March Madness might be over, but Chow Bella's Ultimate Battle of the Ramen is just heating up. We pitted two first round winners against each other to see who will proceed to the finals. In this crosstown match, Hana Japanese Eatery takes on Republic Ramen.
In this Corner: Republic Ramen & Noodles
The Setup: Republic Ramen, just south of ASU in Tempe, clearly caters to college kids, but they aren't the only ones who dig the good food at reasonable prices. On this particular trip, we also saw diners ranging from middle-aged professionals with Blackberries to young parents with babies.
The Good: The tonkotsu broth was flavorful, and the ramen came with a generous helping of pork. In fact, all of the servings at Republic Ramen are huge, while the prices are quite reasonable. Given a moderate appetite, one person could make a single $8 bowl last four meals; at $2 per meal, that's not much more expensive than Cup Noodles, but so much more delicious. If we were penny-pinching college students, we'd probably eat here several times a week.
The Bad: As we previously noted in the first round of our Ultimate Battle, Republic's noodles are somewhat limp and overcooked, and its tough pork lacks flavor.
In the Other Corner: Hana Japanese Eatery
The Setup: A simple storefront in an unassuming strip mall in north central Phoenix, you could easily pass Hana Japanese Eatery a hundred times without venturing inside for a meal. You could, but you would be making a big mistake. This is one of Phoenix's best places to grab inexpensive sushi, a quick bento box lunch or some of Chef Koji's ethereal tempura.
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The Good: When we ordered the Yakibuta Ramen, our server gave us a choice between miso, soy, and pork broth, and we chose the pork. It was a good choice - bold, rich and slightly earthy with lots of nuanced flavor. The noodles were also excellent - springy with an al dente bite, and the slices of pork were tender and juicy.
The Bad: At just under $10, Hana's ramen is slightly more expensive than Republic Ramen's.
The Winner: Hana. Both of these restaurants offer a very satisfying bowl of ramen, but Hana takes its game to another level with creamy, complex pork broth and perfectly cooked noodles. At the risk of enraging college basketball fans, we didn't see a match-up this memorable during the whole month of March.