In about a week basketball fans will begin obsessing over their March Madness brackets, trying to predict which college teams have the talent and luck to take the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship. And here at Chow Bella we're kicking off a tournament of our own: an Ultimate Battle of the Dishes to find the city's best bowl of ramen.
The dish's popularity has been on the rise since last year, becoming wildly popular in places such as Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. While our own food scene has been a little slower on the uptake, we've still got a good selection of restaurants dishing up delicious bowls of noodles of broth. Follow along for the next few weeks as we hunt for the very best ramen in town.
In this corner: Hana Japanese Eatery
The Setup: This north central Phoenix spot, courtesy of brother and sister Lori and "Chef Koji" Hashimoto, has earned a well-deserved reputation for being one of the city's best spots for sushi. But that's not all the restaurant has to offer. There's a selection of noodle dishes, salads, and entrees such as whole lobster tail, ribeye, and grilled salmon.
The Good: Hana's ramen features soy-based broth, which means even your vegetarian friends can enjoy a bowl. Your bowl will come with pork, fish cake, green onion, and bamboo shoots, which makes for a pretty authentic arrangement of toppings. The pieces of pork shoulder come in thick cuts that offer an ideal slightly sweet flavor and a tender texture. But the best part is the noodle. They're nice and thin and offer the appropriate amount of bite required of real ramen noodles.
The Bad: Because the broth is soy rather than pork based, it lacks the meaty flavor you might associate with good ramen. Overall it's a fairly mild broth -- but sometimes simplicity is just what you need.
In the other corner: Clever Koi
The Setup: This new midtown restaurant offers modern Asian cuisine in a sleek setting. Owned and operated by a crew of former-Parlor guys -- chefs Jared Porter and Joseph Absolor and co-owners Joshua James and Nicholas Campisano -- the Clever Koi dishes a one-of-a-kind style of Chinese-American comfort foods like Kung Pao Brisket and Smoked "Pig Face" Dumplings.
The Good: Clever Koi's Roasted Pork Ramen is one of the few dishes available at both lunch and dinner. The dish offers an interesting if not so traditional mix of toppings including bacon, pickled mustard greens, shiitake mushrooms, bean sprouts, and a soft egg. You'll get a manageable portion size of noodles and a mildly spicy broth.
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The Bad: For those seeking more traditionally designed ramen, this is not your place. The broth -- though spicy -- ends up feeling thin and one-dimensional, lacking the type of depth you'd expect from a meat-based broth. And even if you're a fan of eggs, a soft boiled one is pretty clumsy to eat with a spoon and chopsticks. As for the pork, you've definitely had better, and more moist, cuts.
The Winner: Hana
Maybe we're just old fashioned but we've got a serious affinity for good, simple ramen done well. Though Clever Koi's more modern take on the dish might appeal to some, in the search for this city's best bowl of noodles and broth, we have to go with Hana. The well-balanced soy-based broth, perfectly done pork, and firm but chewy noodles won up over at first bite.