In the next year, Portland’s ramen scene will shift from a gutsy, freewheeling playground for the locally born Boke Bowls and Boxer Ramens of the world to an expat battleground for Tokyo’s own top noodle soup players. In 2015, Kizuki Ramen opened up in Beaverton’s Timberland Town Center. Later this year, noodle-god willing, top-shelf ramen franchise Afuri will cozy up to the Commons Brewery on SE 7th Avenue and stake its claim to the throne. But right now, next door to Nong’s Khao Man Gai in inner Southeast, Marukin Ramen is arguably doling out the best ramen in the city, with rotating broths, magnificent noodles, and solid snacks, karaage to onigiri.
When Eat Beat first reported Marukin’s arrival in Portland last year, we were sure we’d have a long wait ahead of us. The original plan called for just one shop set inside soon-to-open Pine Street Market. But in March, the widely respected Tokyo operation doubled down with a second shop at 609 SE Ankeny St., next to Nong’s umbrella-lined storefront. The long, crimson-hued space has attracted lines out the door since softly opening in March. Luckily, Marukin turns out its food with lightening-fast efficiency—under five minutes from iPad swipe to communal table.
Two ramens rotate daily, classic pork to vegan-tofu-soymilk broth, most holding a modest assemblage of bamboo shoots, green onions, nori, soft-boiled egg, and chashu-roasted pork so tender that it falls apart with the gentlest prod of a chopstick. The housemade noodles here are unbeatable: thick, springy, and with more tooth than the Cheshire cat.
So far, Marukin’s signature Hakata-style tonkotsu shoyu ramen, made with long-simmered Carlton pork, is king. Milky white and salty good, this broth has such multi-dimensional porcine potency, it’ll have pork-belly obsessives squealing with pleasure. Portland’s exclusive flavor, the Marukin paiton shio, is quite nearly as good—a dark golden chicken broth rumbling with umami, but lighter than its tonkotsu counterpart.
Sides, like garlicky pork dumplings and hand-held onigiri rice balls with Japanese pickles are very good, while the juicy nuggets of fried karaage hold their own, but don’t quite beat out Noraneko’s super crispy version.
If Marukin has a flaw, it might be the strength of the spicy “red” ramen, neon orange floats of diabolical chile heat that blanket the revelatory broth and lead to coughing fits and furious snorts.
It’s no surprise Marukin is as good as it is. The mid-sized ramen chain has been perfecting its craft for more than two decades. Rather than simply sending operating instructions and ingredients stateside, the kitchen has an actual ramen specialist, Masaji Sakai, a Tokyo native and 14-year veteran of the Marukin brand running the show.
The Pine Street location can’t come soon enough.
609 SE Ankeny, Suite A
Every day, 10 a.m.–9 p.m.