Best of Denver

Why Osaka Ramen Earned Our Best Ramen Award This Year

Spicy miso ramen at Osaka Ramen.
Spicy miso ramen at Osaka Ramen. Danielle Lirette
Ramen is a newer addition to our Best of Denver awards, making it onto our Readers' Poll only last year, and showing up on the Denver dining scene in just a handful of eateries until about 2014, when Japanese noodle shops began popping up all over town. A standout in the new wave is Osaka Ramen, which debuted at 2611 Walnut Street in May 2015, landing on our list of the ten best new restaurants to open that year.

And this year, we picked chef/owner Jeff Osaka's underground noodle bar as Denver's Best Ramen, one of 116 winners in the Food & Drink category.

Osaka's culinary career in Denver started with an understated little dining room called Twelve, which ran from 2008 to 2014 in the Ballpark neighborhood, an island of elegant cuisine in a sea of sports bars and boozers catering to baseball fans and late-night carousers. With the opening of Osaka Ramen after Twelve closed, the restaurateur switched to simple Japanese street fare with a chef's touch, adding intensity to the slow-simmered broths and building layers of flavor from housemade toppings.

Osaka hails from Los Angeles, where he grew up in a neighborhood replete with Japanese restaurants and a vibrant Japanese community. He slurped his way through the town, adding the subtleties of the traditional noodle soup to his mental Rolodex of food memories, returning to those memories years later in Denver.

And that's a great thing for us, because it allows us to share Osaka's potent tonkotsu and spicy miso ramen, his more delicate shoyu, and his wow-inducing vegetarian Thai green-coconut curry. The bowls are big and filling, but other temptations on the menu add variety, including playful okonomiyaki fries, Spam musubi and loco moco, proving that great food doesn't have to come in fancy form.

The chef has expanded his restaurant domain since 2015, adding three outposts of Sushi-Rama (with a fourth set to open this month in Aurora) and [email protected], which takes up where Twelve left off. But Osaka still loves the Ballpark neighborhood, and this week, he's offering a special ramen bowl ahead of the Colorado Rockies' home opener. Thursday, April 4, happens to be National Ramen Day, and Osaka Ramen is serving a one-day special of katsu ramen, made with curried chicken broth and topped with cabbage, scallions, fukujinzuke (Japanese pickles), a soft egg and a fried pork cutlet. Visit the restaurant's website or call 303-955-7938 for details.
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Mark Antonation is the former Westword Food & Drink Editor. In 2018, he was named Outstanding Media Professional by the Colorado Restaurant Association; he's now with the Colorado Restaurant Foundation.
Contact: Mark Antonation