The ramen craze continues into the new decade. The city of Portland might be one of the least diverse on the west coast (at least in recent years), but Beaverton (in the PDX metropolitan area) remained a stronghold for the Japanese. The love for ramen and the number of chefs who are capable of churning out these dishes is rather obvious with the list of great ramen shops in and around Portland proper. Many people swear by the simple and authentic Ramen Ryoma right next to the mega Japanese supermarket Uwajimaya, but the country-renowned noodle slurping restaurant goes to Boxer Ramen. Boxer is so ubiquitous with Portland that they now have five different locations. We chose to go to the one in Pearl District, hoping that the line would be shorter on a Friday night. Lucky for us, there are plenty of parking and none of the crowd. Yet.
Boxer ramen kept their menu very simple. There are basically four different ramen options, I opted for the Shiitake Shoyu ramen while the lady got the Tonkatsu Shio ramen. (Here is the little ramen knowledge that I know – shoyu means soy sauce, whereas shio means salt. Tonkatsu uses pork broth and are believed by some Japaneses that it is only for men because the flavor profile is very strong) I requested a serving of smoked pork shoulder to be added into my bowl due to the lack of protein. On top of the noodles, we also ordered okonomiyaki tots. This is probably the most interesting side, among the fried potstickers and wakame salad. Rumor has it that both the veggie curry (reminded me of Malaysian curry noodle) and Spicy red Miso (the Gochujang and miso is evident of inspiration from Korean Shin ramen) are very popular, but we wanted the more traditional noodles and none of the spiciness.
The potato tater tots come out first. Bonito – dried fish flakes that are usually added into soup for flavor, are put on top of the tater tots that is smothered in both tonkatsu and spicy sauce. The heat from the bottom, both literally and figuratively, makes the bonito flake dances as they soak up the moisture. I don’t think the bonito add much flavor to the tater tots because of the explosion of flavors from the sauces and spicy flakes, but the entertainment provided by them dancing is worthy of the Bonito to be included here. By the way, they are delicious. There is nothing Japanese about this, but tots are always awesome, and Boxer managed to bring it to the next level. I could eat this all day, but the main event has not even arrived yet.
We are served with our noodles as the crowd begin to pour in slowly. They are rather large bowls and I would recommend against adding additional noodle if you have ordered the tots (and I highly suggest getting those tots!) I’m pleasantly surprised that smoked pork shoulder is literally pulled pork, and they complement nicely with the shoyu ramen. The shoyu noodle base and the noodles are easily on the upper echelon of ramens I have had, but like I said in all my previous posts, I’m not a super fan of ramen and can’t tell a good one from a better bowl. The tonkatsu ramen, on the other hand, has a very strong profile. I would recommend against ordering it unless you love tonkatsu. Me, I just eat yummy things, and like both the flavors. But if I have to choose, I would stick with the milder shoyu noodle.
It might be the location of this restaurant, or the time of the day (and year), but Boxer never got busy. I was expecting the crowd of Momofuku (the concepts are rather similar), but that might be comparing a mega corporation and a local startup. Which is a shame, because Boxer taste better and is cheaper than Momofuku’s. In fact, do people even like Momofuku anymore, or is it just a Instagramable moment? Then again, Boxer is competing in a saturated ramen city, and to have a fleet of restaurant in Portland when restaurants close left and right all the time? Kudos. Even for someone who is allergic to ramen soup base and noodle, come for the dancing bonitos. Totally worth a visit. They should rename themselves as Boxer Ramen & Co.
Address: 2309 NW Kearney St.
Visited: Dec 13, 2019 at 7pm for dinner.