I’ve been a little bored with the ramen in Vancouver lately. My top 3 places are still Ramen Jinya, Marutama, and Ramen Santouka. Taishoken made a blip last year, but ownership changes didn’t sit too well with me although when I tried their tsukemen last November, it was still good. Ramen Butcher was good but didn’t wow, and now they’re reworking their broth, which seems worrisome because considering their pedigree, wouldn’t their parent company have nailed a broth recipe already that’s precise to the last detail?
So this new ramen place on West 4th opens up and it’s another Japanese chain, Ramen Danbo. I’m not sure how Fukuoka-style tonkotsu differs from the typical tonkotsu ramen we see in Vancouver (eg. Santouka et al), but suffice to say that if you’re bored by all the tonkotsu in town, you won’t be surprised by anything here. But there are glimpses of greatness, and the coziness and friendliness of the staff make this a good destination if you’re in the area.
This space used to be Zakkushi a few years ago. So if you remember those years, you’ll know that the inside is VERY SMALL:
I think the coziness works in Danbo’s favour, evoking a true sense of a Japanese ramen-ya where it’s small and the point is to eat and run rather than linger.
Kaedama we’ve seen at places like Ramen Butcher, but the customization options are the most comprehensive that I’ve seen. You can choose your noodle firmness, thickness (I’d say richness) of broth, amount of lard (!), and amount of spicy tare sauce (which their website says is “Ichimi Togarashi red pepper powder mixed with Chinese spices and medicinal ingredients”.
All their ramen are pork-based tonkotsu bowls.
Beer list is no big whoop.
I chose the Classic Tonkotsu Ramen as a baseline for this visit. My dining partner Moyenchow chose the Negi-goma Tonkotsu Ramen, which the same except with toasted sesame seeds and sesame oil added.
Tableside condiments: white pepper and a little jar of puréed garlic. I’ve never seen garlic whipped to this oozy consistency before. If you’re a garlic-head, you’ll love it.
Negi-goma Tonkotsu Ramen with a damn near perfect egg. Some people do enjoy a little edge of cooked yolk surrounding the gooey yolk.
Classic Tonkotsu Ramen with very firm noodles, standard thickness of broth, standard lard, and standard spicy sauce.
The “spicy sauce” tastes spicy, herbally, but bland cuz I don’t think there’s any salt added to it, so I think it’s more for just mixing into your soup. Doesn’t function well as a smear or dip for your chashu.
The chashu was cut on the thin side. The outer skin/fat layers were tender but the centre meat part was dry and tough. Pretty much the worst chashu I’ve had in a while. The saving grace were the noodles (thin yet firm, good flavour) and also the soup.
The soup is actually the milkiest/creamiest soup I’ve had in recent memory. The flavour is good, but I was wanting a bit more depth and complexity. It’s almost a great soup. But I did enjoy the milkiness and drank almost all of it. Just something in the flavour profile prevented it from being a “wow”.
The Pan-Fried Yaki Gyoza were good, not great. The frying was ok. Could’ve been crispier. Santouka’s gyoza are still the best in the city cuz of the flavour of their filling.
Sauces for gyoza. What appears to be a seasoned soy sauce and a chili oil. Might have to wait for Moyenchow’s review to see what exactly that sauce on the left is…
Even though the food was merely good, with hints of greatness, I’d still come back here if I was in the area. The staff are cheery and friendly, with one girl in particular photobombing your food photos and throwing up “V” signs. She’s a riot.
Ramen Danbo might be in the Top 10 of ramen places in the Lower Mainland, but definitely not in the Top 5.