Many will argue that you can eat ramen any time of year — and you certainly can. But let's be honest: When the weather gets brisk and the scarves come out, it's the best time to hunker down with a steaming bowl of soup. The Japanese started the ramen craze, but you can find noodle soups all over Asia. Here in Denver, ramen also puts on many hats, from classic Japanese to Asian fusion to local spins on a traditional dish. These ten bowls showcase ramen at its best. So go now, and get a warming dose of this wonderful soup while it's still cold enough to crave something hot.
Ace Eat Serve's Spice Market Beef Ramen
501 East 17th Avenue
The next time you go to Ace Eat Serve to play ping-pong, make sure to stay for dinner and try chef Thach Tran's spice market beef ramen. The dish is a mixture of Asian cultures and is the chef's interpretation of Vietnamese pho and Taiwanese beef noodle soup, with a side of Japanese nuances. "Growing up in Saigon, Vietnam, near the Chinese district, I was exposed to some amazing Taiwanese food, and the spices in the spice markets always intrigued me as a child," says Tran, who learned to make pho from his grandmother and beef noodle soup from his mother's best friend, Auntie Thuy. "I love the different spices that go into pho and Taiwanese beef, so I just combined all the spices that remind me of spice markets and that taste amazing with beef." To make the soup in his Uptown kitchen, the chef roasts beef knuckles, fries the spices to make a spiced oil, and seasons with fish sauce, soy, ginger and onions. The broth simmers for twelve hours, and in the end, the spicy, star-anise-tinged ramen tastes like Tran's childhood.
Domo's Kara-Age Ramen
1365 Osage Street
Stepping into Domo is like entering another era, so you don't need a time machine to jump back a century or so: Simply walk in and take a seat on one of the stools. Once there, skip over the usual fare like sashimi donburi and teriyaki (though these are delicious), and order ramen, any ramen. Our favorite is the chicken kara-age (pronounced car-ah-gay). Kara-age is a traditional way of frying up bits of meat, often chicken. Healthy chunks of the bird gets served in the restaurant's classic dashi shoyu broth along with a handful of mixed vegetables. Of course, noodles also have a place in the soup, and these are thick and golden, perfect for slurping — something the staff encourages you to do to honor the chef. As a bonus, each bowl comes with three tiny plates of Japanese country side dishes, whether roasted squash, seaweed salad or something else unique and flavorful.
Izakaya Ronin's Laman Tonkotsu Ramen
3053 Brighton Boulevard
There's a reason chef Corey Baker won the Shogun Ramen Showdown at Departure Denver Restaurant & Lounge last year: His Laman tonkotsu ramen is a work of art. It's a delicious canvas of velvety tonkotsu broth decorated with soy-pickled egg, crunchy bits of chicharrón and wisps of tear-inducing chiles. The chicken and pork bone-based broth is simmered over three days, which is one reason it's so darn rich and satisfying. That, with a dash of sesame and the pleasing crackle of fried pork skin, is what makes this ramen a true winner, competition or not. Keep in mind that you can only sample this dish in the restaurant's "moguri" izakaya, the basement spot below the main dining room that opens at 5 p.m. every day save Monday (when Izakaya Ronin is closed). Sidle up to the bar, get a glass of sake and order a bowl of this delectable soup. It's worth every slurp.
Kazan Ramen Bistro's Kazen Spicy Miso Ramen
3901 Tennyson Street
"Why is this Japanese noodle bar called a bistro?" you may wonder. Some things got lost in translation, explains a waiter at this new Berkeley stop. That's also why the menu is a little funky, but that waiter (or another on the helpful team) will provide you with any needed guidance. One thing you won't need help with is eating the ramen, though the house specialty does come with instructions. The Kazan Volcano ramen is a dish exploding (well, trying to) with yummy Japanese soup goodness. The spicy miso (which isn't terribly spicy) ramen is served in a super-hot stone bowl filled with noodles, braised pork belly, bean sprouts, cabbage, onion and carrot. Then you (or your server) pour in the pork miso broth and put a conical lid on it. Wait until steam — which Kazan calls "funka," meaning "volcano eruption" — starts billowing out the hole in the lid, signifying that the soup is ready to eat. Just spoon some into a separate bowl and wait a minute or two before enjoying; it's hot enough to burn your mouth. On a side note, when Kazan first opened, the parent company in Osaka thought to ship everything from Japan, even the sugar and salt. Now the venue sources closer to home, though the noodles are still made and dried in the restaurant's home country before finding their way to the Berkeley neighborhood.
Menya Ramen & Poke's Menya Special
1590 Little Raven Street
For a quick ramen stop that will surely satisfy, head to this LoHi spot and order a bowl of the house specialty — it's called the Menya Special, so you can't miss it. The velvety broth is not the usual tonkotsu, according to the restaurant, but just a creamy pork-miso blend, which is also used in several other Menya soups. Still, it proves to be just what's needed on a cold day, and the succulent slices of chashu (Japanese roasted pork) add to that feeling of ultimate comfort. The Menya Special also includes bean sprouts, scallions, pickled ginger and, of course, noodles. Although those noodles more closely resemble spaghetti than the usual curly tangle, they still have the same golden hue and great taste you crave in good ramen.
Mizu Izakaya's Pork Kimchi Ramen
1560 Boulder Street
This LoHi izakaya might cater to the young and hip crowd, but the food being served is anything but trendy. This rings true with the classic pork kimchi ramen, a giant bowl filled with spicy miso broth, thin slices of pork belly, fiery kimchi, green onion and a velvety 62-degree egg. There are no bells and whistles, just a solid base of rich, meaty and slightly salty broth that packs a nice, nose-clearing kick. The noodles are buried underneath curly tendrils of pork, and a handful of corn gives the dish a pleasing crunch and sweetness that helps tame the heat. Share it with a friend along with a few sushi rolls, or eat it alone and revel in the soup's sinus-clearing power and ability to revitalize on even the coldest winter night.
Osaka Ramen's Vegetarian Ramen
2611 Walnut Street.
Who says you need piles of pork to make ramen good? With chef/owner Jeff Osaka's vegetarian noodle bowl, you won't miss it at all. The base of the ramen is Thai green coconut curry, ladled over tender chunks of tofu, honshimeji mushrooms (also known as brown beech mushrooms), pickled vegetables and a glorious soft egg that mixes into the broth to give it even more umami oomph. It's light but hearty, spiced but not spicy, and a great way to get your daily dose of vegetables. Plus, you can follow it up with Osaka's famous My Wife's Donuts for dessert.
Sera's Ramen Enclave's Flavorsome Ramen
3472 West 32nd Avenue
When something is called "flavorsome," you have high hopes that it will be really good. Fortunately, the oxtail-based Flavorsome ramen at this Highland shop proves even better than the name. To start with, chef/owner Sera Nguyen simmers beef bones overnight before adding tender, braised oxtail to the broth, as well as melted leeks and fried shallots. Raw enoki mushrooms, wiry and earthy-sweet, top things off, along with thin slices of classic pink and white Japanese fish cake and a butter lettuce cup laden with bright-orange fish roe. The buttery ramen noodles tie the homey dish together, making a bowl of ramen that warms not only the belly, but the soul as well.
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Tokio's Cremoso Diablo
2907 Huron Street
If you want a ramen that feels like a cozy indulgence with a kick, this one is for you. The dish starts with pork tonkotsu mixed with chicken broth, the trick that gives this ramen its luscious mouthfeel and creamy essence. Also in the bowl is chashu, fresh baby bok choy, bean sprouts, pickled bamboo shoots, some chopped green onion and red pickled ginger. The heat comes from the addition of dry chiles and spicy sesame oil. For some odd reason, this one comes topped with cheddar and Jack cheeses, which get lost in the creamy, spicy broth, so don't feel like you're missing out if you skip this topping. Overall, it's a well-balanced and spicy bowl of cold-weather comfort.
Uncle's Duck Ramen
2215 W. 32nd Ave.
Going for ramen at Uncle in Highland feels like a contact sport; you will surely jostle with fellow ramen hunters as you wait for a table or a seat at the bar. Yes, the line is long at Uncle, but if you wait, you'll be rewarded with a steaming bowl of chef Tommy Lee's duck ramen, his personal favorite. "For me, it’s my everyday ramen, since it’s a lighter, complex bowl that showcases our approach to ramen in a thoughtful way," he says. "Duck is uncommon as a ramen topping, but we all know crispy confit duck is super-delicious, and the richness and texture work well in ramen." Also in the bowl is a handful of fresh, peppery arugula, thin slices of apple or Olathe corn (in the summer), and orange-peel-laced togarashi seasoning. And for those who might scoff at it as being different from the usual bowl of noodles, Lee says, "Ultimately the bowl makes sense in un-traditional and traditional ways, yet it’s still ramen and helps showcase our style of cooking."