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The 10 Best Japanese “Inspired” and “Traditional” Ramen Shops in Denver

In between fusion and traditional, I found some really good noodle spots.

Colorado just happens to be one of the only states on the West Coast inundated with fusion, so there’s no way of getting away from it here. It’s nothing like California where we like to keep things segregated, well except our bathrooms where it’s “unisex” cuz no labels bro.

To keep things simple, I tried to order only the pork-based ramen (ton = pork, kotsu = bone stock) which is the most popular currently, and I have everything sorted from “not recommended” to “highly recommended.

EDIT 10/19/2017, How do CO Ramen compare to CA: I’ve been asked how ramen stacks up to California like Mensho, Tsujita, Toraji, Kotoya, Ikkousha, Santouka, etc, and I’d have to say it unfortunately falls short. If Santouka (a Hokkaido ramen chain) was an 8 out of a 10, I’d say even the #2 rated place on this list only rates a 5 at best.

7. Corner Ramen

Ordered: tonkotsu (they refer to it as “tonkatsu“)
Ingredients: pork broth, pork belly, poached egg, spinach, corn
Price:
$13.00
Open for lunch: yes, mo’ money.
Authenticity: it’s authentically bad.
Highlights: leaving before you ate here. If you ate here, it will not be the highlight of your day although if you enjoyed it, ignorance is bliss.
No Bueno: eating here.
Recommended:
no, you’re doing it wrong. WTF, they’re just cashing in on the ramen hype with an extremely poor product. The broth is like dishwater, yet they’re charging a premium for a bowl of corn and spinach.

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Bad knockoffs never come out as good as the originators.

Corner Ramen isn’t working that corner right, and this business exemplifies how these tricks will take advantage of you johns (and janes). You may innocently want to try ramen out for the very first time, but believe me, there’s way better ramen out there. Save yourself for the right one, and don’t give up your ramen virginity to this place. Yea, I know you want to know what everybody is talking about, but just wait for the right bowl of ramen to come along (scroll down, don’t stop here). You might not believe me now, but you will find out that they are taking advantage of you being so naive. Quality or showing you a good time is the last thing on their mind, and I know it’s not easy when you may have peers on Yelp who are trying to pimp this ramen out like it’s their #1 trick. It might all sound tempting, but Corner Ramen will make a wad of cash now, but they will soon be on to the next when they sell off the restaurant to start a poke business.

Address: 1629 Bruce Randolph Ave, Denver, CO 80205 Website: cornerramen.com


6. Menya Ramen

Ordered: tonkotsu 
Ingredients (from their menu):
bean sprouts, chashu, kikurage (NOTE: if you are going to teach people Japanese, like on their menu, don’t tell them that kikurage is “wood year” mushroom because it is “wood ear.”), and scallions in creamy pork broth.
Price (#2 for best price):
$10.75 + $1.00 hanjuku egg, gyoza $5.50.
Open for lunch: open at 11am.
Authenticity: a poor hack of an attempt with confusion mixed in.
Highlights: good service! They have a good staff here, well the front of the house.
No Bueno: weaksauce eff’n broth, and they dump in beni shoga which compounds the issue, and what’s up with the salad tossed in?
Recommeded:
no, you can get better instant ramen, and I could not finish it.

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That’s not much of a money shot.

It appears as though they were attempting to do a Hakata style tonkotsu ramen, but this is a limp d*** attempt. It did not even come close to being “creamy” as they tout which makes their soup base one of the worst I tried. To compound the issue, they automatically dump a Peter North sized load of beni shoga (pickled ginger or that red stuff) onto your ramen which is a condiment typically served as a side topping. If that was not bad enough, the gyoza tastes like failure or aka the frozen food section which was only made worse with all the ponzu they squirted all over like a Lily Thai video, instead of providing a gyoza dipping sauce.

Address: 951 16th St #104, Denver, CO 80202 Website: menyacolorado.com


5. Ototo (Sushi Den and Izakaya Den)

Ordered: tonkotsu 
Ingredients (from their menu): 
egg noodle (what egg?, that is what they claim on their menu), pork belly, mushroom, green onion, garlic chips + a soft boiled egg in a rich savory 48 hour-cooked (haha, ok, the battle of who can claim the longest cooking times wages on) pork broth.
Price:
$14
Open for lunch: no, but Sushi Den is open, so 1 out of 3 isn’t bad.
Authenticity:
you would think out of all the restaurants listed, they could or would have the most authentic ramen, but instead they went with fusion.
Highlight:
those are some nice ohashi’s (chopsticks) that they use.
No bueno:
that poached egg taken from the Colorado bandwagon they’re riding on.
Recommeded:
yes, it’s basic and bastardized like the rest, but if you’re going to come here, they make up for it in atmosphere, service, and the yakitori.

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Ototo Den and their egg noodles. Sure, if thats what you claim they are all over your menus/website.

“All of the ramens are made to order; please allow additional time – Ototo.” Is it just me, or does this imply that the other food is not made to order? Well, das cool because we aren’t dealing with noobs here. Ototo is the 3rd restaurant out of three (Sushi Den and Izakaya Den being the other two) that are all within a block from one another. The brothers/owners are from Fukuoka which is on the Southernmost island in Japan. It is also where tonkotsu “Hakata” style ramen originated out of, so you might expect to have something like the infamous Ichiran here? Well, you’d be wrong to think that because you’re in Colorado, so what you will get, is one of the only places to offer Chinese style “egg noodles” in their ramen vs. the traditional wheat because you know, fusion, yea man (#kansui).

Address: 1501 S. Pearl St, Denver, CO 80210 Website: OtotoDen.com


4. Sera’s Ramen Enclave (3-way tie)

Ordered: sesame Pork Belly (it’s more like a spicy tonkotsu) Ramen
Ingredients (from their menu): 
savory pork broth infused with sesame oil. Served with chashu, poached egg, roasted sesame seeds, enoki mushrooms, bamboo shoots, chives, and seaweed (I also got naruto which is fish cake).
Price:
$14
Open for lunch: Yes, open at 11am.
Authenticity: yes and no, but there’s no ambiguity to the fact that it works!
Highlight: Service is really good, and I can’t help to liken the atmosphere to Far Bar in LA’s Japantown because of the back alley way like entrance.
No Bueno: here’s a bowl that demonstrates change just for the hell of it. Using chives vs. green onion, using raw enoki instead of kikurage, and that eff’n poached egg.
Recommeded:
Yes, and you can eat all that other “oriental” food you like so much all in one place vs. having to go to separate restaurants.

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Clear signs of douchy’ness, but it all came together.

Suuurprise, surprise, surprise. I seriously didn’t want to try another fusion restaurant out especially one that seemed like it was straight out haole being called “Sera” and an “enclave.” It tosses “Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Viennese (I made that one up), and other ‘ese'” all packed into an enclave. The only person, or well place to do fusion right is the 808 (Hawaii) bruddah. Yea, Hawaii is the land of fusing Asian cultures into dishes like the Hawaiian plate lunch (Korean, Japanese, Hawaiian, to Filipino) to saimin (Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino). Da’kine of grinds you would find at Sera’s aims to do just that, and I was skeptical although they suprisingly came through with some ono (“delicious”) ramen. For that reason, they will not get the stink eye from me.

Address: 3472 W 32nd Ave, Denver, CO 80211 Website: N/A


4. Kiki’s Japanese Casual Dining (3-way tie)

Ordered: the “tamachan” which has a tonkotsu (pork broth)
Ingredients: 
a frothy pork broth that you know is made from pork, green onions, onions, thin slices of fatty pork and of course, you knooooooow it, bok choy betches!
Price:
$12.95 which includes miso soup and salad.
Open for lunch: Yes, Mon-Sat at 11am.
Authenticity: an old school restaurant that delivers up casual Japanese food in a homie little environment.
Highlight: Ototo claims a 48 hour tonkotsu pork bone soup base, but try the one here at Kiki’s. After you’ve done that, tell me which one you think actually tastes like a savory pork broth. #Kikis #FTW
No Bueno: it’s on the pricier side, so I wish they would’ve topped a huge mound of bean sprouts, onions, grated fresh garlic, nira, cabbage, and a little black pepper to top it all off. If they did, it’d be perfect.
Recommeded:
Yes because they don’t just do ramen, and they do a million other legit items that you’ll want to try because there’s no pretentiousness here.

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Keeping it casual yo, but that pork broth beats all the other ramen-ya’s in CO.

Long, long, long time ago, Kiki’s, a casual Japanese restaurant opened. A restaurant that makes me think of my favorite Hayao Miyazaki anime “Kiki’s Delivery Service” which is a coming of age story about a young girl and her super cool cat Jiji. Much like Kiki, Kiki the restaurant has continued to grow and thrive throughout the decades as a favorite amongst Japanese, Asian Americans and Coloradans in general. None of this was due to luck or magic, but because they have always offered some truly authentic Japanese food which is why they survived alongside Kokoro and outlived places like Son..Sonod’…So (something)…ok, I forgot that last one, but with their ramen and other Japanese dishes, they’ll continue to be a favorite in the community.

Address: 2440 S Colorado Blvd, Denver, CO 80222 Website: kikisjapaneserestaurant.com


4. Osaka Ramen (3-way tie)

Ordered: tonkotsu 
Ingredients (from their menu): 
pork broth, bamboo shoots, pork belly, pickled ginger, black garlic oil, soft egg, and a lot of SALT.
Price:
$14
Open for lunch: only the weekdays, the weekends are for sleeping in.
Authenticity: authentically salty
Highlight: that chashu, probably the best in Denver, and they don’t skimp on it. You won’t find generous portions like this in SoCal, and the closest I found to this was at Menya Musashi in Shinjuku, Japan.
No bueno: if you were drowning in the ocean, the ramen broth would simulate that experience. Is this their misinterpretation of what “shio” (salt) ramen is?
Recommeded:
Yes/No, No because of the SALTY AF broth, but I’d go back just for the cha shu tho.

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Salty enough they might have been able to cure the pork belly into bacon.

Osaka touts themselves also as “Denver’s Best Ramen Shop.” A ramen shop located in the basement like so many restaurants in Japan and 40+-year-old otakus (a young person who is obsessed with computers or particular aspects of popular culture to the detriment of their social skills). So having that Japanese location vibe already gives it that much more cred as a standout, except the ramen is SALTY AF! Two beers, multiple glasses of water, and a coke wasn’t enough to help me quench my thirst although all that didn’t matter since their chashu was umai (“delicious”). The thick slab of pork is what saved this bowl because the portions are generous, yet it was properly prepared to give the pork the proper respect it deserves since it gave up his life for this bowl of ramen. The best part though is if you can’t finish it all, I’m sure if you were to leave that slab of chashu in the bowl of the broth, you might have one tasty salt cured chunk of bacon in a week or so.

Address: 2611 Walnut St, Denver, CO 80205 Website: osakaramendenver.com


3. Katsu Ramen

Ordered: tonkotsu 
Ingredients:
moyashi, kikurage, naruto, bok choy, cha shu, beni shoga, negi
Price (#1 for best price): 
$9.85 + boiled egg .50 cents, gyoza $5.50
Open for lunch: 6 days a week except for Sunday.
Authenticity: yea but with a dose of Colorado, but if you want to experience what a ramen-ya is like in California or Japan, this is the closest atmosphere to Japan you’ll find here in Denver/Aurora for a ramen-ya.
Highlights: first and foremost value! After that, it’s the gyoza because it’s got to be house made the way it tastes (I hear their other sides are just as good).
No bueno: the beni shoga, bok choy and even the naruto added to a tonkotsu ramen.
Recommeded:
Yes, but tell them not to add the beni shoga to the bowl (have it on the side) and toss that bok choy. If you want Chinese food, try Hong Kong Cafe down the street, it’s one of my favorite spots.

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The most authentic menu, food, atmosphere, and pricing to Japan.

If you’re familiar with Japanese restaurants, how could you not love this spot?! I mean, those plastic food displays out front aren’t cheap, and they are one of the only, if not the only restaurant in Denver next to Domo that delievers up a truly Japanese atmosphere. Unfortunately most Coloradan Yelpers hate on these two spots (both spots on Yelp average about 3 stars because you know, it’s not fusion), but if this were in CA, it’d be a 4+ starred location because they do so many things right that only a native Nihonjin (Japanese national) would feel at home here.

Address: 1930 S Havana St #4, Aurora, CO 80014 Website: ramendenver.com


2. Tokio Ramen (2-way tie)

Ordered: tonkotsu
Ingredients (from their menu): 
bok choy, pickled bamboo, wood ear mushroom, carrot, green onion, red pickled ginger, spicy sesame oil, (they somehow left out listing the red chili threads)
Price: $14
Open for lunch: nope, but they get a pass because they’re open till 2 am on Friday, and till 1 am Monday – Thursday & Saturday, wow!
Authenticity: Coloradans just got to have Chinese bok choy in anything Asian, so here you go bok choy in Japanese ramen.
Highlights:
that legit ajitama (flavored egg) is how a ramen egg is done.
No bueno: that chashu is weak and it doesn’t help that they threw in the kitchen sink with bok choy, pickled ginger, chili threads and wtf is up with the carrots (ever hear of less is more).
Recommeded: Yes, and I also recommend doing the yakitori.

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Urinal like bowls isn’t foo foo enough, they got chili threads, but maybe they should do foam.

I was recommended this place by Doug Yoshimura who is a Colorado native and Nikkeijin (Japanese American), and I probably would have written this place off if it were not for him. Fortunately for me, this was one of the better places to not only have ramen, but they have huge tebasaki (ain’t nothin’ but a chicken wing) for only $3 which was on par with a legit yakitori-ya. The only negative was the chef talking to his homie who’s every other word to come out of his mouth was “chingao” which is cool since their ramen bowls looked like a urinal. I’m just glad that their food made up for the atmosphere although the best thing about their ramen, no douchey Colorado egg here! Only a tasty ajitama.

Address: 2907 Huron St #103, Denver, CO 80202  Website: mytokio.com


2. The Ramen House (2-way tie)

Ordered: tonkotsu 
Ingredients (from their menu): 
creamy pork stock, green onion, chashu, ramen egg, bean sprouts, corn, seaweed (wakame) in 100% pork broth.
Price (#3 for best price):
$10.99 + ajitama $1.00
Open for lunch: everyday Monday – Friday at 11, and on the weekend at 12.
Authenticity: probably one of the closest versions you’ll get to what real Japanese ramen is like in Colorado.
Highlights: if you get sick of tonkotsu or Japanese ramen, they also have a ton of other noodle dishes and sides that won’t disappoint.
No Bueno: 86 the corn, the wakame, and if they were to add menma and kikurage, then we coo.
Recommeded:
Yes, definitely one reason is the price. It’s one of the cheapest by almost $1-3, and they don’t just do Japanese ramen.

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That big spoon seriously was a sign that this place wouldn’t suck (and it didn’t).

EDIT 10/19/2017 (WARNING!): I have been here at least three other times after I wrote this, but I have had several issues. The 2nd time I was here they charged me for a Pepsi I never asked for (or got), but I blew it off as a simple mistake. The 3rd time, I was here for lunch, their lunch menu advertises the price for $7.99, but they charged me $10.99 although the reason why I’m writing this is that I gave the waiter $20 for a tab of $13.80. He had asked if I had wanted change (vs. just providing my change), and I said “yes, I do,” but after several minutes of watching him, he never bothered to give me my change back. Seems like a fluke, but it wasn’t because he had the balls to do it right after I had watched him do it to the two ladies I had sat next to although when they didn’t get their change, they responded back with “we don’t like you that much” with a lighthearted laugh. Since I had seen this happen to them, I knew this dude is doing this intentionally, so you better watch out for the owner (Shawn Z.). If this has happened to you, please let me know because this is one shiesty dude who had no excuse when I asked why he’s trying to jack the rest of my change in front of the entire restaurant (he just fumbled about with no reason).

Obviously, a Chinese noodle house because of all the other Chi nese dishes offered even if it is called “Ramen House,” but that is not a big deal since they deliver up a solid tonkotsu ramen, along with several nicely done Japanese side dishes like karaage (Japanese fried chicken). So why call themselves a “Ramen House,” well, it is purely for marketing purposes since all those dollar scoop Chinese fast food restaurants made a joke out of Chinese food to most Coloradans. Although when it comes to Japanese food, Ramen House is one of the only places where you will be able to try an authentic ajitama (flavored egg), and my only gripe with the ramen was the addition of wakame and corn.

Address: 2076 S. University Blvd, Denver, CO 80210 Website: N/A


1. Uncle

Ordered: chashu, shoyu (soy sauce flavored broth)
What’s in it (from their menu): shoyu broth, pork belly, menma, arugula, scallion, soft egg 
Price:
$14.00
Open for lunch: they were doing lunch before it was cool, so now they don’t.
Authenticity: straight out of gaijinville, but it’s a town I want to visit.
Highlights: that chashu must be a sous-vide because it melts in your mouth like the liquified Nazi faces in Indiana Jones Temple of Doom when they looked at the Ark. I also suggest you try to take a bite of the bamboo, arugula, and soup base in one bite.
No Bueno:
being only one of two Asians other than token in the BOH.
Recommeded:
Yes, I recommened it as much as I’d recommend seeing the Star Wars sequels over the prequels (number 6 and 7 restaurants on this list were like the prequels).

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Started from the bottom of my list and now we here.

Yea, I know “WTF,” but who exactly were you expecting?

Well, I originally had a placeholder at the bottom of my list for Uncle cuz you know the #hater I am although I don’t have a hater side for no reason. I do have a legitimate reason which is that there are more hacks in the world than capable people, so it was to be expected to have low expectations.

If you look at most workplaces/businesses, only approximately 15% of the businesses or work force is actually contributing or making significant innovations/impact. The rest of the 85% are not lesser, but they are the worker bees that carry out all the tasks. They are strictly task-oriented, and they are typically the ones saying “hey that is not my job”, “well, this is how we did it at my last job”, or “hey let’s just copy Uncle and try to put our spin on it” sort of types.

In the case of the “chashu” ramen, the one behind this dish is somebody I would consider the “queen bee” (note: if the head chef is by chance a dude, then he is a queen by rank if that makes you feel better). I say that because the queen bee has to be in charge of the hive, so the queen is your “agile thinker” that can think outside of the hive. The ole queen can take traditional and new ingredients to form “fusion” dishes (a legit fusion, not “con-fusion” that I have come to expect). Only the queen can do this, and sometimes the results are a douchey eff’n egg (if only the queen can do an ajitama which is a marinated half-cooked egg in whatever marinade the queen wants because that would be the bee’s knees), but they are the queen.

Just one other thing, since I had Uncle at the bottom of my list, I also didn’t try them out till I tried everybody else out because I was actually dreading it. That is the reason why I did not get all the ridiculous ingredients I had come across at all their competitors, like the use of different salad greens. Now I get it, those worker bees were trying to be like the queen, yet they had no clue WTF they were doing. It all makes sense now, it all came together like why there was a lone Tie-Fighter in that asteroid field in Star Wars Episode 4, and now I know Uncle was that missing piece, just like Tag and Bink, the two stormtroopers were the clear answers to any plot-holes in the Star Wars universe. Thanks to Uncle, I now understand why there’s so many random ingredients and douchy poached eggs in ramen in Denver.

Address: 2215 W 32nd Ave, Denver, CO 80211 Website: uncleramen.com


Who didn’t make the initial round:

There was only so much ramen that I can squeeze into the time frame that I had.

Ramen-ya

  • Bones, Capitol Hill, Denver
  • Miyako Ra-Men, Englewood
  • Genji Ramen, Southglenn (inside Whole Foods)

Sushi, Yakitori, Ramen, etc

  • Sakana Sushi, Westminster
  • Tycoon Ramen and Sushi, North Capitol Hill
  • Sakura House, Sakura Square, Denver
  • Mizu Izakaya, the Highlands