Is “Good Enough” Ever Good Enough?

Elements of a ramen bowl, at Ooink in Seattle.

A recent transplant to the Seattle area expresses his disappointment – so far – with the local ramen scene.

A year into my move to the Seattle area and I’m still unsatisfied, and frankly, a little disappointed. I had high expectations given the many ramen restaurants here and, like San Francisco, a thriving Asian population.

I’ve been to Yelp’s five top-rated ramen spots in town. While one of them gets high marks, with the rest I found myself using words like “serviceable,” “not bad,” and the unfortunate “good enough.”

When the term “good enough” is used, it generally implies that something meets the minimum requirements or standards, but it may not be the best or most ideal solution. It suggests adequacy rather than excellence. … a temporary solution until something better can be achieved. -says ChatGPT (abridged)

That last line is where I’m at – waiting for something better. Given my research, I’m hoping it will be Midnite Ramen, a food truck (and soon-to-be fixed location) with a lot of great buzz. But first, a quick scan of my experiences so far.

• Ramen Danbo (Capitol Hill): I’ll refer you to my earlier review from a few years back, which spoke of salty broth and limited depth of flavor among other points. Admittedly, I need to give this acclaimed chain another try. 

Tonkotsu Shoyu ramen at Kizuki Ramen & Izakaya.

• Kizuki Ramen & Isakaya (Capitol Hill): A mixed bag here, with some impressive elements and others that fell flat. The broth was a tonkotsu shoyu blend and was nice. As I’ve experienced before, it was not complex. It had a single flavor profile, but a nice one. The noodles were the star of the bowl: chewy and al dente with a distinctive flavor. The chashu felt like an afterthought; it was rubbery and not very flavorful. The egg was near perfect, and slightly runny. Menma was limp and overly cooked. The overall presentation looked like the bowl was prepared in a rush.

The “Americanized” karage chicken bun at Kizuki.

I had the karage chicken bun as an appetizer. It was OK, but seemed Americanized, as the sauce tasted like a topping for a fast food burger. Service was good and the restaurant interior is nicely modern.

Tsukemen bowl at Menya Musashi.

• Menya Musashi Tsukemen & Ramen (Capitol Hill): I was looking forward to a great tsukemen experience here. It was just fine. Broth had nice flavor. Noodles were OK, but no distinctiveness, key for a dish where the noodles are served chilled and bare. Chashu was good. All in all, it was an adequate bowl. Am I being too critical by comparing this to my experience at Tokyo’s legendary Rokurinsha and Taishoken? I will give props to the service which was super friendly and helpful. Plus the indoor-outdoor options make it a great fair-weather meal spot. It’s worth another try.

Porky goodness with garlic oil at Ooink

• Ooink (Harvard Ave): As you might deduce, at Ooink the pork is king. I really enjoyed their tonkotsu broth. It is deeply flavorful and rich. I ordered the Kotteri ramen which includes garlic oil. It was just enough of a blend to let the porky goodness shine through. Oddly, the chashu was disappointing. The slices were large and chunky, but I found mine to be lacking in richness and tenderness. Noodles were OK. Vibe is friendly but a little cramped.

My current overall favorite: Arashi Ramen.

• Arashi Ramen (Ballard): For me, this was the best of the bunch…for now at least. I’ll refer you to my previous review.

I’m not including the ramen shop where the chashu literally looked and tasted like a bland turkey slice. It has since closed.

I’ll close by saying that on a recent trip back “home” to Northern California I had some ramen at Menya Shono in San Rafael. The richness and execution of that bowl reinforced my perspective on what Seattle’s ramen lacks. I sincerely hope I get to change my mind after my next Seattle experience.

Arashi Ramen, Seattle

My first foray into the crowded Seattle ramen scene.

I just moved to the Seattle area, where there’s no shortage of ramen places. My first bowl was at the highly-rated Arashi Ramen in the Ballard neighborhood.  

The restaurant is a hole-in-the-wall eclectic spot with seating for about 25 people. Interesting Japanese posters and some unusual kitsch lends a casual, friendly feel. The menu has a good variety of ramen, most based on tonkotsu broth, a few rice bowls and some appetizers. They also seem to have a very respectable selection of Japanese beers and sake. 

Arashi Ramen is a cozy, friendly spot in a funky neighborhood.

I ordered the black garlic ramen and my usual starter of gyoza. 

The gyoza were excellent. The wrapper was delicate with a nice crisp char. The pork and chicken filling was flavorful and well-spiced; I’d even term it refined. Light yet rich, I could’ve eaten a dozen. 

The gyoza and dipping sauce were superb.

The black garlic ramen arrived and I immediately noticed the broth, which was light and almost clear. Not your typical rich and creamy tonkotsu-based broth. I had to ask if indeed it was tonkotsu and the waitperson confirmed this.

Upon first taste, I was pleased to find the broth was delicious and well balanced  The garlic oil added a richness, but wasn’t overdone as has been my experience with some past garlic ramen. Overall the broth was enjoyable; not complex but well executed. 

The black garlic ramen at Arashi.

The noodles were thin, al dente with a slight chew. They had a nice flavor. Nothing standout, but nice. The good amount of bean sprouts added a welcome crunch. The egg was fine, though slightly over-cooked. 

The chashu was tasty but fell apart as my chopsticks grabbed it. I would have liked more integrity there. But it was tasty with just enough fat. Unfortunate it got overwhelmed. 

The service was quick and friendly. Prices were reasonable. The street location is slightly grungy and isn’t in a well-trafficked area, so clearly this is a destination ramen spot. Arashi has another location in Tukwila, Washington.

Arashi makes a really good bowl of ramen.  I left satisfied and would definitely return to try other bowls. 

Ramen Club 5-Star Rating System:

Food:                                  3.75 stars 

Service:                               4.00 stars 

Atmosphere/Comfort:       3.25 stars

RATINGS LEGEND:  

1 star:   weak

2 stars:  just ok 

3 stars:  good      

4 stars:  very good      

5 stars:  superb or special