Portland Oregon Ramen shops
It’s the housemade noodles that distinguish the ramen at this Japanese import. The Tokyo-based franchise has more than 60 restaurants in Japan and an outpost in Honolulu, Hawaii; the location in downtown Portland is the first in North America. While water, weather, and other factors change the texture of the noodles at each location, “we try to make it very teinei”—best translated as “meticulously”—says manager Toku Nagaoka. For lunch, try the shoyu ramen, with thin, straight noodles that are filling yet light on the belly. Wait until nighttime to order the tonkotsu, as the pork bone soup requires longer cooking and comes with thick, straight noodles. Where those robust noodles really shine are in the abu-ramen, a recent rage in Tokyo that Shigezo brings to Portland. Abu, short for abura, means oil; this dish basically substitutes oil for the broth, resulting in a “dry” bowl of ramen. “Fried noodle yakisoba is popular here, so people understand abu-ramen and how to eat it,” Nagaoka explains. (www.shigezo-pdx.com, 503-688-5202)
Descending down the steps and entering this southeast Portland eatery, it feels like I’m entering Tokyo. Chef/owner Gabe Rosen spent considerable time perfecting his ramen soup recipe, though ironically when he lived in Japan, ramen was not one of his favorite foods. “As a student, I was traveling and eating in cafeterias, which were at least as scary as here,” Rosen says. “Ramen was the least odious choice.” Grab a seat at the kitchen counter and revere at the ramen-making. Pork and chicken broth comes with chashu, pork belly simmered with garlic, ginger, sake, and shoyu. The other toppings are spectacular, including miso pork loin, smoked pork shoulder, wakame (seaweed), and kimchi greens. (www.biwarestaurant.com, 503-239-8830)
A warm “Irasshaimase” welcomes you when you enter this unassuming little izakaya in a little shopping plaza in nearby Beaverton. Kick back with beer, sake, or shochu, and go for the shoyu ramen with a side of delicate gyoza. (503-350-1801)
Upstart pop-up and soon-to-be bricks and mortar, Boke Bowl takes its name from the Japanese term for “blur” or “mental haze,” among other translations. It lives up to its name by blurring the boundaries of what goes in a bowl of ramen, as well as what constitutes a restaurant. Ramen renegade chef Patrick Fleming has perfected his menu during a spate of lunchtime events held at various local restaurants this past year, but now he’s ready to set up permanent digs in Portland’s burgeoning Produce Row district (scheduled to open before the end of this year). In Fleming’s ramen-world, toppings take a trip south, with options including buttermilk-fried chicken, pulled pork, cornmeal-crusted oysters, and butternut squash. This innovative, if unconventional, approach exemplifies ramen’s stature as a maverick cuisine without rules. (www.bokebowl.com)
This new noodle bar in southeast Portland shows ramen’s upscale potential. The menu is based around chef Trent Pierce’s deep, dark broth tasting of roasted pork bones mixed with fish sauce. Not in the mood for soup? Try the abura soba ramen: served without the broth, it’s topped with a belly-filling helping of shredded pork and scallions over thick, wavy noodles tossed in an oil-and-soy sauce. Also on offer is a sophisticated Japanese-style selection of small plates and cocktails, and don’t miss the yuzu cream puffs. (www.wafupdx.com, 503-236-0205)
From our story Bowled over by Ramen by Jay Friedman
Photos: Shigezo: Erin Thomas; Biwa: Jay Friedman; BokeBowl: Tim Parsons.
Read more in our November / December 2011 issue of Northwest Palate magazine.