You may mostly know ramen to be those 25 cent packages cause the sodium levels of broke Fanshawe and Western students to skyrocket, and technically you aren’t wrong. But the world of ramen is so much more than instant noodles. The dish originated in China and came to popularity in Japan, then spread across the world. This delicious soup is known for its delightfully chewy noodles and a rich and hearty broth, with so many variations on the other ingredients and toppings that you can add.
Londoners can experience the true essence of ramen in a few different restaurants around the city. They offer authentic representations of the awesome Japanese soup that is filling, comforting, and delicious. So no, you won’t be finding Dollarama on this list with the recommendation of grabbing some chicken-flavoured Mr. Noodles. Here’s some real ramen that you should get acquainted with instead!
Neighbourhood: Downtown London
192 Dundas St. (map)
Kenzo Ramen is a small chain offering authentic and amazing Japanese food at their restaurants across southern Ontario. The first Kenzo was established in Toronto in 2003 and in the intervening years, have opened many more in Mississauga, Waterloo, Hamilton, and, of course, London. The 11th branch of Kenzo Ramen found itself in downtown London in September of 2017, nestled into the Century Building on Dundas St. The storefront itself is small, so you have to keep a keen eye out for it on your first trip down. But after tasting their ramen, you’ll never forget where it is – because you’ll be back so often.
Kenzo Ramen is proudly traditional. Their quality relies on all of the noodles and broth being made in house. Their noodles are made daily, so you know it’ll always be fresh and delicious. Their unforgettable broth is stewed for at least 24 hours, creating great richness and depth of flavour that you won’t find anywhere else. When the two are put together, it’s truly magical.
Kenzo offers a wide variety of ramen preparations, hailing from many different regions of Japan. Each have their own special flavour profile to satisfy your taste buds. Of course, they have the classic Tonkotsu Ramen, a Hakata-style pork bone soup that is one of the most popular ramen styles worldwide.
One of the most popular bowls at the restaurant is the King Shoyu Ramen, a levelled-up version of their Shoyu Ramen. This bowl has twice as many noodles in a savoury soy sauce-based broth, topped with roasted pork shoulder, soft boiled eggs that have been marinated in soy sauce, narutomaki, bok choy, wakame, scallions, and nori. You need a big appetite to go for the King Shoyu, but if you do, you’ll enjoy it to the last drop of broth.
Kenzo also offers a rare vegetarian version of ramen. The creamy broth is described as “tonkotsu-esque,” inspired by the taste of the pork bone broth that so many bowls of ramen are filled with, but without any meat or seafood used to create the flavour. They make no claims that it is vegan, however, only vegetarian. The Creamy Vegetarian ramen isn’t just broth and noodles, however. Your bowl is also packed with fresh tofu, wood ear mushrooms, baby bokchoy, menma, scallions, and red ginger. There are also many of their other ramens that have a vegetarian option available, such as their Sapporo Miso Ramen or Orochong Ramen.
Kenzo Ramen may not have started in London, but their appearance in the Forest City is more than welcome. The ramen that they’re bringing to the table is artisanal, authentic, and absolutely impossible to turn down.
Neighbourhood: Downtown London
219 Queens Ave. (map)
Sakata Ramen is another downtown establishment that has ramen all figured out. They offer Japanese cuisine with a menu ranging from sushi to ramen. While their sushi is great, that’s another Best of London list for another day – we’re here to talk ramen.
There are a handful of options at Sakata when it comes to ramen, but all of them fall into two categories: either tonkotsu (pork) or chicken. Once you’ve picked your protein, decide whether you want the traditional preparation or whether you’d like to add miso, spiciness, or black garlic to your bowl to give it something a little extra special.
While your soup comes with many toppings, there may be a chance that you’re looking for even more. In that case, you can add extra of basically any element for a small extra charge. Add some BBQ pork, an extra egg, fried tofu, or even more ramen to your ramen. Additional charges range from $1.50 to $4.95, but that’s the price you pay for the perfect bowl of ramen!
Sakata utilizes an iPad menu to allow you and your table to peruse the menu and evaluate your options before calling the waiter over. This allows for more streamlined service for the ordering of sushi and offers no real advantage when it comes to ordering your ramen over a paper menu, but it’s still a fun experience.
Sakata also offers cold ramen, which is more akin to a pasta salad (though graciously no mayo is in sight) than the hot soup that ramen is often known to be. Cold ramen involved chilled ramen noodles topped with veggies, meats, and garnishes and then often tossed in a dressing of sorts. At Sakata, you can get cold ramen either with chicken, pork, or vegetables. The dish is refreshing, as opposed to the heartiness that you find in a hot ramen soup, but it’s just as filling and delicious. It’s definitely worth the exploration if you’re interested in trying something different!
To accompany your ramen, regardless of hot or cold, Sakata is equipped with a full bar, including a variety of sake options. There are also some delicious dessert options such as Japanese style cheesecake, crème brûlée, and black sesame ice cream.
Neighbourhood: Medway Heights, Downtown London & White Oaks
665 Fanshawe Park Rd. W, 57 York St. & 1070 Wellington Rd. S(map)
Since 2011, Ben Thanh has been voted Best of London every single year in various categories including Best Asian Restaurant, Best Thai, Best Vietnamese, and Best Take Out by Londoners in the London Free Press. There are three Ben Thanh locations in London and even more spread across six other cities in southwestern Ontario. They introduced ramen to their menu in January of 2017 and it quickly became one of their top selling menu items!
Ben Thanh’s take on ramen is different than many other restaurants. Where other establishments typically have a set menu of preparations, Ben Thanh allows you to create your own perfect bowl, customized exactly to your preferences. While this may seem intimidating, Ben Thanh makes it as simple as can be in just three steps.
The first step is to pick your broth. Your options include beef, chicken, Szechuan, laksa, and sate – the last three of which are spicy. Your broth is an important consideration, as it is the base of your soup that you will build upon.
Step two is topping selection. With a variety of meats to pick from in various preparations, you’ll be able to create a truly unique ramen. Perhaps you would like to add some chicken skewers, a pork dumpling, or even some BBQ short ribs and kimchi. If you’re feeling a little more on the fishy side, add the mixed seafood option, which includes shrimp, squid, crab stick, mussel, and fish cake to your ramen.
The third step is extras. If you feel like treating yourself a little bit and want some extra dumplings, skewers, or a soft-boiled egg, this is the step for you to enjoy. It costs extra to add these toppings (ranging from $1.95 to $5.95 depending on what you want to add), but if it’s going to put your bowl of ramen over the top with delicious flavour, it’s worth shelling out a couple extra bucks.
Ben Thanh’s ramen may not have the most traditional preparation, but the quality ingredients and the customization options are exciting and unique, you won’t find this anywhere else. You can find the perfect combination of broth base, protein, and extras that you enjoy and stick to it, or try something new every time. The possibilities are endless!
Tanakaya Japanese Restaurant
Neighbourhood: Downtown London
130 King St. (map)
It seems that downtown is the place to go if you’re craving ramen. Every place on this list has been located in the centre of the city, and Tanakaya Japanese Restaurant is no different! Found in the Covent Garden Market building, Tanakaya is serving up some of the best Japanese food in the city, offering sushi, sashimi, teriyaki, and even bubble tea, but we’re here to talk about their noodles.
The ramen at Tanakaya uses a soy sauce base for the soup, offering a great salty kick. They offer a variety of proteins to bulk up your soup, like BBQ pork, beef, seafood, and even chicken katsu, which is a breaded and deep-fried chicken cutlet.
Tanakaya can also deliver your delicious ramen through your food delivery app of choice. They are currently available to order through Uber Eats, Snabb Food Delivery, Skip the Dishes, and London Food Market. So, you don’t even have to leave the house to get your fix of amazing soup!
Despite being in the market, they have their own special entrance through their patio so you can still satiate your ramen craving even when the Covent Garden Market is closed. Small but mighty, Tanakaya has some seriously delicious ramen that you should definitely check out the next time you’re hanging out at the market.
Since all of the restaurants are on this list are downtown, it’s going to be a tough call. But you can be sure that after a bowl of ramen at any of these places, you’ll be more than satisfied. You’ll never go back to the dollar store packages again!