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The Top Food Trends and Who Does Them Best: Ramen

An invasion of specialized noodle spots feeds our slurpy obsession

The Top Food Trends and Who Does Them Best: Ramen

Ramen obsessives line up for tangles of chewy noodles in rich pork broth at Kinton

Ramen is now Toronto’s preferred midday fuel. A wave of noodle restaurants began to open a year ago, prompted by the arrival of Momofuku’s Noodle Bar, and never stopped. There’s a hipster factor behind ramen’s popularity (a video circulated last fall of a guy who shaped his beard into a bowl, which he filled with Sriracha-doused noodles), but a major part of the appeal is the dish’s egalitarianism, combining cheapness with a gourmet sensibility.

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Review: Hokkaido Ramen Santouka, the first Toronto location of the Japanese noodle chain

(Image: Karolyne Ellacott)

SEE ALL NEW REVIEWS
Hokkaido Ramen Santouka  1 star½
91 Dundas St. E., 647-748-1717
santouka.co.jp

The influx of ramen bars in Toronto has spawned a new class of nerds who furiously debate the relative merits of broth, noodles, roast pork and toppings at each establishment. This Japanese import nails all the components. The signature toroniku ramen wins on the pork front, bringing slabs of tender jowl beside a bowl of creamy, salty broth and chewy noodles. The tsukemen ramen, however, has the better broth. The super-concentrated pork stock comes in a smaller bowl crammed with marinated soft-boiled egg, mushrooms and more delicious pork, with a plate of cold, thick noodles for dipping on the side. Portions are on the smaller side, which turns out to be a blessing—this is heady, filling food, and not for the feint of stomach. Expect quick-moving lineups, no matter the weather.

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The Dish Power Rankings: Top Chefs and Bieber power

Toronto Life’s weekly assessment of the restaurants with the biggest buzz, the longest lineups and the toughest tables to snag.

On Monday, the contestants for season three of Top Chef Canada were announced, catapulting their respective restaurants onto this week’s power rankings. Meanwhile, the mighty power of the Biebs bumps up the hype for an Annex diner, and the depth of Toronto’s appetite for brunch tacos is revealed.

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The Dish Power Rankings: The Valentine’s madness edition

Toronto Life’s weekly assessment of the restaurants with the biggest buzz, the longest lineups and the toughest tables to snag.

Edulis’s charming (and tiny) dining room propels the restaurant to the top this week on the strength of its Valentine’s bookings. Lower down, a couple new sold-out tasting menus debut, as does College Street’s next hot brunch destination.

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10 best Toronto ramen restaurants

Ramen is Toronto’s comfort food of the moment. A flurry of serious new noodle shops—some imported from Japan and Vancouver, others homegrown—opened this year, satisfying the pickiest of ramen nerds. Below, the 10 richest, most satisfying bowls in town.

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The Month That Was

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The Month That Was: the Toronto restaurants and bars that opened and closed in November

Santouka Ramen was one of the many ramen shops to open this month (Image: Karolyne Ellacott)

Opening

  • Skin and BonesDaniel Clarke and Harry Wareham, both formerly of Enoteca Sociale and Pizzeria Libretto, have opened the doors to Leslieville’s newest wine bar with chef-nomad Matthew Sullivan (Boxed, Maléna) in the kitchen. Read our Introducing post »
  • A-OK Foods—Yes, it’s another spot serving ramen, but this Queen West snack bar is owned by the trio behind Yours Truly and serves house-made ramen noodles. Read our Introducing post »
  • Rose and Sons—The first of Anthony Rose’s promised trio of restaurants opened with little fanfare and no liquor licence last week on Dupont. Rose is still tinkering with the menu, offering only brunch and lunch, but he’s launching a full dinner service on December 6. Read our Dish post »

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Introducing: Ramen Raijin, the new Toronto outpost of a Vancouver ramen pioneer

Introducing: Ramen Raijin

(Image: Renée Suen)

In the city’s ongoing ramen revolution, the two most recent players are both long-standing Vancouver favourites: Santouka, which opened two weeks ago, and Ramen Raijin, owned by Daiji Matsubara, who’s known for his Vancouver ramen emporiums Kintaro and Motomachi Shokudo. Named after the Japanese god of thunder, Raijin occupies the 3,500-square-foot former Creasians space—it’s much bigger than most noodle joints—on Gerrard Street just east of Yonge. Designed by the same team that outfitted Motomachi, Raijin’s decor blends Japanese and Western styles with warm woods, cool slate tiles, bright splashes of painted accents and ample lighting (as well, a six-foot statue of Raijin is at present on its way from Japan). But of course the restaurant’s raison d’être is found in the back stock-boiling kitchen, which prepares up to 300 litres of salty, fatty broth every day.

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Introducing: Santouka Ramen, the new Dundas Street outpost of the Japanese noodle chain

Introducing: Santouka

(Image: Karolyne Ellacott)

It’s hard to say when Toronto’s ramen wars began, but they’re clearly now raging in earnest. Opening on the heels of David Chang’s frenetically anticipated Momofuku Noodle Bar and the more unassuming Sansotei, Santouka Ramen is the latest emporium to offer ever more authentic versions of the cult Japanese noodle soup. This 36-seat location, on Dundas just a couple of blocks east of Yonge-Dundas Square, is the second Canadian outpost for the Hokkaido, Japan-based chain (the first opened in time for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver). Hiroshi Asada, who oversees both Canadian operations, tells us that consistency is key to the brand’s success: “What sets us apart is that we’re a chain, and we stick to the same recipe that got us here.” It’s clearly working: the place opened quietly over the weekend and is already facing surging lineups at both lunch and dinnertime.

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Hot Noodle Alert: Yours Truly owners are opening a new Queen West ramen shop this winter

Aleem Jamal-Kabani, Dan Hawkins and Matt Cherkas at Yours Truly (Image: Riley Stewart)

Ramen is rapidly becoming one of the city’s hottest food trends, alongside the likes of cupcakes, bacon and tacos. Over the last few months, Kinton, Sansotei and, of course, Momofuku Noodle Bar have all opened up shop, and Santouka and Raijin are on the way. Now, the latest hot-noodle-bowl news: Matt Cherkas, Dan Hawkins and Aleem Jamal-Kabani, the three partners who opened Ossington’s Yours Truly to great acclaim last December, are launching a new ramen shop on Queen West later this year. They’re keeping mum on the details for now, but we’re told the new place will focus on shio (salt) and shoyu (soy) broth, as opposed to the richer tonkotsu broth that’s served at Sansotei.  

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Hapa the latest Vancouver izakaya to migrate eastward

Wagyu beef cooked, tableside, on a hot stone (Image: dreamoo)

Yet more evidence that 2012 truly is the year of the Vancouver Japanese import: Hapa Izakaya announced yesterday that it will open a Toronto location this August, taking over Coco Lezzone’s old Little Italy digs. This follows on the heels, of course, of Guu’triumphant Toronto takeover of 2009 and Kingyo’s announcement earlier this year of plans for an eastward expansion.

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Yet another new izakaya on the way: Nejibee

Toronto will be positively awash in new non-sushi Japanese restaurants this year. First there was Don Don Izakaya, which opened up in February. Then Kingyo, the popular Vancouver izakaya, announced plans to open an offshoot in Toronto this year. As well, there are three new ramen joints on the way: Santouka, from Japan, and Raijin and Kinton, both from Vancouver, the latter of which has its grand opening this Friday (it also has a new, somewhat Black Hoof-y website). The most recent announcement: Nejibee, a Japanese izakaya chain specializing in teppanyaki, will soon be opening up shop on Wellesley Street just west of Yonge. The only question: will Nejibee’s welcoming salute be able to match Guu’s enthusiastic call or Don Don’s drum?

Nejibee, 24 Wellesley St. W., 647-748-2882, nejibee.ca, @NejibeeIzakaya

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Two Vancouver ramen shops coming to Toronto this spring

A couple weeks back, we told you about Kingyo Izakaya, a Vancouver cult favourite that had plans to expand to Toronto later this year. Now we bring news of two more Japanese restaurants making the trip east. First, there’s Raijin, a new ramen shop from Daiji Matsubara, the owner of Kintaro and Motomachi Shokudo in Vancouver. Raijin, currently in construction in the former Cr3asians space on Gerrard just east of Yonge, should be open in just a few weeks, permits willing (in other words: it could be a little longer). The other new ramen shop is Kinton, which owner Nobuaki Urata (who was the manager at Kintaro for seven years) tells us should be open on Baldwin sometime in May. Many devoted ramen heads have been singularly unimpressed with Toronto’s current offerings (although the new offerings at Guu have attracted early fans), but with the arrival of these two new shops, along with Japanese chain Santouka, things are about to get interesting.

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Japanese chain Santouka Ramen to open in Toronto this summer

A hot bowl of shio ramen from an Illinois branch of Santouka (Image: B.2010)

Though the ramen trend has been booming elsewhere for years, Toronto still has only a handful of joints serving up the rich, brothy goodness (and none of those satisfy the snobs experts on Chowhound). Good news, though—there should be at least one more option come summer, courtesy of one of Japan’s larger ramen chains, Santouka Ramen. According to Ben Hada, manager of Vancouver’s Santouka location, the company is looking at spaces in downtown Toronto and working to find local suppliers (which is causing some difficulty: apparently the Japanese restaurant supply network in Toronto is not nearly as developed as that in Vancouver). Santouka has devoted fans in Vancouver and California, where its tokusen toroniku ramen, featuring pork cheek served very rare, is particularly loved by locals. We have to admit we were a little disappointed when we found out that Santouka’s noodles are made by a Japanese manufacturer in the U.S. and not fresh onsite. What would Tampopo say? (h/t Eat)

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