Without a doubt, ramen soup is one of my favorite types of Japanese cuisine, but until recently we lived in an area devoid of restaurants that served decent ramen. Having moved to Portland a few months ago, I was eager to try Ramen at a bunch of restaurants in the area and compare, and I’ll admit I had pretty high expectations.
One of the first places we tried was Portland’s Kukai (空海), which is part of a chain called Kizuki that has locations all throughout the US, and many in Japan as well. Before writing a review about our experiences there, I decided to try a few other places, and today we came back to Kukai to see if we would have a similar experience as the first time.
It looks like I was right: Kukai serves, hands down, some of the best Ramen in Portland, if not in the US. From the rich, wavy noodles and the done-just-right hanjuku eggs, to the thick, savory broth, it’s hard to find fault with their near godlike ramen (by the way, “Kukai” is actually the name of a Japanese Buddhist monk). If anything, I felt the cut of meat they used was a bit too thin and spongy, making it a little tricky to eat with chopsticks. By their ramen satisfied my most important criteria with flying colors: the broth has to be tasty enough to be drinkable on it’s own.
The price is very reasonable, and some of their other non-ramen dishes were pretty good too, like the boiled spinach and chicken tori-age.
The ultra modern, stylish interior with Japanese-y accents is also a real eye pleaser, though I don’t think you’d see anything like it in Japan. The actual dining room is a bit narrow and tight, but that’s more of a problem for the waitstaff than the customers. The bathroom can only support one person at a time, so if you need to go bad it’s probably not best to wait.
The service wasn’t quite as good as the food, especially when we were told today we couldn’t be seated until our entire party came. I understand they have limited space, but preparing the table and having it just sitting there for a few minutes and us sitting in the front area just seems illogical. The waitstaff was pretty quick, though, and nice enough to prepare a child bowl for our son before we sat down.
We haven’t spotted any Japanese-looking waiters or waitresses, and only one or two working behind the counter. This isn’t an absolute necessary, but generally the more Japanese people working the more authentic things are. But we did notice Japanese people eating at this restaurant both times we dined, which is a good sign.
I can say with certainty Kukai is the best Ramen I’ve had out of California or New York, and very possibly on par with my favorite Ramen place from those areas: Ippudo. I’d need to do a side-by-side comparison to say for sure.
You can see their website here which has their menu and other details. If you are not sure what to get, I suggest their Tonkotsu Shoyu Ramen, traditional variation.
On a minor linguistic note (unrelated to the food), I noticed their sign in the front said the following:
See anything weird here?