In the next year, Portland’s ramen scene will shift from a gutsy, freewheeling playground for locally born Boke Bowls and Boxer Ramens to an expat battleground for Tokyo’s own top noodle soup players. In 2015, Kizuki Ramen opened in Beaverton. Later this year, noodle gods willing, top-shelf ramen franchise Afuri will cozy up to The Commons Brewery to stake its claim to the throne. But right now, just a few blocks away in inner Southeast, Marukin Ramen is arguably already doling out the best ramen in the city, with rotating broths, magnificent noodles, and solid snacks, karaage to gyoza.
The Portland location, next to the umbrella-lined brick-and-mortar Nong’s Khao Man Gai, is the first in the United States for the widely respected midsize Tokyo chain. It’s had a line out the door since it opened in March. (A smaller, second outpost is set to launch at the newly minted Pine Street Market.) Luckily, Tokyo native and 14-year Marukin veteran Masaji Sakai assembles bowls with lightening speed and miraculous consistency: under five minutes from iPad swipe to a seat at a communal table.
Two ramens rotate daily, from Hakata-style tonkatsu pork to a vegan-tofu-soymilk broth, most with a modest assemblage of bamboo shoots, green onions, nori, soft-boiled egg, and chashu-roasted pork so tender that it falls apart with a prod of a chopstick. The house-made noodles here are unbeatable: thick, springy, with more tooth than the Cheshire Cat. Sides, like garlicky pork dumplings and nuggets of karaage fried chicken, make for solid distractions, but the showstoppers are the bowls.
So far, Marukin’s signature tonkatsu, made with simmered Carlton pork, is king. Milky white and salty good, the broth is packed with multidimensional porcine potency. The Marukin paitan shio, is a close second—a dark golden chicken broth rumbling with umami, but lighter than its pig-based counterpart. If you take your ramen spicy, be warned: these guys don’t fool around. If Marukin is any indication of Portland’s ramen future, let the turf war begin.