When I moved back to the U.S. from Japan more a decade ago, I knew I was giving up one of the things I had grown to love there—namely, ramen. No, not the microwavable stuff in a cup on which penny-pinching college students survive. I’m talking about a Tokyo-style big bowl of noodles served in pork- or soy sauce-flavored broth with medallions of sliced pork, topped with kamaboko (white and pink fish; don’t ask) green onions, sprouts, dried seaweed, corn and spinach. Don’t forget the hard-boiled egg.
Ramen may have existed on the West Coast at that time, but you rarely found it at South Florida restaurants back then. However, ramen seems to have slowly followed me back from Japan, as evidenced by its appearance on menus in and around Boca. Sadly, Kin Noodle Bar in downtown Boca has closed its doors—but here are four other spots worth exploring:
Where: 310 S. Federal Highway, Deerfield Beach, 954/427-9491
What: This long-surviving sushi restaurant is a favorite with locals and tourists alike. Though sushi is the specialty, occasionally Masamune features soy-flavored ramen (Tokyo-style) or miso-flavored ramen (popular in northern Japan) on special. If you are unfamiliar with ramen, this is a good place to start; the recipes here are very traditional.
Where: 217 E. Palmetto Park Road, Boca Raton, 561/392-2999
What: Several locals have raved about this little Asian bistro, which has a reputation for serving great Tonkotsu ramen. Tonkotsu broth is pork-based instead of soy sauce. This style of ramen comes from Kyushu, one of the southern islands. They also have a extra spicy variety of the same which is not to be approached lightly.
Gaysha New World Sushi Bar
Where: 2223 Wilton Drive, Wilton Manors, 954/530-0153
What: Part of Fort Lauderdale’s gay village, this little sushi bar has become a local favorite. The menu is mostly sushi, but one of the other entrée items is a very good Tonkotsu ramen. It's less spicy than some, but you can kick it up a notch with the white pepper available on each table.
Cha-Cha Japanese Café
Where: 155 S. State Road 7, #108, Royal Palm Beach, 561/790-0072
What: It's a bit of a haul from Boca, but it’s worth it. This hole in the wall is nothing fancy, but it's the real deal. It doesn't hurt that there is Japanese TV playing on the monitor and Japanese pop music piped through the speakers. I ordered Shoyu Cha Cha Men, which was the most traditional soy-broth ramen on the menu, yet it was anything but standard. The broth was just the right amount of spice, noodles were the right texture, and the vegetables were fresh. For me, it was like a mini-vacation back to Japan.