Forgive me for being crass, but to me all good ramen pretty much taste the same. Sure, the broth may be thicker at one place, the chashu fattier at another place, and the noodles thinner at yet a third place, but when it comes right down to it, when the flavours and textures meld together to become mouthful after mouthful of noodle soup in my mouth, I can’t really discern much of a difference between the shio ramen from Santouka, Kintaro, or Motomachi Shokudo. To tell you the truth, I can’t honestly say that there is a huge difference between the aforementioned three pork-broth-based ramen and the chicken-broth-based ramen served at Marutama. Whatever differences there are in the individual components of each bowl or ramen, they get abstracted away once the components are combined and stuffed into my mouth.
Yes, I know, ignorant me. That being said, I do think that I know the difference between a bowl of good ramen and a bowl of bad ramen. It’s just that I don’t think there is any single bowl of good, local ramen that really differentiates itself from its peers.
Let’s get the positive out of the way first: Ramen Danbo serves ramen that is on par with Santouka or Kintaro or Motomachi Shokudo or Marutama. I’m sure you know what I’m going to say next: The ramen that I got from Ramen Danbo is pretty much indistinguishable from the ramen served at other reputable and popular local ramen joints.
Customization is a thing at Ramen Danbo. You get to choose the thickness of the soup, the thickness of the noodles, the firmness of the noodles, the amount of lard in the noodles, and the amount of spicy sauce in the noodles. They were out of thick noodles when I was there so that choice was taken out of my hands. Other than getting the noodles firm, my dining companion and I got standard everything else. Actually, let me rephrase that. We got standard everything else but we did order the Spicy Rekka Ramen 20 times spicier than the standard intensity.
As per usual for Japanese ramen places, 20X spiciness equals not spicy at all. Maybe a little, but no, not really; the spiciness was weak. The underlying broth was your standard kinda-thick-tonkotsu that made you thirsty after an hour. The thin noodles were ridiculously thin to the point that they felt like they were rice noodles. The noodles were nice and firm though. The chashu was nice and fatty if you like that kind of thing. I do. They also weren’t cold and firm like they were at Kintaro. They were warm and tender.
The chashu pork ramen wasn’t that much different from the spicy ramen. Subtract the 20X-not-spicy-spiciness, add four slices of chashu and KABAM, you have yourself a bowl of chashu pork ramen. What was different with the chashu pork ramen was that I got a refill of noodles. Two bucks for a full refill was dang good value. I got the refill extra firm. I have to say that it was a wise choice. The firmer texture made the strands of noodles feel more substantial and less thin. I’m patting myself on my back as we speak.
Visiting for lunch has its benefits. We got a lunch set that included a (soft) drink and gyoza. We received our gyoza after we got our ramen; which was unusual. I thought that the gyoza were – for lack of a better word – weak. Their skins were soft, limp, and too-easily penetrated. Their insides tasted indistinguishable and bland, with a texture that was as soft and limp and as water-logged as the skin. I mean, don’t get me wrong, the skin of the gyoza definitely looked nicely charred and crispy. But no, they weren’t.
TL:DR Good Ramen but not better than other good ramen. Bad gyoza.