Among Seattle’s food set, there is much debate over which restaurants—if any—make the city’s best dim sum, bagels, pizza and ramen. And so, soon after Kukai Ramen & Izakaya, the first stateside outlet of a popular Japanese chain (“Kookai” in Japan), opened in December, the local ramen-ati lined up to judge for themselves. The crowds remain: The queue for Kukai, which lives in a strip-mall near a Menchie’s frozen yogurt shop and a Walmart in southeast Bellevue, is regularly out the door during lunch and dinner. All this for ramen? Indeed, and the ramen is very good. I especially like the light chicken shio (salt-soy sauce) ramen ($9), its broth sweet and bright, with firm greens, tender chicken and, best of all, atop the lightly al dente noodles, the ringer: a delicious soft-boiled, creamy-yolked egg. Each bowl of ramen I tried was quite satisfying, including the smoky, almost bacony tonkotsu (pork) broth served warm with dipping noodles (tsukemen, $10), and the citrusy yuzu shio ($11), with a slice of tender yet still firm grilled pork, yu choy (Chinese greens) and tender bamboo shoots. But it’s that tender egg that sets Kukai’s ramen above the others.
Lunch and dinner daily. Bellevue, 14855 Main St.; 425.243.7527; kukai-ramen.com $