On Saturday, November 16 Ramen-O-Rama debuted at the RiNo fairgrounds. Split into two sessions — one from 12:30 – 3:30 p.m., the other from 4:30 – 7:30 — the festival brought together a range of well-known and budding ramen joints, food trucks and other restaurant concepts to compete for who could deliver the best noodles, dumplings or other bites. Ramen was served in small cups, with chefs managing to create surprisingly elaborate dishes within the small receptacle.
Participants included Ace Eat Serve, Bamboo Skewer Food Truck, Deputy Spudslinger, Kyu Ramen, Mizu Izakaya, Ninja Ramen Mobile, Park and Co, Ramen Warrior, Rolls by Chubby Cattle, Sera’s Ramen Enclave, Stoke’s Poke and Tea Street Denver. Ace commanded some of the greatest popularity, with chef Thach Tran handing out Central Vietnamese brisket ramen with braised brisket, shiso, basil, noodles and a lemongrass chili broth. Chefs took playful liberties with the menu — Park and Co. served a Southern-style ramen with braised pork shoulder, okra and chicharrones while Deputy Spudslinger went even less traditional, serving a “fried ramen” which essentially played out like an egg roll atop dry noodles with sweet chili sauce.
The festival did fall victim to some first years woes. During each session, guests could expect to spend upwards of 30 minutes waiting in line. Fortunately, lines for the several nicely spaced bars remained short, giving even the long waits something of a lighthearted atmosphere. Some of the most popular food choices ran out early, driving guests into even larger swells to await what bites still remained. The festival followed the traditional setup — attendees casted votes to determine the winner and a series of vendors augmented the food and drink choices. While the event suffered from some organizational issues, it was clear that the gathering has potential. Even veteran festivals struggle with efficiency issues, and Ramen-O-Rama certainly shined conceptually.
It should come as no surprise that when picking a winner, it really all boils down to the broth. Kyu Ramen took first place with a fairly traditional set of ramens including Tonkotsu and curry. While many of the participants enjoyed a fair bit of creative freedom, Kyu succeeded in its flawless execution of the classics. Ninja Ramen took second with Sera’s Ramen Enclave and Rolls by Chubby cattle tying for third. Chubby Cattle’s quality grade five wagyu — confirmed by a certificate of authenticity taped to the table — was decadent, with the rich marbling being brought to life by a hand-torch before it even hit the broth.
While there were some palpable frustrations amongst guests, the two sessions successfully brought together ramen lovers, all of whom were impressed by the food. Lesser-known ramen joints enjoyed a little limelight and diners had a chance to discover new restaurants. With any luck, the festival will continue to grow, hopefully with growing resources to create the ramen festival Denver so clearly desires.
All photography by Alden Bonecutter.