Restaurant Review By Jin Chong
For ages, Anchorage has been a desolate wasteland for one of my all-time favorite dishes. I’m referring to ramen, and while it might have been possible to come across a version at a sushi restaurant that amounts to nothing more than a cobbled-together afterthought, it wasn’t until Naruto and Ramen House opened several years back when true believers such as myself could experience the magic behind this deceptively simple dish.
Indeed, there is a cult-like fascination surrounding this pillar of Asian cuisine, which has inspired countless tomes and other forms of art like the surreal 1985 comedy Tampopo (requisite viewing for hardcore fans). My undying devotion explains why I was ecstatic upon hearing the news back in 2020 that a pop-up restaurant named Kami Ramen was taking root in the since-departed Malaysian eatery Roti. Naturally, I made it a point to visit and see if they were up to snuff.
It was everything I could’ve dreamed of out of a ramen experience, from the bouncy, resilient texture of the noodles to the creaminess of their kuro mayu broth. They even featured chicken karaage and katsu curry to hammer home the idea they knew a thing or two about Japanese cuisine. But as with all good things, their brief occupancy came to an end, and soon after, I fell into a deep, dark depression while holding onto a faint glimmer of hope that Kami would ever be reborn anew.
The ramen gods must have heard my fervent prayers as we fast forward to today, and Kami Ramen has since opened a permanent location off of Spenard. They’ve transformed this former shack of a building into a quaint and cozy izakaya-style restaurant with an obligatory bar setup where diners can belly up and watch the chefs at work.
That’s precisely what I did on my last visit as I observed each cook running a multitude of tasks, such as ladling opulent streams of rich broth with skillful precision. At one point, I noticed one person wielding a giant industrial-sized immersion blender, which was presumably used to break up the chicken carcasses which help constitute a milky-white broth. It was an entertaining reminder of the amount of time and labor that goes into excelling in this craft.
Kami’s boasts nine different ramen types, including a vegetarian ramen made with a kelp and mushroom base. Beyond that, there’s an entire section dedicated to rice plates along with a hefty list of appetizers that are mostly familiar with a few standouts, such as their deep-fried “taujoo pork belly.”
For our starters, my wife and I each ordered one pork chashu sandwich along with a chicken katsu with black pepper sauce to share. As expected, the sandwiches here aren’t your average garden variety made with Wonder Bread—instead, they serve a soft and pliable bao bun with a mound of a smoky, shredded pork nestled within, along with thin slices of green onion.
Bao buns often make for an excellent sandwich bread due to their pillowy, cloud-like texture, so I was disappointed that certain parts of the buns weren’t even close to being cooked all the way through. There was a fair amount of dense, crunchy bits, suggesting these buns may have been previously frozen. Fortunately, the rest of the sandwich was able to salvage things overall. The pork was meaty and sauced with a soy-based glaze, while the raw bite of the scallions helped keep the sandwich from being too heavy.
The signature panko crust on chicken katsu makes it difficult for me not to order this delicious analog to chicken fried steak. At Kami, their katsu can be had with their house curry or what they call a black pepper sauce. I was a little more than curious to know what this was about, and I found it’s essentially an oniony roux or cornstarch-thickened gravy with its black pepper levels dialed up to a significant degree.
It was homey and comforting while simultaneously propelling the chicken-fried steak comparison further. Yet, for how the juicy the chicken cutlets were, this entrée simply can’t compete with the restaurant’s namesake, which I consider to be in a league of its own.
My ramen of choice this time was the tan tan ramen—an overt homage to the Sichuan noodle dish dandanmien. Another fun fact: I attribute this style to kickstarting my ramen obsession after trying it for the first time at Goma Tei Ramen in Honolulu. While ramen styles can range anywhere from mild to explosively aggressive on the flavor charts, this one tends to be situated somewhere towards the tail end of the spectrum with plenty of spices and the inclusion of nutty sesame paste.
With Kami’s version, their broth didn’t end up being nearly as salty as I was expecting. That’s a definite plus, given how headache-inducing the sodium levels in ramen can often be. The opaque broth was imbued with chicken-y essence and possessed a creamy mouthfeel backed with a spicy burn that registered in the back of my throat. The two main toppings—minced pork and wood ear mushrooms—both lent satisfying textural contrasts while simultaneously contributing their own unique flavors.
Ramen just wouldn’t be what it is without the signature alkaline noodles, which can vary in size and shape. With that said, the noodles in my tan tan ramen were somewhere between angel hair and spaghetti noodles in terms of girth. They were cooked a little bit past my preferred level of doneness, but they still managed to succeed at picking up all the flavors of the broth while the generous quantity made them exceedingly slurpable.
I sampled some of my wife’s vegetarian ramen too. The broth was remarkably clear with tiny beads of oil dotted all over the surface. I especially enjoyed how clean it tasted with most of the flavor derived from earthy mushrooms with hints of oceanic salinity from the seaweed.
Fried nuggets of tofu stood in as the protein component, and I was surprised to find that these somehow retained a bit of crisp coating all the way through their demise. Thin slices of wood ear mushroom made yet another appearance here and their crunchy texture felt even more appropriate in this meat-free rendition that proves ramen doesn’t always have to be an exercise in fatty indulgence.
With winter in full swing, ramen can be an excellent source of comfort and warmth. But on a larger scale, the best bowls can highlight the dynamism and harmony of ingredients that characterize the exciting world of gastronomy. Though Anchorage is now home to quite a few dedicated ramen shops, Kami Ramen raises the bar through their respectable takes on the classics and serve as a beacon to those that have yet to bask in the full glory of this fabled dish.
Kami Ramen is located at 3807 Spenard Rd and is open Tuesday — Thursday 11am — 7:30pm and 11am — 8:30pm.