Let me start out by saying that I’m pretty sure I don’t like ramen. I know, I know: what’s not to like? It’s salty, it’s carby, you can add veggies and chicken for added protein and flavor, and at a price point under a buck, it’s a freshman dorm-room winner.
That’s probably where the whole “fancy ramen” trend started anyway, at least in the U.S.: let’s take this college staple and turn it into a gourmet experience. Tasty is tasty, right?
Well, no. Maybe it’s the slightly disparate Asian flavors I don’t like, or the fact that ramen can’t decide whether it’s a soup or a solid; perhaps it’s that I can’t figure out how to eat it without dropping half the noodles and splashing a bunch of broth on myself. Whatever it is, ramen isn’t my favorite.
But you know what? Ken’s Ramen in downtown Providence is pretty darn good.
Located on Washington Street in the Red Fin/Local 121 area, Ken’s Ramen is a delightful little hole-in-the-wall that focuses on fresh, delicious, relatively cheap noodle bowls in a fast-paced but not overly crowded environment. There’s almost always a line out the door, but the service is quick without making you feel rushed. And although there are a good number of tables, you never feel like your sitting on top of anyone else (although, fair warning, if you’re a party of two or less, you will probably get seated with another couple or solo diner). There’s also a decent-sized bar where you can watch the cooks at work and drink a nice warm (or cold) glass of sake.
Each noodle dish at Ken’s comes with chicken or pork, although if you’re vegetarian, you can opt out of these. Most of the dishes come with a broth, but if you order the Tan-Tan Mazemen like I did, it’s broth-less and is also the only dish you can easily pack up as leftovers. You order on a dry-erase sheet with a marker, a quaint touch that my inner child couldn’t help but be excited about.
Most of the dishes come with a standard selection of veggies: beansprouts, mushrooms, scallions, onions. You can also customize your dish and add more veggies, spices, meats, etc. for an additional cost. Every bowl comes with house-made noodles that are delightfully fresh and cooked al dente, so you can slurp without them falling apart – and in my case, actually pick them up without dropping the entire chopstick-full.
The Tan-Tan Mazemen was flavored with lime, sesame, and a ra-yu (chili) sauce for a little extra kick. My diner-in-crime ordered Ken’s Tsukemen, a great option if you prefer to dress your meals yourself in order to avoid over or under seasoning. The Tsukemen separates the noodles from the sauce, allowing diners to combine the two bowls of deliciousness as they see fit. Add the noodles to the dipping broth, or the dipping broth to the noodles; it doesn’t matter how you do it, it’ll still taste good. In fact, I may have liked this dish even better than my own because I was able to taste its components separately and then together, allowing me to truly appreciate the different flavors that made up the two bowls.
If the line of people waiting outside the doors for Ken’s to open at 6 p.m. nightly is any indication, this ramen headquarters will continue to be a great place to stop for authentic Asian cuisine on a small budget in the center of downtown Providence. Even I had to admit that I was excited to eat my leftovers the next day. And you know what? They were even tastier than I remembered.
69 Washington St.
Providence, RI 02903
— Shannon Curley