win over females' palate than mens'. It is also not salty, not like many tonkotsu-specialized ramen joint. I would like a litttttttle bit more salt, but hey, if the chef says so. While the umami level is great, there is definitely room for improvement in terms of the savory department.
The chashu: Wagaya's chashu was quite thin. Not sure if this is Tokyo-style or it's just...thin. It was moist and tender due to all the fat part, however it was really thin for my liking.
Appreciating the fact that they give a whole soft-boiled egg instead of half egg like other places. Also, I don't see greens take part very commonly in a tonkotsu ramen bowl. I don't dislike it or like it so much, greens don't matter too much in ramen for me.
See all the fat bubble? It must be from simmering pork bones for hours and hours, hence resulting in the sticky umami-ness of the broth.
Next, let's see what else Wagaya offers besides tonkotsu ramen.
In contrast to the hot and slurpy tonkotsu ramen, tsukemen is complete cool and chill as a dipping noodle dish.
The noodle: The noodle itself is usually thicker and denser than ramen, and served chill. What makes tsukemen so delicious is the texture of al dente thick ramen noodle that creates a satisfying mouthfeel. Wagaya nails it down pretty decently.
The soup: The noodle then is accompanied by an also thick and bold soup served at above room temperature, usually from a combination of fish and pork stock, boiling until dense. Flavor wise, it is at least 3-4 times bolder than the normal ramen soup. Wagaya did a great job of combining fish and pork and possibly maybe chicken broth too, while maintaining a very rich and complex layer of decadent broth.
The chashu: The meat in tsukemen is just a few pieces of stewed pork, so nothing majorly significant.
If you feel that you need more meat in your life, order Aburi Gyutan - thinly sliced beef tongue, quickly grilled and topped with a heaping of green onions.
Overall, my experience with Wagaya was great, service was fast and courteous. Food quality is great, not amazing, but great. Wish that the chashu slices were a little thicker. Other than that, I would return to have the tsukemen.
2. Kyoto Ramen Yotteko-ya
Many of my friends have been raving about this place, and I've tried to come here for about ......5 times, in which the shop either closed or ran out of food. Nevertheless, you can imagine how excited I am when I finally heard them said "Yes, we're still serving" on the phone. Yes, Yotteko-ya, finally, baby!
Kyoto Ramen Yotteko-ya's specialty is Kyoto-style ramen, which features a paitan broth cooked with both pork and chicken bones.
Besides the usual offerings, they also serve cold beers (yay for ramen and beers!) and kakuni pork. Kakuni pork is stewed pork belly in shoyu, served in thick pieces to ensure a guilty pleasure of eating really, really fatty pork. I'm pretty sure they're just thicker pieces of the normal chashu.
The usual set of condiments for a ramen-ya: togarashi (Japanese chili pepper flakes), sesame seeds, chili oil, and vinegar/soy sauce for gyoza dipping.
I ordered the chashu paitan ramen, which features two of the signatures here: paitan and chashu. Can I point out how thinner the green onions should be? I always judge a Japanese establishments by how well they cut green onions...because Japanese know how to cut green onions pretty perfectly.
The chashu paitan ramen comes with 5 pieces of fatty chashu! Yes!!!! The meat lover in me secretly screams really, really loud inside.
Can you see the glistening fat of the chashu piece? So sexy.
About to devour that little monster into my stomach.
Let's get down to the business:
The broth: Yotteko-ya's paitan broth is really, really excellent. Probably one of the better ramen broth in all Hawaii islands, or even all Pacific Islands. Not the best paitan broth I've ever had (welp) but still absolutely ono. It is a beautiful blend of chicken bones and pork bones, so it is porky and umami like a tonkotsu but is light and flavorful like any chicken soup would be. The salt level was also adjusted to a local standards (I think), because it is just right, not too salty like a lot of ramen-ya in Japan. I can drink this broth forever. Or maybe just this broth and a cup of rice would do. Savory, umami, porky, light, excellent!
The noodle: The noodle was cooked al dente, nothing too stands out.
The chashu: Besides the broth, the chashu here is definitely an attraction that got everybody to love Yotteko-ya. Upon having a bite of the chashu, I immediately imagined about how long the chashu was prepared and braised in possibly a secret sauce that of course has shoyu in it. I can totally imagine how much care was put into this chashu thingy. The meat itself and the fat was tender and cooked to perfection, that melted into your mouth the moment you put it in. So, just...put it in.
After 5 times of not being able to eat the famous chashu ramen, I managed to snag a spot and enjoyed it thoroughly. The shop was quiet on the night that I went, probably explained why I still got to eat there. My beloved readers, if you're looking to have ramen with really good broth and super amazing chashu, Yotteko-ya is where you need to hit.
Hungry Chopsticks readers, where would you recommend for ramen in Honolulu? Comment below and we'll pick some to feature for our next Ramen Guidebook!
Kyoto Ramen Yotteko-ya: Everyday except Wednesday 11:30 am - 2:00 pm | 5:30 pm - 10:00 pm | Call (808) 946-2900 before you go, they usually run out by 8-9pm.