Last year, I had posted a review of Kukai (also called Kizuki) Ramen, mentioning it was one of the best places I had Ramen in the United States.
While tastewise, I still hold to that judgement, putting all things into consideration, there is another serious contender for the Ramen throne.
The restaurant is called “Ramen Ryoma” (ラーメン龍馬), and is technically in Beaverton, but close enough to Portland. I think their name originated from the historical figure Sakamoto Ryoma (坂本龍馬）, which can learn about more here. (By the way, it’s a good general rule that any Japanese restaurant with a name of a common city or everyday word (ex: Sakura, Tokyo, Umai, etc.) it probably isn’t owned by Japanese people and/or is not authentic).
The broth (a key aspect of Japanese Ramen for me) is a bit less complex than Kukai’s, and the noodles are not as ‘authentic’, as least compared to other great Ramen restaurants I’ve been to, like Ippudo in New York or California. Furthermore, the atmosphere is pretty drab and doesn’t compare to the modern, stylish look of Kukai. The menu choices are also pretty limited, with your usual Miso/Shio bases, though you can add common toppings like delicious hanjuku (half boiled) eggs and nori (seaweed), and even finish with a typical mochi ice cream desert.
But, having said all that, the ramen in Ramen Ryoma is just plain delicious, and consistently so. The chashuu pork is also always tender, and always wonderful, on average better than what I had at Kukai. And the broth is very drinkable.
Another area Ryoma excels is the service: it’s consistently fast and great, with generally the same crew, including a few Japanese people (especially in the kitchen) and some Americans who know at least basic Japanese (one of the guy’s pronunciation is pretty good, he might be fluent). This is one area Kukai is sorely lacking, and this is a comparison based on several trips to each restaurant.
Ryoma also happens to be in the same plaza with Uwajimaya asian grocery store (a great place to get all types of Japanese food and other products), and of course Kinokuniya, the only real Japanese bookstore that I know of in Oregon. Ryoma happens to be a little closer to me than Kukai, which is another reason I end up choosing the former. I think it’s also a little cheaper, but I haven’t done an actual price comparison.
One of my only complaints about Ryoma is that the handful of posters on the wall near the entrance have pretty bad English translations (though in a way this adds to the authenticity of the restaurant, at least to me). But honestly this doesn’t really matter, and makes a good conversation point when you are waiting on a table, which isn’t at all uncommon around noon. Another minor annoyance is they don’t take reservations.
I won’t hesitate to say this is one of my favorite restaurants in Oregon, hands down, and I’m not sure if I would get tired of their stuff even if I went once a week.
So, while it is a tough call, I’m going to say Ryoma is tied with Kukai/Kizuki for the overall experience. I’ve tried a few other Ramen places in or around Portland, but while a few have been passable they have generally been a disappointment.