Featured image courtesy of Kizuki Ramen & Izakaya.
My first experience trying Seattle ramen joints were extremely underwhelming, so 5-1/2 years later, I wonder if it is time to make another trip back out to cloudy emo land.
Nowadays, with the popularity of ramen, it seems as though everybody is trying to give it a go at it. Except in a city with so many Japanese to Japanese Americans, you can not get away with subpar ramen unless you are in a state like Colorado, with little to no Japanese.
In Seattle, there are your 1. Japanese, 2. Japanese-American, and 3. American-based ramen shops. They are all either independent to global restaurant chains, and I am here to help sort that all out in the hopes of being your Seattle ramen otaku guide.The icon denotes summaries, so if you want to scroll on through for a quick read.
So, I wanted to know if the ramen I had in May of 2016 is still a good option and what does Seattle have to offer now.
Well, time to find out, so hit pause on Death Note (not the live-action Netflix version) and get ready to find your next ramen spot.
What Up Japanese People (Nihon/Nikkeijin) in Seattle
These are the cities where the Japanese and Japanese American population is in excess of 1.0% of the total population.
- Honolulu 86,612 (23.3%)
- Sacramento 6,642 (1.6%)
- Seattle 8,979 (1.6%)
- San Francisco 11,410 (1.5%)
- San Jose 11,484 (1.5%)
- Los Angeles 36,992 (1.0%)
Some of the most mediocre ramen I have had has been in Hawaii, San Francisco, and Seattle. So regardless of the size of the Japanese population, I would not consider that as reliable criteria for good ramen. Although several Japanese chains are opening up throughout the country, like Seattle, to help provide Japanese reinforcements to the ramen scene.
There are about 773,714 Japanese Americans, as of 2018 in the United States.“ACS Demographic and Housing Estimates”. U.S. Census Bureau.
December 2019. Retrieved 20 March 2020.
You Do Not Have to Be Italian to Own a Pizzeria (Pizza Hut and Domino’s Are Examples)
Dan and Frank Carney started Pizza Hut out of Wichita, Kansas, and Tom and James Monaghan founded Domino’s in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Both are great for what they are (Americanized to eye-talian food), but neither are Ribalta in New York City or claim to be authentic Neapolitan Pizza. So in Seattle, with a city with such a large population of Japanese with particular tastes, it would be hard to get away with half-ass attempts. In Kansas and Michigan for Italian, it was probably a target rich environment.
Here is what Seattle Has to Offer (My Ramen Notes)
I mean I could show you various pics of ramen like Thrillist and Eater (but then you would have a name and a picture in your head), but when it comes to making the important decisions such as what to eat, you cannot rely solely on a pretty picture (I learned that from Tinder).
Unlike other cities, I think Seattle has some very restrained and impressive local ramen businesses with whole-hearted efforts (unlike San Francisco).Portland is also tripping over their own feet to out fusion one another.
|Tonkotsu ramen from shio, shoyu, miso, to spicy miso to tantanmen. The prices range from $10.95-$14.95|
|Betsu ten jin |
|“Southern style Japanese ramen” aka Hakata style is what they tout, and their ramen starts at $13.50 to $14.95.|
|Like the above, a Fukuoka style tonkotsu ramen from Chikushino, a Japanese chain with 20 locations in Japan. Prices start at $13.25|
|Onion rings, calamari, teriyaki chicken, only shrimp tempura (freezer section tempura, that’s why), literally Chinese char siu (bbq pork), wagyu beef ramen for $13, and karaoke!! Come on, this place has got to be fun.|
|The nationwide ramen chain out of Los Angeles is also in Bellevue, and my go to bowls are their yuzu and the “cha cha cha” (dumbest name). Beyond that, JINYA and Silverlake are massive franchise ho’s, so you will find them everywhere.|
|When I say underwhelming, this was my first stop the first time I was in Seattle, and I was with my girlfriend from Tokyo. Except, I probably need a 2nd go at it (they have 9 convenient locations throughout Washington).|
|A yatai (food stand like in Fukuoka), serving up shoyu ramen, mabo tofu, ja-ja-men, to yakitori, hell yea!! The owner, 65 y/o, Elmer Komagata can be found at a number of the breweries around town (Figurehead to Obec) brewing.|
|From Shinjuku station, I’d walk North a bit to hit up Menya Musashi, but I was not able to do that with their LA location because it went out of business before I got to do that. That location they chose on Sawtelle has massive turnover. Hopefully, Seattle works out for them. Prices start at $10.50 to $14.|
|Wuuuuhh, by “Iron Chef” Morimoto who offers up a very expansive menu with sushi, appetizers, kushiyaki and ramen. Dammnnnn, his ramen is all priced at $16 (2nd most highly priced in Seattle) for his tsukemen to his tonkotsu which he garnishes with chashu pork, mushroom (kikurage), pickled mustard greens (takana), and aji-tama.|
|“Our Japanese restaurant is known for its modern interpretation of classic dishes.” So modern means it is actually a Vietnamese and Korean fusion restaurant, ok, sure. Samples of their menu are shio ramen with bokchoy to miso ramen with spinach. Prices start at only $13.50.|
|Love their logo of the cute pig, and they tout “ramen with a modern twist.” Like the above listing, the restaurants here really do throw down, like with their Shanghai style ramen to mala kotteri ramen which look fantastic (except, if you peruse their Instagram, it does not always reflect a level of competency, WTH). Prices start at $13.50 to $15.|
|I love this Japanese ramen chain from Hokkaido, and I was almost tempted to hit them up when I was in Seattle because the two local spots I tried were not all that. Also, if you are a SoCal resident, you would be familiar with this ramen chain because they are the ones that put ramen on the map in the United States (and they did it all out of food courts located in Mitsuwa Marketplaces).|
|Homemade potstickers!, sashimi, sushi, beef tongue (except it’s slow cooked), tsuivan pan fried noodles, and their chicken ramen will set you back $17 to $19 (beef ramen, also the most high priced of them all).|
|Chicken broth and house made noodles are part of their Tokyo shoyu ramen which starts off at $13 to goma miso ramen $14. The rest of their menu consists of sushi, donburi, soba, karaage, and a big drink menu (it is an Izakaya)|
|One of the worst websites out of the restaurants which does not specialize in ramen, and they offer up sushi, curry, to tonkatsu.|
The standouts 1. Betsu Ten Jin (Pike/Pine), 2. Danbo Ramen (Capitol Hill), 3. Menya Musashi (Pike/Pine), and on a nationwide/global level, Santouka (Santouka is one of the major spots that put ramen on the map in Los Angeles).Many of you get to experience Santouka as a stand alone, but in LA, they are only located in food courts (Mitsuwa).
Supporting Small Scale Businesses because Small/Micro Business is Big Business
I had to highlight Midnite Ramen because, in Fukuoka, a yatai (small carts) were very popular because small 4-8 seat restaurants are not unheard of in Japan. Unfortunately, in the US, we are conditioned to believe that only a 3k-10k sq. ft. commercial space is the only legitimate space/size for a restaurant.
Well that is enough writing about which restaurants you should and should not eat at (if you still cannot decide, maybe have an apple instead).