Introducing: Kenzo Ramen, the newest contender in the Annex Japanese restaurant wars

Introducing: Kenzo Ramen, the newest contender in the Annex Japanese restaurant wars

The King of Kings is a spicy bowl of pork and ramen (Image: Gizelle Lau) 

Does the Annex really need another budget-friendly Japanese restaurant? After all, the strip of Bloor Street is flooded with dozens of spots serving up cheap options for students: $4 all-day breakfasts at Futures Bakery, $6 lunch specials at Sushi on Bloor, pad Thai at Thai Basil… The list goes on.

We say yes, yes it does, and you can forget the 50-plus-item menus, cream cheese maki rolls and mediocre miso soups that characterize the neighbourhood’s dining options. At Kenzo Ramen, owners Daniel and Rose Park (she’s the chef) are perfecting authentic Japanese ramen, a skill that Rose learned in Hokkaido under one of the city’s best-known ramen chefs. It’s their second location; the first is at Dundas and Bay. Unlike most frozen and restaurant ramen, Kenzo uses homemade ingredients and no MSG; Daniel’s allergic—and besides, as he says, “It’s not good for you.”

The noodle house offers a menu that is simple and wallet friendly, with 15 or so ramen options, all under $10, with a choice of soup base: basic, miso, spicy, or stir-fried noodles and such toppings as chicken and pork. In the coming year, tsuke-men (where the broth and noodles are served separately for dipping) will be added to the menu.

Soup stocks are made (they simmer for at least 24 hours) seven days a week using meat and bones from Charlies Meat and Seafood in Scarborough, as well as such dehydrated seafood as mackerel, flying fish, anchovies and shrimp that have been treated, cured and dried at the restaurant. Similarly, the thin noodles are made daily and aged overnight to bring out their flavour; pork is manually ground and seasoned on-site; and they make their own barbecued pork.

The restaurant hasn’t even been open for a month, and it’s already drawing students in for the warming King of Kings, a gargantuan tangle of noodles in a spicy broth crowned with barbecued pork, two kinds of seaweed (fresh and crunchy), a soya-sauce egg, green onion and fish cakes—a guaranteed way to get rid of winter chills and hunger pangs.

Kenzo Ramen, 372 Bloor St. W., 416-921-6787, kenzoramen.ca.