MARUKIN RAMEN isn't messing around.
I normally try to avoid media previews, but I couldn't resist trying the Tokyo chain's before they opened last month. It was there on SE Ankeny, at their first US location, that co-owner David Rademacher told me he'd secured visas for four Japanese crew members. And he said he also hauled over a $30,000 noodle-making machine.
It's a big upfront investment, especially since Marukin is opening a second location at the new Pine Street Market downtown on May 1—but it's already paying big-time dividends.
Marukin's been mobbed since day one with noodle obsessives paying homage to the latest, and maybe greatest, addition to the Inner Southeast ramen row. Marukin is within a one-mile radius of Noraneko, Boke Bowl, and Mirakutei, while another venerable Japanese enterprise, Afuri, is expected to open this year on SE 7th.
Now back to that noodle machine: I wasn't allowed into the kitchen to see it, but I know it's back there, hidden, doing some really good things with gluten. Those noodles make for a delightfully springy base for a rotating selection of three broths a day—it's best to check Marukin's website to see when your favorite is being served. All bowls are $10.
The tonkotsu pork ramen gives Wednesdays a big midweek boost (it's also served on Sundays). It has a Carlton Farms pork shoyu broth that's so fortified it's milky white, although there's not an ounce of dairy in the whole restaurant. With pork chashu slices on top, each bite involves pork on pork on pork... then some more pork for good measure. This is just about as rich as a soup can get, and it's one of just a few bowls of tonkotsu to be found in the metro area.
The Tokyo shoyu combines pork and chicken broth, noodles, chashu pork, and a creamy egg. The clear broth has a delicate complexity that intensifies as you slurp your way through the bowl. A Portland-only Marukin paitan shio is also a wonder (and similar to the equally delicious Chicken Rich at Beaverton's Kizuki): Its creamy chicken-based broth is deeply comforting and homey, despite the fact that it originates from an ocean away.
There's a daily vegan option topped with lightly grilled tomatoes and other health items—which is nice for our animal-loving friends, but the broth lacks the depth of its meaty cousins.
The Marukin Red is the color advertised, with a lava flow of hot chili oil that will satisfy any pepper fanatic, but it also makes the experience one note.
Most of Marukin's izakaya-style sides need a bit of tweaking, especially because hungry eaters will want to supplement the modestly portioned soups. (Or do a bang-bang: Eat your ramen and then go next door to Nong's Khao Man Gai for chicken and rice.) This goes especially to the fried karaage chicken ($8), which has been routinely bland and a little too heavily breaded (Noraneko retains the karaage crown), as well as the dull and expensive onigiri rice balls ($3 each). The pork gyoza ($8) and an order (or two) of the addictive fried ebi tiger ($8) are the best bet, with the shrimp getting the same treatment as the karaage, but with crisp, flavored results.
But sides aside, you're here for the ramen, and that's on lock.
609 SE Ankeny, Ste. A, and Pine Street Market (opening May 1), 133 SW 2nd. 894-9021, marukinramen.com. SE Ankeny open daily 11 am to 9 pm; Pine Street hours coming soon. No reservations. Get in line, then get a seat. Bring your kids—there's Ramune soda!