No milk. No MSG. But lots of fans. Photo by Nicole Sprinkle

No milk. No MSG. But lots of fans. Photo by Nicole Sprinkle

Betsutenjin’s Cult of Ramen

New to Capitol Hill, the Hong Kong chain serves just two versions, but the place is packed.

It’s hard to keep up with all of the poke and ramen places popping up all over town. As for the latter, Capitol Hill seems to be getting the newest spots, and I had been meaning for some time to make it to one of its latest, a place that’s growing a cult-following despite—or perhaps as a result of—its no-frills, no-fuss menu and atmosphere. Though it’s part of a Hong Kong chain, you’d never guess it. There are no sleek tables or other fast-casual signposts. In fact, Betsutenjin Ramen (954 E Union St., #102) borders on homely. It’s like an ugly deli without all of the cold cases, but with a TV blaring Japanese shows, two tables, and a bar with unfashionable stools and a lineup of Japanese flavored sakes, fruit juices, and beers. The whole place seats just 22 and, at 5:30 when one of the staffers raises the bamboo curtain and another comes out to enthusiastically welcome guests, there’s a small line forming—even on a rainy weekend night after the Thanksgiving holiday.

The menu itself, with terrible photos printed on an ugly laminated page, offers four items: two types of ramen, gyoza, and a lobster salad. So, what’s all the hype about? Before eating there, I’d read about how the restaurant prides itself on not using MSG or milk in its ramen (the former adds flavor or umami while the latter is used often to dupe people into thinking that the pork bone broth is richer than it really is). Pork (Hakata-style) ramen is supposed to be made by letting pork bones simmer for hours and hours, until it yields a creamy, lush broth—and here they claim to do just that, as well as adding the marrow and letting it all work its magic inside a pressure cooker. The result is a broth so white you’d swear there was milk in it; it’s milkier-looking in fact than any ramen I’ve ever seen. Think clam chowder territory. While it does impart a rich mouthfeel (almost oddly so) it was unfortunately lacking a bit in flavor; more precisely, salt.

Ditto for the prawn miso ramen. I loved the pink flecks of shrimp shell and how the taste of the prawn was so forward, the broth so precisely briny. Yet it too was lacking salt. While there are plenty of condiments to add additional flavor—from fresh garlic to fermented spicy bean sprouts, Japanese chili powder to pickled ginger—I actually had to ask for some salt, something I’ve never done at a ramen place before. Is that because there is no MSG in it? Perhaps. I don’t pretend to be a ramen connoisseur, but I know when something is under- or over-flavored. As for the noodles, they are thin and al dente, as they should be. Mushrooms, scallions, seaweed, thin slices of fatty pork, and soft-boiled eggs with beautiful orange centers round out the bowls.

The soup, which you can order on its own ($11.25 for pork, $12.95 for shrimp), can be turned into a combo for a few extra dollars by adding either gyoza (pan-fried dumplings) or a lobster salad. The gyoza are ho-hum and the lobster salad has that imitation “Krab” salad flavor profile and texture you get in poke bowls, and for which I have a soft spot. This one, too, has big chunks of the lobster, and comes with nori seaweed slices to sandwich it in. We also ordered a yuzu-flavored sake in the bottle, which they ironically serve in a little Champagne bucket with ice. It was a nice burst of flavor; I might start stocking up on these at Uwajimaya.

The whole affair, from seating to bill, took about 25 minutes tops. The restaurant is clearly designed for a quick-and-dirty meal, though the friendly staff manages to somehow convey warmth and not make you feel like you’re being hurried out, even though you are.

I appreciate tightly curated menus when there is something really special being offered and, while I respect the restaurant’s commitment to a pure version of ramen, at the end of the day I spent far too much time doctoring it up. I’m open to being disagreed with though (this city has a rabid ramen fan base), and I’ll likely show up again to re-test my palate.

More in Eat Drink Toke

A Different Kind of Dumpling

At Jiaozi!, unexpected flavors await.

I Do(obie)

How to marry the love of your life with your love of cannabis.

Legislature Lifts Outdated Restrictions on Food Trucks

How a Vashon Island food truck owner/operator helped end old brick-and-mortar limitations.

Photo by Nicole Sprinkle 
                                Persian beet salad at The Shambles.
Raising the Bar

The Shambles wants you to feel good, and eat and drink well—without acting like it matters too much.

Talkin’ ‘Bout Terpenes!

The aromatic organic hydrocarbons give cannabis strains their smells, flavors, and so much more.

The Opla Vietnam tops the menu. 
                                Photo by Nicole Sprinkle
Café Opla’s Eggcellent Vietnamese-Inspired Brunch

The tiny Alaskan Way spot serves up individual skillets of eggs with tasty bells and whistles.

Mary Jane and Aunt Flo

For people who suffer from cramps, cannabis could be a vital source of relief.

Hash Gets Hacked

A change in tracking companies has left Washington’s cannabis industry exposed.

Photo by Suzi Pratt for Salt and Straw
10 Things to Know Before You Go to Salt and Straw

The beloved Portland-based ice cream shop finally opens its Seattle outposts.

Photo by Conner Knotis 
                                Jerk Shack’s jerk chicken.
Bring on the Jerk

Finally, the Caribbean stakes a spot in Seattle thanks to Jerk Shack.

Dennis Peron. Illustration by James the Stanton
The Cannabis Community Mourns Activist Dennis Peron

The grandfather of medicinal marijuana was 72.

Touch Down in Kerala, India via Kirkland

It’s 30 minutes east of Seattle, but Kathakali boasts some of the best Indian food in the area.