In recent years, ramen has undergone a drastic transformation in the American culinary consciousness. Going from a lowbrow dorm-room staple to being understood and respected in its traditional form, ramen’s recent spike in undeniable appeal has caused noodle-soup joints to proliferate at a blistering pace. Many chefs have taken liberties with orthodox recipes, creating brilliant and innovative hybrids that are distinct from their Japanese counterparts. Lucky for the diners of Denver, there are a variety of classic and experimental locations to choose from. Featuring tried-and-true institutions and some of Denver’s top chefs, the Mile High ramen scene is as exciting as it is diverse.
Here are 10 of our favorites.
Where: 2215 West 32nd Ave., Denver
Hours: Monday – Saturday 5 – 10 p.m.
Lowdown: The lengths people will go for a good broth are truly incredible. Five-years running, and the nightly wait at Uncle often still exceeds 45 minutes from the moment they open their doors until last call at 10 p.m. The cramped 50-seat interior features tables packed so closely that you may bump elbows with your neighbors, with a counter that allows patrons to view the fast-paced kitchen’s frantic commotion. Hip-hop blasts, audible slurps come from all sides — the atmosphere is lively to say the least. In true Soup Nazi fashion, the restaurant “politely declines” modifications — but as in Seinfeld, there is a good reason to have unswerving faith in the masters. The spicy chicken ramen ($14.50) is confit chicken, bean sprouts, scallion and soft egg in a spicy sesame broth that inspires to the last drop.
Where: 930 South Havana St. #4, Aurora
Hours: Monday – Thursday 11 a.m. – 9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. and Sunday 4:30 – 9 p.m.
Lowdown: Tucked away in a strip mall on Havana Street is one of Denver’s great ramen institutions. Peddling reasonably priced bowls of traditional noodle-soup, the casual eatery serves no-frills Osaka-style ramen with all the expected ingredients intact. The tonkotsu shoyu ($10.95) is a rich pork and soy broth with bok choy, fish cake, pork belly and thin buckwheat noodles we love.
Where: 1365 Osage St., Denver.
Hours: Every day 11 a.m. – 2 p.m., then again 5 – 10 p.m.
Lowdown: Domo is at once a restaurant serving Japanese country cuisine, a cultural museum, an aikido dojo and a traditional Japanese garden. The rustic interior is unlike any other locale in the city — the ambiance is curated to take diners to outside the urban vision of Japan that has come to define much of what American diners understand about the highly diverse and complicated cuisine. Chef Gaku Homma has written about his traditional methods — the fare is clearly comfort food, made with love and a deep understanding of history. The unagi dashi shoyu ramen ($17.50) is a clear shoyu (soy-sauce based) broth with grilled eel. Served with seven small countryside dishes and a mini-donburi bowl — choices include gyoza, a variety of grilled meats and others — the meal is both filling and distinct.
Where: 2611 Walnut St., Denver.
Hours: Monday – Thursday 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. then again 5 – 9 p.m., Friday 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. then again 5 – 10 p.m., Saturday 5 – 10 p.m., Sunday 5 – 9 p.m.
Lowdown: Since opening in May 2015, Jeff Osaka’s underground eatery in the heart of RiNo has quickly captured the hearts of the city’s ramen aficionados — and for good reason. Each of his five noodle-bowls is known for its impressive balance. The vegetable ramen ($12) is Thai green-coconut curry, tofu, honshimeji mushroom, pickled vegetables and soft egg. On a list that is largely meat-centric, the vegetarian variation is a treat for meat-eaters and herbivores alike.
Where: 2907 Huron St. #103, Denver
Hours: Monday – Saturday 5 p.m. – 1 a.m., Sunday 4 – 9 p.m.
Lowdown: Tokio has become a favorite among service industry folks for its late-night sushi, but its ten ramen options are equally stupendous. The tsuke men ($14) is cha syu pork, bok choy, wood ear mushroom, green onion, pickled bamboo, carrot, red pickled ginger, dry chili with a side of hot pork dipping broth. The particular style allows for the textures and flavors to shine individually and is quite fun to slurp.
Where: 1487-A South Pearl St., Denver.
Hours: Tuesday – Thursday 5 – 10 p.m., Friday 5 – 11 p.m., Saturday 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. then again 5 – 11 p.m.
Lowdown: Sushi Den’s “prettier sister” is, without a doubt, the city’s most elegant place to enjoy ramen. Having been honored with the Mayor’s Design Award in 2015, the spot lives up to its reputation. Thirty-year old bamboo trees line the interior stairwell, and each subsection of the restaurant has its own distinct but equally luxurious atmosphere. The tonkotsu ramen (small, $13 / large, $16) is one of five classic choices and is a delightfully unembellished take made with egg, fish stock and silky roasted pork. As with all things from the Den trio, the attention to top-quality ingredients and preparation transform the simple contents into something truly memorable.
Where: 3053 Brighton Blvd., Denver.
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 5 p.m. – 12 a.m.
Lowdown: Chef Corey Baker has been hard at work. A graduate of some of the city’s top sushi restaurants — including Sushi Hai and Sushi Den — the young restaurateur opened Sushi Ronin and later Izakaya Ronin to immediate acclaim. The laman tonkotsu ramen ($12) is a variation on his competition-winning entry in last year’s ramen showdown. Combining fried chicharron and chile crisp with a variation of Baker’s show-stealing broth, the bowl is a revelation in both flavor and texture. The new speakeasy also features a late-night variation.
Where: 1629 Bruce Randolph Ave., Denver.
Hours: Monday – Thursday 11 a.m. – 9 p.m., Friday 11 a.m. – 9:30 p.m., Saturday 12 p.m. – 9:30 p.m., Sunday 12 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Lowdown: Corner Ramen is aptly titled. Situated at the intersection of Bruce Randolph Ave. and Gilpin St. — an almost entirely residential area — the spot certainly has all the makings of a quintessential neighborhood noodle joint. The menu is short and sweet — six appetizers, six ramens, several entrees and a couple desserts. All the soups are pretty straightforward, and while the flavors aren’t exactly traditional, nothing on the menu is a drastic departure. The spicy miso ramen ($13) is a heaping bowl of zesty broth with chicken, sweet corn, poached egg and arugula. While ramen can often come a little light on the meat, the amount of chicken hiding beneath the many layers of noodles is almost daunting. The menu also reconfigures things with the wagyu ramen burger ($10), placing the patty between two pressed-noodle buns. For those extra cozy nights, it also offers delivery through Grubhub.
Ace Eat Serve
Where: 501 East 17th Ave., Denver.
Hours: Sunday – Thursday 4 – 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday 2 – 11 p.m.
Lowdown: Executive chef Thach Tran recently took the helm at Ace Eat Serve, and his new menu features remarkable renditions of items from across Asia, including three innovative noodle bowls. The spice beef ramen ($15) is braised short rib, wheat noodles, daikon, shiso, bean sprouts and bok choy is a light, savory broth that is as reminiscent of pho as it is of its Japanese counterpart. The pork belly tonkotsu ($14) features tender pork belly, wheat noodles, egg, soy, scallions and mushrooms in a rich broth. A house-made black garlic oil ties the whole thing together in fragrant fashion.
Kazan Ramen Bistro
Where: 3901 Tennyson St., Denver.
Hours: Every day 5 – 10 p.m.
Lowdown: International restaurateur Seiki Takahashi recently opened a chic iteration of the popular Osaka-based ramen chain on Tennyson. The Singapore-based maven has built a small empire importing foreign cuisine for 15 global restaurants in Tokyo, while exporting Japanese cooking worldwide. The new location has seven traditional ramens, but the real treat is their original Kazan ramen volcano. Ingredients are served in a granite bowl heated to between 3-400 degrees, with the broth poured over table-side. The Kazan shoyu ramen (small, $15 / regular, $18) is braised pork belly, bean sprouts, cabbage, onion, carrot and green onion. Served with a side of rice, the plentiful bowl can be stretched into a stew when the noodles run their course.