Located on Main Street and 148th ave near the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market, Kukai ramen is an authentic Japanese joint close to BC where students can sate their craving for rich noodles and hearty broths.
Opened in 2012, the Bellevue Kukai is the first Kukai to open in the U.S. and was followed by locations in Capitol Hill and Northgate.
The restaurant is bright and open, with Japanese decor – aside from the off-putting Halloween decorations which thankfully are temporary.
Customers are met in the traditional way, with the kitchen staff hollering Japanese greetings at everybody walking in. Service is prompt and quite Asian, with servers rarely checking in on customers, something I definitely appreciate.
Be warned, the J-Pop comes in loud. Often overtly cheerful and bouncy, the music was definitely distracting and took away from the experience. Thankfully not every song was of the saccharine-sweet variety and some were laid-back and chill, but it’s definitely a benefit or drawback, depending on the tastes of the customers. Otakus will be happy and metalheads will not.
The bowls of ramen are very customizable, with more than 10 different broths and 15 different toppings that can be added, from meats to softboiled eggs.
The kaarage chicken is a popular favorite topping for both ramen and rice dishes.
Those diners who can’t live without spice can get extra hot sauce added to a spicy broth for a fiery bowl of warm satisfaction.
Prices are very affordable, with small rice dishes for under $5 and most ramen bowls are around $10.
The usual assortment of beverages are offered, complemented by Japanese beer, sake and other drinks.
For those not in the mood for ramen, rice dishes topped with meats or tempura shrimp with vegetables are also served. The menu is rounded out with appetizers such as gyoza, croquettes, takoyaki and onigiri.
The ramen is exquisite, with perfectly firm noodles and broth full of flavor. Incredibly satisfying, diners will leave ready to take a nap, cozy and comfortable with a stomach full of noodles.
As Kukai is primarily a ramen place, I didn’t have high hopes for the rice dishes and wasn’t surprised. Dry meat and an uninspired sauce really didn’t satisfy in the same way the ramen does. Some of the chili-seasoned powder conveniently tableside helped jazz up the rice.
Less than three miles from BC campus, Kukai ramen is the perfect place for a quick bite with friends or a contemplative half-hour with a bowl or two of warm, satisfying noodles swimming in rich, pungent broth.