Kintaro Tonkatsu Ramen

by Ed Lau on March 4, 2010

Hang out with me long enough and you’ll realize that one of my biggest pet peeves is lining up. Queuing for anything regardless of what is just something I can’t stand doing for more than a couple minutes which is probably one of the reasons I didn’t try Kintaro until last week. As one of Vancouver’s most popular noodle places or heck, one of Vancouver’s most popular restaurants in general, the line-up outside the tiny establishment is ever-present. I love a good bowl of ramen but I don’t love it enough to stand behind a bunch of other people for an hour.

It might also have something to do with the fact that I’ve been to some of the best ramen places in Japan and in my mind, there is little that could stack up against the spectacular bowls of noodles that I’ve had in Tokyo and beyond.

The circumstances for my visit were rather perfect, actually. After standing out in the rain photographing the Olympic celebrations in and around downtown Vancouver, I was soaking wet, cold and craving something hot and soupy while I dried off. However, it was about 10:30pm and I didn’t expect much to be open since that’s generally the way things are in Vancouver. You’d be lucky to find something that isn’t McDonald’s open past 8. I usually took Denman to avoid all the road closures and in doing so, I stumbled upon the neon OPEN sign in front of Kintaro. I thought someone just left it on by accident but parking right outside, I could see that there were people inside and that the place didn’t close til 11pm!

I don’t like dropping in on restaurants that close to closing but I was starving. I was greeted by three extremely cheerful waitresses and two ramen chefs behind the counter as soon as I walked in, a good sign since that was the norm everywhere in Japan. A quick scan of the menu and the one dish that jumped out at me was the Miso Ramen, which had everything short of a boiled egg and, well, how can you not order something that so boldly states that it is “Kintaro’s BEST!!”

My waitress asked me whether I wanted it with light, medium or rich broth as well as lean or fat pork. Previous experiences with fat pork have me a bit scared of it since I’ve gotten pork that is literally just a big chunk of pig fat so I decided to play it safe with the lean pork and medium broth. This is, by all accounts, a mistake since after looking at pictures from other folks, the fat pork is still meat rather than all fat (and looks delicious).

The bowl is significantly bigger than I expected and unlike certain pho places around town, it is not just all soup. In fact, it’s a rather huge serving that had a big eater like me quite full at the end although monsterous eaters like Stephen Fung might still find themselves a bit wanting. With the noodles and pork, you get a load of corn, green onions and what I believe are bamboo shoots, one of my favorite things to go with noodles. They’re crunchy and taste great.

The noodles are fantastic with a great bit of bounce to them. Ramen should never be to soft. There should always be a certain degree of chew to the noodles and the noodles at Kintaro are certainly well made, comparable to some of the stuff I had in Japan. The serving is plentiful but I still wished there was more noodles.

I’m not quite sure if this is the regular serving of pork everyone gets or if I just got more since they were getting near the end of the night but I got about five or six rather large slices of pork. Despite being the leaner cuts, the pork was still quite flavorful and only a bit less tender than I prefer. Not dry but it could’ve been better. I imagine the fat pork has even more flavor. Next time…

The broth…well, the broth is amazing and packed with flavor, made from a dozen different spices and a blend of soy pastes. I’m glad I got the medium broth since it was plenty rich already and I enjoyed a lot of it with the bits of corn and green onion even after all my pork and noodles were gone. I imagine that the rich broth might be a bit too much and slurping it afterward would just result in a food coma minutes later.

Is Kintaro worth lining up for? For me, no…but that’s only because I hate lining up. If you’re more…normal, I’m sure even if you had to wait for a half hour or so, you’d be very happy with the food. I enjoyed myself and probably would’ve loved it even more had I ordered the fat pork since the lean pork was a bit of a miss for me.

At first glance, one might think that $8 is a bit much for a bowl of noodles but considering the quality of the food, the large serving that you get and the fact that most regular pho places charge a similar amount anyways, Kintaro is a steal. There are more interesting (and more expensive) options on the menu that I intend to try some other time. Anyone else want to join me for round two? It would have to be late night though…to avoid the crowds.

All in all, if you want something hot, soupy and delicious during the chilly, wet winter months here in Vancouver, stop by Kintaro and decide if you want to queue up. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

Kintaro Ramen on Urbanspoon

in Food and Fine Dining

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

slif March 4, 2010 at 9:27 pm

I prefer the broth at Motomachi 3 doors down (towards Georgia), but the pork at Kintaro is friggin’ awesome – but I know what you mean, After having ramen in Japan – it’s downright impossible to be satisfied with anything else.

I’ve never actually lined up at Kintaro – I’ve always had really good timing and I generally go during non-peaks

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Michael Kwan March 4, 2010 at 9:39 pm

Motomachi Shokudo is totally different than Kintaro. Motomachi uses organic chicken stock and is a healthier option, whereas Kintaro is more of a traditional ramen house with pork base. You don’t get the floaty (and delicious) fat with Motomachi. There’s another ramen place around the corner on Robson that I’ve been meaning to try, but it’s name escapes me at the moment.

For those interested, I took a few pics and a video of Motomachi the last time I paid them a visit:
http://btr.michaelkwan.com/2009/12/29/motomachi-shokudo-ramen-house-video/

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Michael Kwan March 4, 2010 at 9:37 pm

I love Kintaro! And yes, getting five or six slices is beyond the norm for the place. You typically only get maybe three or four slices-ish. The soup is great, the noodles are better.

It’s a good thing that they closed the Richmond location, since that place never stood up to the reputation of the Denman location. Nowhere close.

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Carl Nelson March 5, 2010 at 2:45 am

If you’re gonna get tonkotsu ramen, not much point in getting anything but the thickest broth… But I guess it’s still considered “healthy” to eat less fat. I usually HATE noodles, but a super thick tonkotsu is great with a lot of cha shu is great :D

Coincidentally I just ate at one of the thickest places in Japan a few days ago. I got cha shu with extra cha shu and it was fantastic! Kept me full too, unlike most noodles. ;) http://post.hardcoreware.net/ramen-in-shibuya-cha-siu-with-extra-cha-siu-t

Next time you go to Japan let me know and I’ll let you know what the restaurant is called.

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DaveO March 6, 2010 at 1:28 pm

Yup this place in legendary – i too lived in Japan and crave the authentic experience and tasty noodles and Kintaro delivers. In the summer months, they serve cold ramen which is so incredibly excellent i could gorge myself to oblivion. After the fireworks one night – i almost did ;) .

BTW, track down the movie Tanpopo – a Jizo Itami movie about making the perfect ramen.

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all weather furniture March 10, 2010 at 9:42 pm

Ramen does not take a long time. I would not recommend a crock pot. You should never cook miso a long time as you kill the good things inside of it. The noodles should not be cooked a long time either.

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