Benkei Ramen Shop on Thurlow

by Ed Lau on June 16, 2010

Having spent a long period of time in Japan, I find that there are few places that I actually want to eat Japanese food at (as you’ll see in a restaurant review I’ll probably post in a week or so) as few places in Vancouver actually serve the sort of quality I come to expect at even the cheapest, most common place in Tokyo. I guess California rolls and teriyaki chicken are the Japanese equivalent to chop suey and sweet and sour pork for Chinese cuisine. Sure, they sort of seem like they’re probably right but they’re not really Japanese or Chinese food that Japanese or Chinese people would actually eat.

Instead, I search high and low for places that serve even half-way authentic Japanese food in Vancouver. Having eaten at some incredibly famous ramen shops in Japan, I actually had rather low hopes for the ramen here in Vancouver but surprisingly, many of the better ramen shops in town taste quite good. I had a pretty good experience at Kintaro during the Vancouver 2010 Olympics so I thought I’d give the other ramen shops in town a try as well. Benkei was next on the list.

Benkei has several locations and each is as busy as the last so be prepared to line up at peak hours. As someone that just hates lining up, I arrive after lunch time and even though I didn’t have to wait for a seat, the place was still pretty busy. The staff all cheerfully greeted me when I stepped in the door.

There’s three different standard ramen soups available at Benkei and I believe I saw a spicy soup or two on the menu as well. The shoyu is the lightest of the bunch, a mostly clear, soy-based soup. The Shio is the heaviest with a milky appearance from additional meat stewing and sea salt. Strangely, they say this is the most popular selection amongst women. The one in between is the Miso broth, which is chicken and pork broth.

Unlike Kintaro, you don’t get a choice in fattiness of the pork but there’s a number of toppings and add-ons available for 50 cents each. I picked a Miso broth and added corn and an egg in addition to the pork, green onion, bamboo shoots and bean sprouts already in it.

The broth is rich and flavorful but not overly fatty. I would never order the light soup but I can never bring myself to order the really heavy fat soups as I think I’ll just feel like dying afterwards. The miso soup tastes like hours worth of slow simmering pork flavorand there’s something else in it I can’t quite place. I almost finished the whole bowl of soup. Delicious. If you want, you can ask for minced garlic and hot sauce. I dumped a spoonful of garlic in there for even more flavor.

The noodles are cooked al dente the way they’re supposed to be. Slightly chewy with a little bite and bounce and nicely contrasted with the crunch of the bean sprouts, bamboo and sweet corn, all of which they were quite generous with.

The egg was good but I prefer it a bit softer with an almost raw yolk.

Oh man, look at that pork…it’s meltingly soft and although there is a decent amount of fat in there, it’s evenly distributed so you’re not getting big oily mouthfuls. Great cha siu. Every bite bursts with pork flavor and falls apart in your mouth before you even chew. I wish there was a bit more of it. Sure, you can order additional pork for $2 but you’re not getting very much (three slices) in your standard order. Add the pork. If I was hungrier, I would have for sure.

At only $6.95, Benkei is a fantastic value and my bowl only came to $7.95 with the egg and corn. The bowl isn’t quite as big as the one you get at Kintaro (which is about $10) but to be honest, that bowl is almost too big. The bowl at Benkei is perfect for lunch. I’d give the slight edge in broth to Kintaro but that pork at Benkei puts it on top. I had to fish out all the little bits of it along with the leftover corn, bean sprouts and bamboo as I slurped my soup.

If you’re on Robson and feel a little hungry, take a turn on Thurlow and head to Benkei. $7 is a fantastic value for food downtown and you’ll enjoy yourself a lot more than stuff yourself with all those overpriced, flavorless California rolls.

Benkei Noodle Shop (Thurlow) on Urbanspoon

in Food and Fine Dining

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

sell textbooks online June 17, 2010 at 8:51 am

I have a hard time trying to find good Japanese food as well. You would think the bad places would just fade away and be replaced by good ones.

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Komodo Dragon June 18, 2010 at 9:43 pm

Judging by the photos, it looks like something I would want to eat, it’s great to also see that they are located next to a McDonald’s that must mean its in a great location!

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arastirma June 19, 2010 at 6:23 pm

I have a hard time trying to find good Japanese food as well. You would think the bad places would just fade away and be replaced by good ones.

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Adelaide June 22, 2010 at 9:13 am

Thanks for the post. I remember passing by this during the Olympics and wondering how it was. And yes, there was a huge line-up.

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saglik haberleri June 24, 2010 at 12:10 pm

Oh the pork looks soo delicious I must eat it )))

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