If you've been following our Ultimate Battle of the Ramen, then you already know about the upsets, drama, and good eats we've shared over the last month and half. For those just joining the action, here's a quick review.
We started our March Madness-inspired ramen battle last month by gathering some of the Valley's best noodle restaurants for a tournament-style ramen-off. The first round knocked out Phoenix's Clever Koi, Tempe's Umami, and Chandler's China Magic Noodle House. Posh won by default over T. Spot, which closed and was therefore disqualified from battle. In round two, Republic Ramen fell to Hana Japanese Eatery and fan-favorite Sushi Ken was bumped out by Posh. That brings us to this final battle, which will decide which restaurant takes home the top spot in Chow Bella's Ultimate Battle of the Ramen.
In This Corner: Posh
The Setup: Chef Josh Hebert is easily one of the biggest talents in this town. At Posh, which he opened New Year's Eve 2008, the chef offers diners one of the most unique dining experiences in the city: improvisational cuisine. Customers get to enjoy a multi-course dinner prepared with seasonal ingredients and tailored to their personal likes and dislikes. But once a week -- specifically on Tuesday nights -- Hebert gets extra creative and hosts a pop-up ramen shop that's come to attract a regular crowd of food enthusiasts and industry players. It's easy to see why.
The Good: The ramen menu at Posh is concise. Usually it contains four ramen flavors and not uncommonly a special (it was BLT ramen when we last visited). We went for the goma ramen, which is made with char-siu pork broth base and sesame flavoring. It comes absolutely spilling over with toppings that include bok choy, shistio peppers, and scallions in addition to bonito flakes, nori, leeks, and bean sprouts, which come with all four flavors. We loved the sesame broth; it was rich and slightly opaque with lots of flavor from emulsified fats and a handful of nutty sesame seeds. The noodles were perfectly cooked, al dente at first and then getting softer as you work your way through the bowl. The best part of this ramen however, was Hebert's thick cuts of char-sui. They offered just the right amount of sweetness and were so moist they nearly fell apart at the touch of a chopstick.
The Bad: We have little to complain about Posh's ramen though some bites did taste a little heavy on the ginger. If we're getting really nitpicky, we could also argue that the abundance of toppings made it hard to get to the noodles at the bottom of the bowl.
In This Corner: Hana Japanese Eatery
The Setup: At this north Phoenix restaurant brother and sister team "Chef Koji" and Lori Hashimoto practice the art of simple food done well. Since opening in 2007 Hana has become known for serving some the freshest seafood in town. But they don't stop with excellent sushi. There are also plenty of cooked and non-seafood options including grilled salmon, tappanyaki grilled ribeye, and yes, ramen.
The Good: Though not explicitly listed on the menu, Hana serves miso, soy, and pork broths. If your server doesn't ask you which one you'd like, just specify when you order. On this visit we went with the pork-based tonkotsu broth. It was everything you could want in a ramen broth: thick, opaque, full of rich, meaty flavor -- it even offered a subtle hint of spice. The noodles were also well-prepared and plentiful. We spooned up mouthfuls of broth and noodles along with scallions, memma, nori, and fish cake. The simple and traditional toppings let the broth shine through and made the flavor easy to appreciate. The char-siu pork, sweet and tender, made for a near-perfect meal.
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The Bad: Next time we might have to order double noodles. We would have loved to have more as we easily finished the entire bowl.
The Winner: It's difficult to compare these two dishes as each restaurant offers a different style of Japanese cuisine. While Hana tends to keep things simple, straightforward, and traditional, Hebert tends to lean toward more a modern take with excellent bold and innovative flavors.
That said, we have to give this one to Hana. We're confident in saying we found the city's best two bowls of ramen, but our quest favors the simpler dish we found at Hana. You'll have to decide for yourself whether you'd feel the same, but it's safe to say that with either restaurant you're in for a top-notch bowl of noodles.