Bokujō Ramen (Rapid City, SD)

After completing our hike of the northern section of the Centennial Trail, culminating in a hike up the very scenic Bear Butte, we headed back to Rapid City. While most of our group was departing immediately, we decided to linger another two days, relaxing and checking out some of the local sights. First up was a repeat trip to Tally’s Silver Spoon for another righteous breaking (“After the doing, there is the un-doing”) and settling back into the Hotel Alex Johnson. After some light exploration, including a visit to the excellent Museum of Geology at the nearby South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, we decided it was time for lunch, checking out a place fellow diners at Tally’s had told us about: Bokujō Ramen .

Bokujō Ramen is located at the western edge of Rapid City’s downtown district on Rushmore Road in a short red brick building that’s pretty much the definition of “nondescript”, and one could easily walk by the place a dozen times without ever realizing it. Walking inside, however, the impression changes: it’s cozy and well-decorated interior with tables, bar service, grass-print decoration, and a few juke boxes. Quite frankly, it captures the essence of many of the Westernized ramen bars I’ve been to in New York, California, and London quite well.

The name Bokujō (牧場) means “Pasture”, and that’s basically the approach chef Justin Warner takes at Bokujō: Japanese noodle and broth dishes focusing on locally-raised meat. We had come here with one particular dish in mind: our referrers at Tally’s told us to try the Bison Ramen. Alas, a quick check of the menu showed that while Bokujō is open for brunch on weekends, the brunch menu didn’t include the Bison Ramen. But any disappointment we might have had with that quickly evaporated; the slimmed-down Brunch menu included a half dozen other varieties of ramen, brunch mazemen (a brothless ramen with soy sauce egg and mushroom), and a selection of buns, sake, and sake cocktails.

My eyes were immediately drawn to one menu item: Hakutsuru unfiltered Sake. About a decade ago, my friend Larry first turned me on to Nigori-style sake, served unfiltered, so it’s got suspended rice granules in it, resulting in an almost creamy texture, and I don’t usually see it offered for sale much in the US. Here, it was a pleasant start to the meal: a nice, softer sake, with a floral and slightly fruity flavor, reminiscent of flowers or strawberries. Definitely enjoyable, and a nice counterpoint to the salt and soy notes across the rest of our meal.

Carol opted to try a cocktail, going for the Sake Bloody Mary, featuring locally made Okobojo Lighthouse Bloody Mary Mix. Combining well with the sake, this made for a nice, well-rounded, and moderately bold Blood Mary.

For an appetizer, we got a bowl of edamame, classically prepared and served up with Maldon sea salt crystals so you get a bit of a salt crunch along with the edamame.

Then, it was time for the ramen. While I almost went classic with the pork tonkatsu ramen, I decided that due to the South Dakotan love for grass-fed beef, I decided to try to Gyukotsu Ramen, a beef bone broth ramen served up with kale, egg, scallion, and… chislic. For those that haven’t lived in a Great Plains state, Chislic (the official “nosh” of South Dakota) is basically lightly-seasons cubes of red meat (can be game, mutton, lambo, or beef), lightly dusted with flour, and deep-fried to medium rare. While half the reason I opted for this was the novelty of the ramen and chislic pairing (this sounds almost like “college food”), it actually worked rather well: the beef bone broth was extremely rich and flavorful, and dunking each cube of chislic into the broth worked quite well. The noodles had the perfect al-dente snap and served as a great conveyance of that rich broth from bowl to mouth. This was a great bowl of ramen, and really makes me want to come back and try the bison variant.

Carol, meanwhile, had the Yokohama Ramen. A more classic version of ramen, this was a rich pork bone and shoyu brother, served up with grilled pork belly, spinach, egg, and scallion. This was also a surprisingly flavorful broth, and the grilled pork belly was particularly flavorful here as well. I would have been quite satisfied with that dish as well.

While we missed the Bison Ramen, we definitely were satisfied with our visit to Bokujō. The ramen was top rate, flavorful, and reasonably-priced, the service pleasant and helpful, and the menu had a nice selection of sides to go with the ramen. We’ll be sure to revisit Bokujō on a future trip to the area, and schedule our visit for dinner hours instead so we can finally try the bison ramen.

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