Rai Rai Ramen (Kailua, HI)

One of the great things about the very multicultural nature of Hawaii’s population is that it has quite the assortment of Asian restaurants to choose from, with a good variety of Chinese (including Americanized and Hawaiianized versions), Korean, Vietnamese, and Japanese restaurants. The state has a rather long history of loving noodle shops in particular; historically a lot of these were saimin shops, serving up a product that’s basically the fusion of Japanese, Chinese, and Filipino noodle traditions. But more recently, there’s been quite an upwelling of ramen noodle joints of both Japanese and Korean influence. Indeed, as we were wandering around Kailua on the windward side of the island (our original choice for dinner turned out to be closed on Sundays), we found a nice, modest ramen shop just off of Highway 61 in Kailua: Rai Rai Ramen.

Rai Rai is a modest joint, of about 30 feet square, and having only five tables for guests. Despite that, they seem to do a lot of takeout business, so it wasn’t terribly busy when we visited. What they lack in seating, they make up for in the menu variety, in that they have a great assortment of ramen dishes, with three different base broths (shio, shoyu, and miso), as well as several variants of these (curry and kimchi ramens, for example), and a good range of katsu meats and gyoza as side dishes.

Looking over the menu, we decided to split our order, with Carol getting the Shoyu Ramen, while I ordered the Kimchi Ramen. Both emerged from the kitchen after approximately five minutes. Carol’s Shoyu Ramen was a well-done example of a classic ramen dish: The noodles were spot on perfect, with the exact consistent we both love for our ramen: cooked just enough to have lost a bit of the wheatiness, but still firm and toothly, combined well with a rich and flavorful shoyu broth. A few chunks of flavorful char siu pork and fishcake, and this was a very flavorful ramen, one of the more enjoyable ones we’ve had recently.

I did even better with my Kimchi ramen. Built upon a rich and creamy tonkatsu pork base to which kimchi had been added, the result here was one of the most wonderfully delicious and slightly spicy broths I’ve had in a ramen dish—one that was even more rich and flavorful than the wonderful tonkatsu I had a few months ago at Bone Daddies in London. Add in just a little bit of flavorful pork and the same wonderful noodles as the Shoyu Ramen, and this was a thoroughly enjoyable bowl of soup.

Overall, Rai Rai has a great thing going on: great quality noodles, several great brothes, good meats, and reasonable prices. I’d be glad to go back for more (indeed, we did, a week later, on one of our last meals before heading back to the mainland). It’s one of the best places to eat on the Windward side of the island.

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