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Have you had a bowl of ramen lately? Not the instant kind, but a big, soulful bowl of broth layered with handcrafted noodles and regionally sourced veggies and protein.
The broth may be clear and light, or deep and rich with a layer of lip-smacking fat from the roast pork or chicken. Veggie ramen also abounds — decked out with marinated soft-boiled eggs, mushrooms, tofu, greens, seaweed and more.
Inspired? The Portland Region is considered a hot spot for Japan-based ramen chains, with an abundance of both authentic imports and Portland-based chefs spinning their own playful innovations available for delivery and takeout. (Multnomah County currently allows outdoor dining as well as takeout and delivery.)
The trend didn’t happen by accident. Both Marukin and Afuri, two of the Japanese ramen giants, say they chose Portland as their first U.S. location specifically because of the Rose City’s purity of water and the bounty of the local harvest.
There’s another factor: “Portland represents something to Japanese people about craft and dedication, to taking care with what you make and how you live,” observes Lola Milholland, founder of Umi Organic, ramen noodles, made in North Portland with just six ingredients.
So what makes ramen so special? “It’s all about the relationship between the broth and noodles,” Milholland explains. The broth needs to coat the noodle without making it mushy, and the noodle should be chewy, springy and have bite. Above all they should be “slurpable,” she adds, because Japanese custom is to slurp the whole bowl of piping-hot ramen quickly, before it gets soggy.
“The broth is a soulful experience; the noodles are fun,” Milholland says. “It’s like a layered experience.”
Ready for your Portland ramen tour? Here are some places to start:
Just like it sounds, the bowls of deliciousness here come fast, since Ninja Ramen is available for takeout only via online ordering. The cozy Hillsboro shop, which opened in February 2020, uses all-natural ingredients and no MSG, and cooks their broth for more than 14 hours for maximum flavor. Warm your belly with a sukiyaki beef ramen, a tonkatsu (pork cutlet) curry plate or a giant bento for when you just can’t decide.
Afuri Ramen, open in Southeast Portland and downtown since 2016, opened its Beaverton location in 2020. Their signature bowl is the yuzu shio ramen — a bright, clean and understated salt-based chicken broth with a squeeze of yuzu citrus, Japanese-style handmade noodles, shimeji mushrooms, a seasoned egg, roast pork, endive and seaweed. The bowls here are the priciest you’ll find in town ($14 to $20), but it’s reflected in the exquisite quality. There are several options for online delivery orders at both locations.
Vegans can rejoice that two of the four daily specials at Marukin Ramen, another lauded Japanese transplant, are vegan, developed especially for the Portland market. The spicy vegan red is addictive, made with onions, garlic, shiitake mushrooms and kombu. Marukin’s authentic offerings are pleasing fans at their two locations, in Southeast Portland and in Old Town at Pine Street Market. The ramen isn’t available for takeout, but you can order other menu items to go, like the fried chicken (karaage), curry rice (donburi), dumplings (gyoza) and more.
Before it ever became a craze, ramen fanatics have been slurping down the Kakuni ramen at Yuzu for years. This tiny dinner-only space in a Beaverton strip mall has a cult following for good reason: The broth is heady, thick and cloudy from the melt-in-your-mouth pork belly; the noodles are thin and springy; and it all works in harmony to steam up the windows on a cold night. You can call in to pick up an order to go.
Kikuzi Ramen & Izakaya
The garlic tonkotsu ramen at Japan-based Kikuzi Ramen & Izakaya, in the Timberland Shopping Center off Northwest Barnes Road, is crave-worthy, a rich shoyu broth that comes packed with umami goodness. Since opening in 2015, it’s been packed with hungry daytime crowds. You can choose a lower-sodium broth here and easily customize your toppings. It’s also easy to place online orders for pickup and delivery (don’t worry, they keep the broth separate).
The ramen spot inside Uwajimaya supermarket in Beaverton, Ramen Ryoma, sticks to the basics, with just a handful of varieties on the menu. There are no izakaya items or sushi, as most other places offer. The miso deluxe Ryoma celebrates the marriage of the thick noodles with the large slices of smoky roast pork, three large sheets of nori, an egg and green onions. An eclectic “corn butter” ramen calls out to risk takers. You can call in an order to go.
Craving fried chicken with your ramen? You can get it at Boke Bowl, one of Portland’s classic hipster ramen spots with takeout and delivery only available from its Southeast Portland location (online or phone orders accepted). Choose your broth base (pork, shrimp, chicken or veggie) and your add-ons from a decidedly nontraditional list that includes a buttermilk fried chicken, cornmeal-crusted oysters and house-made spicy chicken sausage.
Founded by Little Big Burgers’ Micah Camden, Boxer Ramen has delivered its unique brand of ramen for years now and just reopened its Northwest Portland location for takeout and delivery only. Try Boxer’s shiitake shoyu, a simple and decadent version of the classic with a soft-poached egg, cabbage and scallions. There’s also a comfort-food classic dish called okonomiyaki tots — a play on the flavors of a classic Japanese pancake with tater tots as the base.
Kayo’s Ramen Bar
With its covered and heated patio on North Williams Avenue, Kayo’s Ramen Bar brings both authenticity and something a little wild. Their wasabi smoked-salmon ramen — with cold-smoked lox from Tony’s Smoke House & Cannery in Oregon City, sliced onion and lemon in a rich shoyu broth, with a wasabi kick — is not your grandma’s ramen. Any ramen on the menu can be made vegan. It’s easy to order takeout online from their extensive menu, which includes a number of Japanese tacos, rice dishes and seasoning salts for use in your own dishes at home.
The veggie ramen at Mirakutei is one of the city’s best, with a separate house-made broth, bok choy, and trumpet and shiitake mushrooms. This tiny, darkened den with windows looking onto East Burnside feels most like a Japanese izakaya, the action of the world passing by while you’re completely immersed in one delicious bowl of ramen. It’s easy to order online for takeout or delivery. A large deck out front accommodates a half-dozen picnic tables for socially distanced outdoor dining in nice weather.