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.