When you've had ramen done right, you just know. It's a shame it's even referred to by the same name as its Styrofoam cup counterpart. The base is always a flavorful, unique broth with an extra boost from added traditional Japanese veggies like seaweed (Japan's bay leaf) and kamaboko. All that's poured over fresh egg noodles and garnished with an egg on top.
Quite possibly the most-underrated comfort food, we're sure ramen will be the next big trend in Valley soup consumption, after everyone pho-gets about pho. Plus, the tasty soup comes with tons of broth base flavor options like tonkotsu (pork), shoyu (soy sauce), shio (salt) and miso. Last time we pitted two ramen joints against each other, Republic Ramen won, even landing the Best of Phoenix title for Ramen in 2011. But can the chic ramen joint can defend its title against a traditional heavyweight called Sushi Ken?
In This Corner: Republic Ramen
The Setup:As we mentioned before, Republic Ramen is a chic ASU area joint with dark wood tables and 90 degree angles everywhere. It's clean and hip and they even serve boba tea (which is not technically a Japanese thing). If you're looking for a sterile ramen environment, you've found the place.
The Good: We decided to go for tonkotsu ramen, adding an egg for $1 (which we didn't feel was right since ramen pretty much always comes with an egg, but whatever). The good part is it comes with all of the right stuff, the bad part is it's poorly executed.
The Bad: Republic offers two types of veggie toppings: traditional (with the seaweed and kamaboko) or original (with carrots and other scaredy cat options)--that should be the first warning. If you're looking for authentic, this probably isn't your place. However, it is good for trying to convince finicky eaters to try new things without scaring them away. Unfortunately, that's not quite us and we were not impressed by their bland tonkotsu broth, no matter how heavy-handed they were with the seaweed and we were with the Sriracha.
In The Other Corner: Sushi Ken
The Setup: Now we don't assume that just because a Japanese restaurant is staffed by Japanese people in the front and back of the house that it's automatically going to be better... but it certainly isn't a bad sign. The modest little Ahwatukee restaurant has a full sushi bar and offers ramen, soba and udon soups.
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The Good: At our server's recommendation, we tried the spicy shio ramen. With sliced pork, perfectly browned on the edges, and traditional toppings being the assumption including an egg, the ramen from spicy, sesame-laden broth to fresh "al dente" egg noodles was made with care. Plus, it comes with edamame and three freshly prepared California rolls to start. We slurped on gulped our way through a third of the bowl and had to ask for a take out container.
The Bad: We didn't really have any complaints from Sushi Ken. It's our new go to spot when we're craving ramen.
And the winner is... Sushi Ken. After our first sip of Sushi Ken's broth it was clear they had won. Not only do you get more bang for your buck with the edamame and sushi appetizers, the ramen itself is as close as you're going to get to authentic Japanese in Phoenix.