Whatever kinds of food Portland decides to take on, the city embraces it with delicious gusto. Ramen is no exception. This traditional Japanese noodle soup is only gaining in popularity as diners discover the variety this seemingly simple dish can hold—an assortment of broths, noodles, and toppings that combine into a soup that is at once comfort food and a culinary experience. The city's best ramen spots range from holes in the walls to Tokyo imports and soup restaurants that put a Northwest spin on ramen. Read on to find out where to grab a hearty bowl of ramen in Portland.
Marukin has been serving up ramen in Tokyo and other Japanese cities since 1994, and it finally came to the U.S. by opening up in Portland. With two locations in the city (on SE Ankeny and at Pine Street Market), it has a casual vibe and some of the best ramen you’ll ever taste. Menu items rotate, but a few dishes are always available, like the tonkotsu shoyu, which is a slow-cooked pork bone broth that’s also available in a spicy red version. Others include paitan, a creamy chicken-based broth, and vegan shoyu broth. In the summer, there’s even a cold ramen option called hiyashi that’s a treat on hot days.
Boxer Ramen is less traditional, but it's the best if you’re looking for something tasty and trendy—in a place with a cool vibe, to boot. This small and modern ramen shop has a few locations around Portland, including Burnside and downtown. The spicy red miso ramen is a kick in the pants worth taking, as are the okonomiyaki tater tots, which are a fun mix of traditional Japanese flavors and American nostalgia. There are a couple sake and beer options to choose from, too.
Located in Portland’s Boise-Elliot District, Kayo’s Ramen Bar is cozy and casual and serves up a mean bowl of noodle soup. You’ll find both meat and vegan options, and the shop specializes in Assari-style ramen, where each type of broth is clearer than what you might find elsewhere. However, shoyu, shio, and other broths are also available. Don’t miss the spicy tan tan ramen—one of the most popular dishes—or the creative signature ramen bowls, like pineapple ginger, curry, and wasabi-smoked salmon.
Kizuki is an expanding chain of ramen restaurants that started in Japan and then branched out to Washington, Illinois, Indiana, and Oregon. The Beaverton location is located in an upscale strip mall. The Kizuki website says, “Kizuki Ramen’s philosophy is to serve the most traditional, authentic and delicious Japanese ramen that you can possibly have without actually flying to Japan”—and they do not disappoint. A selection of 12 traditional broths range from basic shio and shoyu, to miso, a veggie-based broth, and Hakata tonkotsu (which is from the Hakata region of Japan and features a rich pork broth). Also don’t miss the yummy selection of izakaya (including karaage and takoyaki) and rice dishes.
If all the talk of traditional and not-so-traditional ramen goes over your head, Noraneko (which means "stray cat" in Japanese) might be the perfect place to start. The menu features very obviously marked “traditional ramen” and “modern ramen," taking all the guesswork out as to which is which. Traditional ramen features shio, shoyu, or miso broth, while modern ramen focuses on flavor fusions, bringing some interesting tastes to the mix like curry or pork meatballs. Top yours with one or more of the toppings of your choice—and don’t miss the bar snacks, which include fun items like kimchi and cheese croquettes, gyoza tossed in spicy sauce, or “nachos” made from gyoza skin.
Having gotten its start in Japan, AFURI ventured across the Pacific Ocean to Portland in just 2016. With a bright, modern space, AFURI is best known for its yuzo shio ramen—a broth that packs a lot of umami—but they offer a variety of other options as well, including some that are vegan and gluten-free. The menu also features dumplings (gyoza) and gohan. Plus, it’s located right next to Voodoo Doughnuts, so you can wander next door for an after-dinner treat if you’d like.