BlogTO recently put up a new "Best of..." list: The Best New Cheap Eats in Toronto 2009. Now the first thing I do when I see a new list is check out the map to see which ones are convenient for me to get to. Right away I picked out two that were walking distance from work; #14's Oh Boy Burger and #6's Kenzo Ramen. Since Kenzo Ramen was a little closer, we decided to check them out last Friday.
When I think ramen, the word cheap definitely comes to mind. My grandparents owned a convenience store when I was young and they told me a story of this customer who only had $3 and 3 days until his next paycheque. He ended up buying his meals for those 3 days. $3 worth of instant ramen!
Now there's nothing wrong with instant ramen (except for the fact that it's loaded with sodium and MSG!). It's easy to make, inexpensive and quite frankly, pretty delicious. That said, if I was going to a ramen restaurant, I expected them to blow those $0.50 packages away. Let's see how they fared.
Kenzo Ramen is at 138 Dundas St. W which is right by Dundas and Elizabeth. It's about a couple minutes away from the Eaton Centre and you really can't miss the Japanese decor on the outside. They have a big Japanese style wooden sign along with a Japanese banner at the front. I have actually walked past this place a few times and noticed the store front. I never bothered to actually look at it though as I just assumed it was yet another sushi restaurant. Now my friend told me she's been to the one uptown at Yonge and Steeles but after a quick google search, it looks like they just relocated downtown.
As for the actual restaurant; they decorate it with Japanese lanterns, Japanese cloth screens and Japanese art to give it an authentic Japanese feel...or at least that's what I would assume a restaurant in Japan would look like since I've never been to Japan. The kitchen is located at the back and there isn't a wall dividing it so you can see right into it from the dining area.
My only gripe with the restaurant is that it is too small! When we arrived, there was a small line up so in order to fit everybody in, we had to keep the door ajar. The waiter came over and asked if we could close the door. Well, I would if we could all fit! I would estimate that the seating capacity is around 25 people or so.
I ordered "The King of the Kings Ramen" which seemed like one of their more popular items on the menu. My order came very quickly and I dove right in. The King of the Kings Ramen features ramen noodles of course, seaweed (dry and wet), bean sprouts, ground pork, slices of pork, green onions, a slice of fish paste cake (the white with the red swirl) and half of a hard boiled egg all in a spicy pork based soup.
The soup is what makes this meal. It had a decent kick to it and is similar to a Korean pork-bone soup. The slices of pork were very tender and flavourful. From where we sat, we could actually see the pork being slow cooked in their oven. The rest of the ingredients pretty much tasted the way you would imagine it tasting. The meal was delicious and I wasn't left dying of thirst like I normally would after a bowl of instant ramen.
As a side, I also split an order of Tacoyaki with my two co-workers. Despite the name, tacoyaki isn't a teriyaki taco. The menu said it was baked octopus. Having never tried octopus, I was curious as to what this would taste like. Upon getting the order, I noticed that they were topped with dried octopus, crushed herbs and mayonnaise. The balls were also very soft (that's what she said). It appears that they are balls of batter with a chunk of octopus inside it (think Chinese sweet and sour chicken balls but baked instead of deep fried). I picked one up with my chop sticks and took a bite. My first bite was all batter (which tasted like the batter from a deep fried banana) but I could see a chunk of octopus as well as melted cheese inside. After my second bite, the morsel of octopus was gone. It was chewy. The texture was very much like calamari but the taste was different. It had a stronger seafood taste. Similar to abalone. I'm not a huge fan of seafood so the next time, I will just stick to the pork dumplings as a side.
The King of the Kings Ramen was $9.95 before tax and tip. While delicious, it's a far cry from a couple packs of instant ramen which will probably cost a loonie and change. You do get a healthy serving but like most soup-based meals, I was hungry an hour later. There are definitely better lunch time deals to be had but if you are craving noodles then give Kenzo Ramen a try.
Verdict: 4 Yutaka Fukufujis out of 5
Kenzo Ramen specializes in ramen and their menu reflects that. They have a limited selection of no more than 20 items; most of which are noodles in soup. They even have a couple of Japanese beers and sake on the menu. The service is quick but they could work on being a little more friendly. I don't think I've seen a smile from either of the 2 waiters. The food itself is great though. The three of us really enjoyed our meal and would definitely eat there again. Since Kenzo Ramen was recently relocated downtown, I guess it isn't really a new place but it is still a restaurant worthy of paying a visit to.