Archive for March, 2009

Ramen Hunt part 2: Tenkaippin 天下一品

dsc_3005In our second part of our hunt for the best ramen in Hawaii we headed over to Tenkaippin.  Founded in Kyoto Japan in 1971 and laying claim to having over 200 locations in Japan I had high hopes that I had finally found a place that could compare to authentic Japanese ramen.  On a large poster, written in Japanese, is a history of the restaurant chain which says that it took three years and nine months to finalize their unique broth.  Again, my expectations were raised.  The place was crowded even with a fair number of seats.  Everything screamed “Japanese,” from the bookshelf full of Japanese language Manga to the articles from Japanese newspapers and signatures from Japanese stars posted on the walls.  Once again, I was expecting something great.  We tried out two different types of ramen; Kotteri Ramen, “Our #1 best seller.  Healthy chicken base soup so rich and unique, it’s habit forming.”  As well as Paitan Ramen, a tonkotsu based ramen.  So how did it turn out?

Men (noodles)

Fairly thick, and slightly heavy, it was far too soft and lacked depth of flavor.  The men was definitely the weakest part fo the ramen here.  Somewhere in between fresh and instant ramen noodles it lacked the flavor and texture that seperates restaurant ramen from instant ramen.  Both types of ramen were hurt by the men’s failure.

Kotteri Ramen


Extremely thick, strong chicken base soup, it has more in common with a white sauce than it does with soup.  I felt like I was eating pasta in a bowl.  I’ve never been to Kyoto so I don’t know if this type of ramen is common there but it didn’t taste like Japanese ramen to me.  I can’t stress enough how thick the soup is, it was like the inside of a chicken pot pie.  I’m sure if you haven’t eaten much Japanese ramen, and there by didn’t have many expectations, you could enjoy it.  It seems to be tailored to an American’s taste, an odd fusion of chicken noodle soup and chowder.  As it stands though, the Kotteri ramen soup is one of the worst I’ve ever had.


Kotteri Ramen


Very simple; green onions, menma (bamboo shoots), and a very small piece of char siu that lacked flavor and was gone in a single bite.  Nothing special at all.  Half-way through I added some chili garlic topping that helped a bit (the waitress actually encouraged me to add it), but it was too little, too late.


There’s no saving the Kotteri Ramen, it’s one of the worst bowls of ramen that I’ve ever had.  Considering that it’s Tenkaippin’s flagship dish I was expecting something unique and amazing.  It’s unique and amazing only in the sense of “what were they thinking?”


Soup    (light)   1   2   3   4   5   (heavy)

Men   (thin)   1   2   3   4   5   (thick)

Paitan Ramen


Standing in stark contrast to the Kotteri Ramen, the Paintan Ramen’s soup was quite good.  Still fairly heavy, though nothing like the Kotteri, it had a great Tonkotsu flavor.  In fact, the first thing we said was “this is Japanese ramen.”  I’m not saying it’s going to blow your mind or anything, just that it was very good and I have no serious complaints.  It still has the chicken base that is Tenkaippin’s specialty, the difference is that it finds a good balance between the chicken and pork flavor without having one over power the other.  Not having the density of clam chowder helps as well.


The toppings were much better than the Kotteri as well.  Roasted sliced garlic, red ginger, and green onions all worked well to enhance the flavor.  Unfortunately the sub par char siu was here as well.  Adding the chili garlic topping was unnecessary and would have detracted from the flavor.


Paitan Ramen


As you can tell, the Paintan was far better than the Kotteri and I found myself pleasantly surprised.  Regretably, even with the great soup base and toppings, the men detracts too much from the overall experience to ignore.  Add to that the pathetic char siu and there’s no choice but to relegate it to the slightly above average category.


Soup    (light)   1   2   3   4   5   (heavy)

Men   (thin)   1   2   3   4   5   (thick)

On a side note, the prices were a little steep considering that the portions were a bit on the small side.  Expect to pay $8 to $10 for the ramen alone or $10 to $12 for a set menu that comes with fried rice, gyoza, or fried chicken.  Gyoza was entirely average, don’t expect much.

Tenkaippin Hawaii

617 Kapahulu Ave
Honolulu, HI 96815
(808) 732-121 

*note on grading scale*  I choose to assign a letter grade due to the ambiguity that is inherent in a numerical/star system.  An “A” rating is given for the best of the best, “B” for really good, “C” for average, “D” for not very good, and “F” for complete garbage.  I am admittedly harsh in my reviews and as always they are based upon my own personal opinions.  ”Light” and “heavy” refer to how rich the soup is, “thin” and “thick” to the type of men (noodles).     


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