We know some fancy celebrity chef once declared ramen dead. But according to both a song by Warren Zevon and a movie with Christopher Walken in it, there’s a lot to do in Denver when you’re dead. And in this case, it’s pop up all over the place and taste delicious.
And you know where else there are things to do when you’re dead? Heaven. The point is that the Mile High City is officially ramen heaven -- and here’s a handy guide of all restaurants in and around Denver that prove it. Some are Japanese, some aren’t; some feature the noodle soup as a house specialty, others as a chef’s whim. We aimed for a comprehensive listing, excluding only those places where ramen appeared as a token afterthought.
Jeff Osaka’s urban-underground noodle bar boasts an Asian food-friendly wine list and delectable izakaya-inspired small plates (see: kara-age), but the highlight, of course, is the ramen. You’ve got your lighter, chicken-based shio (salt) and shoyu (soy-flavored) broths; your medium-textured miso broth, made with chicken and pork; and your intense, whole-hog tonkotsu broth -- each distinguished by its own mix of toppings, from braised pork shoulder to black-garlic oil. Oh, and there’s a meatless alternative for the plant-eaters who don’t know what they’re missing in the juxtaposition of velvety pork belly and a perfectly soft egg.
This here’s the kind of workhorse Japanese joint that every neighborhood should be so lucky to have: a mom-and-pop noodle-and-sushi bar that’s very good at its best, good enough at its worst, friendly and comforting and relatively cheap always. (Although the namesake udon bowls arguably have a slight edge over the ramen.)
The sibling of the always-slammed Sushi Katsu is doing a bang-up job of not only the most-common ramen styles but also hiyashi chuka, a chilled version featuring slices of omelet (tamagoyaki) and barbecued pork (chashu) in a creamy sesame-ponzu sauce you’ll wish you could drink from a glass with a little sake mixed in. And the good news? You can!
As far as we know, this unassuming shopping-plaza outlet, also in Aurora, is one of the only places in town that specializes in seafood ramen -- and the only one that throws a free California roll in with its shoyu or miso bowls. (Not, like, actually into the soup, but it's entirely possible that would taste amazing.)
This little strip-mall shop has a small but traditional ramen selection augmented by typical snacks like gyoza and fried oysters. Yes, you'll have to pay extra for certain toppings à la carte -- including the seasoned egg called ni-tamago -- but if you've eaten enough ramen you know that such fees aren’t really so unusual so pay up and slurp away.
This hot spot, whose chef-owner (and probable Pam Anderson-sex-tape-joke hater) Tommy Lee offers two-buck "umami bombs" to supplement his already dynamite soup. On the old-school foundation of custom-made noodles and 18-hour broths, Uncle’s crew creates combos that showcase their modern sensibilities, adding arugula or kale here, lamb or Italian sausage there, depending on their mood in any given season. Spicy chicken’s their best-seller, but we’re partial to the kimchi, preceded by salt-and-pepper quail and paired with a craft beer even you may never have seen before.
The "hangover ramen" here is a brunch and lunch staple so don't come craving it at dinner time, But if you do show up at the right time to order up this favorite, you'll be enjoying slow-braised heritage Berkshire pork belly, eight-hour Maple Leaf duck confit, roasted organic Hazel Dell mushrooms, organic pickled ginger, and a local soft-boiled egg marinated at length in a soy-sauce mixture, all afloat in a flavorful broth made with collagen-rich bones. Get busy with the sesame-seed grinder, house-made chili oil, shichimi togarashi, and other condiments that come on the side and make this stellar ramen your own.
Two words: cellar door. Wait, no. Lobster ramen. The first restaurateur in town to see the Momofuku train coming, Frank Bonanno opened his chic noodle bar back in 2008, when that miso-fortified, beurre blanc-slicked, edamame-studded, claw meat-topped creation became an instant smash hit. Since then, Chef John DePierro has added his own signature -- a Southwest-style bowl with green chiles, braised pork shoulder, hominy, jalapeños, and queso fresco -- to the menu while keeping seasonal tricks such as spinach-chipotle ramen up his sleeve.
Building on two dashi-based broths, Domo Chef-owner Gaku Homma offers eight different varieties of ramen with toppings like grilled eel and sukiyaki beef, including a thicker, saucier rarity called ankake. Adding two more broths (soy milk and curry) to the mix, he also makes five types of tsukemen -- essentially deconstructed ramen, with the soup served alongside the noodles to function as a dip. Any of these can become part of a combo meal with your choice of 12 donburi (rice bowls), such as the salmon teriyaki or the shrimp with avocado. And of course it all starts with the seven side dishes sent out for parties to share, whether in the folktale woodcutter’s cabin of a dining room or out in the koi garden. Prepare to be dumbfounded by sheer abundance, is what we’re saying.
Like Domo, this quaintly decorated longtimer prepares an endless assortment of Japanese comfort dishes; unlike Domo, it’s bizarrely underrated. We’ve never had a bad dish here, be it grilled mackerel or hayashi (gravied beef over rice), and the noodle bowls are no exception. Kiki’s tonkotsu in particular is like the fettuccine Alfredo of ramen, in a really good way.
Ace’s menu is basically an anthology of Asia’s greatest culinary hits from bibimbap to bao, so of course it incorporates ramen too. Three types, to be exact -- shoyu topped with pork shoulder, fish cake, and a soft cooked egg, a spicy pork with ground pork, baby corn, pickled carrots, bamboo shoots and butter, and the vegan-friendly mushroom with crispy tofu.
Given a menu that jumps from barbecued ribs to chilaquiles to elegant pastas, you might suspect that the chef has terrible adult ADHD. But a few bites go to show he’s got it all under control. That goes double for his ramen, offered at brunch and late night. Pork shoyu with a poached egg, and garnishes ranging from mixed pickles to roasted cauliflower anchor a steaming bowl that's always sure to satisfy.
Also with limited availability (lunch-only), OAK’s ramen is about what you’d expect from a place that makes even lowbrow micheladas with San Marzano tomatoes, house hot sauce, and sea salt. The shoyu-kombu broth is a three-day affair involving smoked chicken as well as roasted pork; the fresh noodles are the kitchen’s own; the garnishes are cut as precisely as gemstones; the egg on top floats like a cloud -- and the end result is pretty much reverse-snob-proof.
As Kyushu natives, the Kizaki brothers were practically born eating tonkotsu. So they take it seriously, employing a designated ramen chef in a kitchen otherwise known for East-West innovations like hoisin-duck crostini. Said chef executes not only their homeland’s famous contribution to the ramen world but several other types as well -- notably tantanmen, Japan’s answer to spicy Sichuan dan dan noodles, and lobster ramen with bonus dumplings.
If you're willing to make a trek to Louisville (and you should), you’ll find beef -- as well as two kinds of seafood ramen -- on the dinner menu at this modest yet welcoming outpost along the Northwest Corridor, where nothing from the shumai to the katsu should be half as satisfactory as it surprisingly is.
Last but definitely not least, this sleek, bi-level date-night haunt ably ladles up all the classics along with a locally inspired bowl that belongs on everyone’s list of top guilty pleasures forevermore: the cremoso diablo, starring a miso broth made creamy by a blend of cheddar and jack cheeses. It sounds ridiculous, but it tastes... ridiculous.
A serene, sophisticated suburban outlier specializing in the lighter styles -- shio, shoyu, spicy miso -- complemented by cool surprises like creamy vegetable and curry ramen, the latter topped with Japanese-style fried chicken.
At this hidden exception to the 16th Street Mall restaurant rule of high visibility and low quality, toppings like shrimp, crab, fishcake, butter, and corn reflect the kitchen’s appreciation for the diversity to be found within the big blue ramen universe.
Conveniently located to satisfy the ramen cravings of University of Denver students, this spot has an array of options to choose from including the pork broth-based tonkotsu ramen and a rich miso ramen with bok choy, bean sprouts, green onion, chashu, poached egg, fish cake, and seaweed. Pair your bowl of noodle-goodness with some pork gyoza and you'll be primed for whatever the holds, be it an epic study session or some good old day drinking fun.
In May of 2016, this family-owned restaurant began serving up food crafted to reflect owner Sera Nguyen's own experiences with food, from growing up eating at her mother's restaurant in Vietnam to the flavors she loves to share in her own kitchen at home. The result is authentic flavors served with a dash of homestyle hospitality so whether you order the spicy miso chicken, curry ramen, or oxtail ramen, you're in for an experience that will leave you craving more.
Those who live nearby this little known neighborhood favorite would probably prefer it stayed little-known, but then you wouldn't be able to try their menu full of tasty treats like the wagyu ramen burger, bacon wrapped mochi, and, of course, ramen. They've got the traditional choices, but go ahead and treat yourself and order the spicy lobster ramen with corn, arugula, and a poached egg in a fragrant seafood broth.
The 16th St Mall location (there's a second outpost in the Tech Center) of this noodle bar is another spot that offers a repose from the mall's otherwise nondescript collection of chain restaurants and tourist-friendly but forgettable food choices. Their tantan men with spicy pork, bean sprouts, kikurage (Japanese wood year mushroom), and scallions in a creamy pork broth is a favorite that gives you that soul warming satisfaction that's an essential part of the best ramen experiences.
Do what you can to not fill up on starters, like the curry chicken katsu fries and salmon collar and save a little room for some of the flavorful ramens that include some more unusual options: crispy chicken katsu ramen and tempura shrimp ramen. Feeling more adventurous and hungry? Try the army ramen featuring Spam, hot dogs, and dumplings with a spicy sesame broth.
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