Friday, October 15, 2010
A block or two from both Kintaro and Motomachi Shokudo, Benkei Ramen was, until recently, the newest addition to the "ramen district" around the intersection of Robson and Denman in downtown Vancouver's West End. While Kintaro seems to be the established, more traditional, ramen joint in Vancouver and Motomachi Shokudo is a bit more modern, higher end and features some original variations of ramen, Benkei offers a much more streamlined experience. The menu is very standardized and easy to understand; one side shows the variety of basic choices (different broths are shio, shoyu, miso, akaoni and peko, each come with their vegetables and toppings) and the other side lists additional items like spinach, kimchi, egg, etc., that cost 50 cents each to add to your ramen. There are also side dishes like gyoza but I've never felt the need to order anything other than a giant bowl of soup.
I think Benkei is overall the cheapest option out of those restaurants ($7.30 for the cheapest "basic" bowl) and the food always arrives within minutes of ordering, even when it's totally packed. I think the ramen at Kintaro is a bit more substantial and I prefer their chashu (pork slices) but Benkei is a close contender, especially their spicy "Akaoni" (that's what's in the photo above). There is definitely a place for Benkei despite competition from the already established ramen places and they must be doing something right because several new Benkei locations have opened up in and around downtown, all fitting the same streamlined format that makes Benkei perfect as a franchise. Apparently there is always room for more ramen in this town because Hokkaido Ramen Santouka opened up a few months ago just down the street from the first Benkei location. All these places manage to compete with each other, both in terms of price and quality, and offer their own benefits and signature takes on the versatile dish which is good news for ramen-fans.