The Best Places to Eat Ramen in All of Honolulu
As temperatures start to (kind of) fall and we begin unearthing our long-sleeve shirts and scarves, there’s no better complement to our island winter wardrobe than a piping-hot, steaming bowl of brothy noodle soup. Although, to be honest, there are really no excuses to frequent ramen joints here. Popular even during the hot summer months, when it was so humid that public schools considered initiating “heat days” and canceling classes, we still lined up for delicious bowls of ramen, because the heart wants what the heart wants. Come cool air or stifling heat, here are our nine favorite ramen spots in the city.
With more than 15 varieties and spice levels ranging from one to five, Hisashi Uehara’s high-end ramen bistro makes it difficult to pick your favorite. If you’re looking for a clean, light broth with just a hint of spice, try the shoyu-based yuzu jidori, made with a refreshing chicken broth. On the other end of the flavor spectrum, go for the innovative Hot Mess, a wild and rich explosion of black garlic oil and garlic butter broth with savory Parmesan cheese, made with the spot's famous slow-boiled pork broth. When choosing your spice level, think conservatively -- the spice scale is incredibly generous. And by “incredibly generous,” we mean eye-tearing, sinus-clearing, call-your-momma-and-tell-her-you-love-her spicy. You’ve been forewarned. Or, you know, order it on the side.
Tucked in the corner of McCully Shopping Center, this ramen joint ain’t your average strip-mall noodle shop. The paitan ramen is smooth and creamy without being too thick. The collagen-rich broth made with chicken and pork is warm, comforting, and known to ward off the nastiest of colds. But the greatest part of this dish is the soft, homemade, fatty pork, which is some of the best on this list. Chashu lovers can order extra slices or opt for a small bowl of chashu with rice. Choose between Japanese (firm) or local-style (soft) noodles, and slurp away.
Noodle lovers flock to this local ramen chain because the broth is rich & flavorful and the char siu is thick. Come and wait in line for the spicy, sesame-flavored tantan ramen, served plain, with extra char siu, wakame (seaweed), vegetables, chicken, seafood, or tonkatsu (pork tenderloin). Although savory and filling on its own, extra-hungry diners can share a side of crispy gyoza or curry rice for optimal enjoyment.
Home of the island’s first boutique ramen shops, you can thank this small Keeaumoku St restaurant for giving tantan ramen the spotlight it deserves. With a similar broth to Goma Tei, the war over whose tantan ramen is better wages on. Who has the better broth, better char siu, better noodles? Try each bowl and pick a side, or just enjoy them both and split custody between the two popular spots.
Located in the food court near Don Quijote, this Japanese chain makes parking even crazier in this already-crowded parking lot -- for good reason. Its handmade white tonkotsu ramen is mild and gentle without sacrificing flavor. With three sizes available (small, regular, and large), those looking for lighter fare can eat without worrying about taking home soggy leftovers, and those looking for extra simmering pork cheek can chow down without ordering an extra bowl (although you totally can if you want).
Choices run aplenty at this Pensacola ramen shop. With ramen and tsukemen (dipping noodles) on the menu, and four broths to choose from (tonkotsu, goma, shoyu, or spicy), you’ll find something you like. You can also choose your spice level, portion size, and a selection of kakuni (simmered pork) or toriten (Japanese fried chicken), plus the option of adding extra toppings. As a bonus, each table comes with jars of spicy tempura flakes, fresh garlic & onion, and red ginger & mustard cabbage. Shake some tempura flakes into your bowl for a crunchy and spicy enhancement.
With a brick-and-mortar restaurant across from Ala Moana Center and a counter inside Shirokiya, you don’t have to go far when the noodle craving strikes in the midst of shopping. If you’re stumped on what to order, get the best of both worlds with the Manichi Special Tonkotsu-Shibori, where broth-mixing geniuses pour black garlic oil and spicy miso side by side, layering the light-colored miso with the darker oil. Don’t sleep on the gyoza options, including a green onion and spicy pork option in addition to the signature, award-winning fried dumplings, made from an original recipe that was passed down for three generations.
Opened earlier this year, this ramen joint is already making a name for itself with its savory pork broth. Although it offers just three ramen broths (in addition to tsukemen, small plates, and rice dishes), the selection doesn’t disappoint. There’s the signature Golden Pork classic, made with a shoyu and miso broth, the black garlic original, made with homemade black garlic oil and crispy garlic chips, and the Spicy Red Miso Dragon, made with spicy minced meat and sesame. You can also amplify your bowl with a choice of three different spice levels. With prices ringing in at just over $10 per bowl, you’re slurping up great noodles for your bucks.
Two words: lunch combos. More words: with five ramen options on the menu, you can complete your meal with a three-piece gyoza and a mini char siu, karaage chicken rice bowl, or mini daikon and mizuna salad with shiso leaf vinaigrette for $3.50, which makes for a pretty happy meal.
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Summer Nakaishi is a freelance writer for Thrillist, and could probably eat ramen every day and die happy.