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What are the best places for vegetarian ramen in the city? I see plenty of ramen lists geared towards omnivores, but sometimes ramen shops’ non-meat options feel like an afterthought with bland broth and anemic toppings. Inner east side would be ideal. Thanks!
Hey, Madeline — it’s rough when your dietary preferences feel like an afterthought! In the last seven years or so, Portland has had a real ramen boom, spurred by the arrival of real-deal Japanese chains like Afuri, Kizuki, and Marukin (now Kinboshi). As you noted, a lot of ramen shops (whether they’re imports or locally owned) recognize that Portlanders and visitors expect vegetarian options; after all, we’ve got a reputation to uphold. But when it comes to tracking down the bowls you really want to eat, I have a few ideas.
Baka Umai is my top pick — the restaurant offers vegetarian and vegan versions of a lot of their standard menu items and play with ingredients like smoked tomato paste, apple, ghost pepper, and honey-roasted peanuts. Ramen-wise, the menu is split into three sections: broth ramen, brothless ramen, and tsukemen (noodles that are dipped into broth, which is always a fun order). For my money, you can’t go wrong with the vegetarian chorizo-men. The tantan broth is spicy — you can pick your spice level — and full of flavor, and there’s a wealth of toppings: a jammy egg, a pile of soyrizo, spicy cabbage, pickled daikon, cilantro, and green onion. Plus, the shop’s house-made noodles are some of the best in town. Although it’s a little further out on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard, I think it’s worth the trek.
Afuri’s hazelnut tantanmen is a must-try for ramen lovers, both vegetarians and omnivores. The broth is creamy, spicy, and has a tasty nuttiness to it, which is less weird than it sounds. Toppings-wise, the bowl’s miso cashew crumbles are particularly noteworthy, and you can also add fried garlic chips for an extra flavor boost if that’s your jam. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like Afuri serves the dish at its Southeast 7th Avenue restaurant anymore, but you can find it at the Afuri Ramen and Dumpling location in Old Town, which isn’t too far from inner Southeast.
Eater Portland’s resident vegan expert Waz Wu sings the praises of Kinboshi’s seasonal chilled ramen, which she finds to be “toppings-heavy and more flavorful than the restaurant’s hot ramen.” The snag is that it isn’t available right now, but with the weather turning hot this weekend, we wager that it’ll return soon. While you look forward to that, Kinboshi currently has four vegetarian (actually, fully vegan) options on the menu; miso, spicy miso, and regular and spicy versions of its soymilk-based shio tonyu ramen.
Waz also points to Kayo’s Ramen Bar on North Williams Avenue for its stand-out vegan broths. Vegetarian options definitely aren’t an afterthought here, as every ramen on the menu is available with vegan broth and tofu. Spice levels are adjustable, from mild to super hot, and you can sub wheat noodles with vegetable noodles (made with zucchini and daikon) or go halfsies. Further afield, in Tigard, she also shouts out Mugen Noodle Bar’s hazelnut curry, which comes topped with tofu, shimeji mushrooms, wood ear mushrooms, corn, and pickled mustard greens.