We all grew up in North America thinking ramen was the instant kind of noodle that came in dried blocks with seasoning packets. But Vancouver sure knows better now, with high-quality ramen shops all over the West End.
The newly opened Ramen Butcher is a big deal because it’s the first foray into North America by Menya Kouji, a Japanese group that runs 150 ramen shops. Its owners trained under the ‘God of Ramen‘ himself.
And so, lineups have been forming outside the small but well-designed Chinatown restaurant since it opened earlier this month. (Not surprisingly, I saw two old Chinese ladies stop and peer curiously, wondering why anyone would spend their time waiting for noodles.)
On a weekday just before noon, the lineup moved fairly quickly. (I mean, how long does it take to slurp noodles, amirite?) My advice is to avoid large groups to get seated faster in the tight space.
There were four of us including my four-year-old niece. The staff were very attentive, offering her a high chair and kids’ utensils! It’s pretty kid-friendly for babies who aren’t mobile yet, or older kids. Skip it for now if you’ve got a squirmy toddler (Luckily, mine was in daycare that day. Yay for me.)
The Ramen Butcher’s menu is short and sweet: seven variations of ramen, and four variations of gyoza (dumpling). Three rice options and the karaage were marked “coming soon.”
I dove right into the red ramen ($10.95) with the signature tonkotsu pork broth. This one comes with spicy garlic paste, lean or fatty pork, and a marinated egg. My health-conscious self instinctively answered “lean” when the server asked me what kind of pork I wanted.
My sister, bless her heart, immediately pointed out, “Really? Not fat?” Duh, of course I want fatty pork, that’s where all the flavour is!
She chose the orange ramen ($11.55), which had the same components as the red without the spicy paste, and with the addition of miso-marinated ground pork.
The broth was very rich and full of flavour. It might be TOO rich for some people, but I loved it. The noodles (made in-house) were divinely al dente and toothsome.
The one thick slab of pork was awesome, but I know many people will be up in arms about wanting more of it. The same can be said for the overall portion size of the ramen bowl; it was a conservative serving compared to what North American diners expect.
I felt “just right” after my bowl, but my sister took advantage of the kaedama, another serving of extra noodles at no charge.
The Ramen Butcher makes soft-boiled ajitsuke eggs, marinated in a soy sauce/mirin mixture for several hours. Known as “ramen eggs” (I guess because they’re commonly served with ramen), the yolks are slightly runny for an entirely delicious experience. I can’t remember having these before and I could have eaten several of them.
Finally, we ordered a plate of original gyoza ($5.35), which were nicely pan fried but they weren’t outstanding or anything. The ramen is definitely the star of the show here.
How does it compare to other Vancouver ramen shops? The excellent noodles stood out for me, while toppings are better at places like Hokkaido Ramen Santouka. The busy pace and attentive service were similar to other places in town.
One high chair, no change table. It’s a tight space so leave the strollers and bucket seats in the car. Combination of high tops and regular tables. Hungry kiddies won’t like the lineup, so bring snacks.
The Ramen Butcher, 223 E. Georgia St., Vancouver. Opens 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and then 5-10 p.m. or when the broth runs out.