The Denver ramen scene has been heating up over the past couple of years, with high-profile noodle-house openings and anticipation over others. But in Aurora, the demand for Japanese noodle bowls has been bubbling beneath the surface, with few options despite the vast array of ethnic eateries in the sprawling city. So when Katsu Ramen opened yesterday at the corner of Havana Street and Jewell Avenue, Aurorans showed up in full force to sample the five styles of ramen and other Japanese rice and noodle dishes from the same owners who also operate the popular Sushi Katsu just down the street.
Katsu Ramen opened for lunch yesterday but closed briefly in the afternoon to regroup. The doors swung open again at 4 p.m. to a waiting line of hungry ramen fans. The dining room isn't big, but the seating is well designed to pack in diners without feeling overly crowded, with honey-toned wooden tables and booths as well as two central community tables with a number of stools surrounding heavy, rustic tabletops. The interior gives the impression of being inside an intricate wooden box, with various tones and textures covering nearly every surface.
The decor comprises Japanese prints and menu boards in kanji script as well as a variety of pop-culture knickknacks from Hello Kitty to Dragon Ball Z. Glossy plastic replicas of the menu items line shelves in the front window facing the parking lot for curious passersby.
Katsu offers five ramen styles: tonkotsu, shoyu, miso, tan tan (spicy chicken), and chilled hiyashi chuka ramen. Bowls range from $9.25 to $9.85 and combo meals, which include three pan-fried gyoza and a side dish, can be purchased for $12.95. Those sides include stir-fried beef and caramelized onions over rice, beef curry, pork katsu, fried rice and chashu (thin-sliced pork).
Noodle bowls come in handsome earthenware bowls with ceramic spoons (as evidenced by the shattering sound of a spoon breaking on impact with the tiled floor). Garnet red chili oil -- thick and sludgy with ground chiles -- and house-made gyoza sauce are provided for each table along with the standard soy and vinegar bottles. Appetizer cover familiar territory -- gyoza, edamame and miso soup -- but also include a few unique dishes like a chilled tofu salad (called hiyayakko) and tuna tataki salad.
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Katsu Ramen is open from Monday to Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 10 p.m., and Sunday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.