Ramen is not just that cheap instant noodle you ate in college. While I had eaten good, fresh ramen before both in the US and in Japan, I hadn't realized just how many types and variations there are, until this past trip to Hawaii. In Honolulu there are tons of ramen places and many of them offer different kinds of broth and noodles, as well as toppings. There is even a local noodle company, Sun Noodle, that supplies at least 40 different styles of ramen noodles to Honolulu restaurants. Really!
There are so many different types of ramen in Honolulu you'll just have to try some to to decide which you like best. Just scratching the surface, I only ate a few bowls of ramen and frankly, most of them were very good. I'll tell you a little about my top picks.
First off, Goma Tei in the Ward Center makes a phenomenal tan tan ramen. I ordered it with char siu. The normal bowl comes with one slice of pork but the char siu version comes with three slices. Take my advice and get the three pieces, it is so succulent and delicious! The rich toasted sesame broth is complex and savory with a bit of sesame oil on top. The pork is delicate and thick, rolled into a round. The noodles hold up well to the soup and the spinach adds some freshness. I would go back and eat this ramen in a heart beat.
Another noteworthy ramen I had was at a place called Menchanko Tei walking distance from Waikiki beach. Chanko is the stew that sumo wrestlers eat to bulk up. The version served here has thick noodles (not ramen) but is surprisingly light.
They also serve a very good tonkatsu that I highly recommend.
My favorite dish was the hakata ramen. The broth is made from tonkatsu pork bones, and it is very creamy. It comes with lots of toppings including some very spicy ginger that flavors the soup if you mix them in. The noodles here were a bit delicate which paired well with a lighter style broth.
I can understand why people line up to get the ramen at Tenkaippin. They make a special version called kotteri that has a super collagen rich chicken broth base. It is almost like chicken gravy or an intensely concentrated chicken stock. It's not very salty and at each table there's a container of fresh garlic and chilies you can add to your bowl to spice it up. It also comes with one or three slices of cha siu pork, depending upon how you order it. If you feel like you are coming down with a cold, this would be the most soothing bowl. It's also rumored to help prevent wrinkles...!
Like the other shops, Yotteko-Ya, which is part of a Kyoto-based chain, serves several types of ramen, but l liked the simple shoyu style best. It was not too salty and if you get there early enough you can get it with large blocks of marinated braised pork called kakuni. They only serve 20 portions available per day. This was the most basic style of ramen, but sometimes that's what you're in the mood for eating.
Goma Tei Ramen
1200 Ala Moana Blvd
2255 Kuhio Ave Ste S
2132 Kalakaua Ave
1960 Kapiolani Boulevard Suite 214, upstairs