Ramen is a "hot" food right now, joining such trendy items over the past few years as cupcakes (now no longer so hot), frozen yogurt (see previous comment about cupcakes), burgers (still hot), and hot pot (perhaps just getting started). And this last item is joined by another Asian food that used to be all the rage among college students with little or no money to spend, and while ramen is still plenty big on campus, it is also becoming increasingly popular in general in the region and across the country. A number of ramen shops have opened in the Greater Boston area over recent times, and many if not most tend to be pretty well-hidden, be it inside food courts (like Sapporo in Cambridge's Porter Square), in lesser-traveled neighborhoods (Hakata Ramen in Wollaston comes to mind), and perhaps one of the most hidden of them all--Ganko Ittetsu Ramen, which is buried away in one of the busiest parts of Brookline.
Ganko Ittetsu Ramen resides in the historic Arcade Building on the northern edge of Coolidge Corner, on the first floor of this slightly musty and dark stone structure that is home to a handful of businesses. The restaurant is tiny, with a small "outdoor" area at the entrance that is sometimes used for addition dining, and an indoor section with a few tables and some counter seating, and an small open kitchen in the back complete with flames shooting from the woks that are used to make the ramen. Service is friendly and extremely quick, making it a good option for diners who might be in a rush and looking for a fast but tasty lunch or dinner.
The menu at Ganko may be one of the smallest you will ever encounter, but since all of the offerings are outstanding, there is little to complain about (unless you don't like ramen, that is). All three main menu items are Sapporo-style ramen soups--Sapporo is a city in the northern part of Japan--that have slightly lighter and less-fatty tasting broths than at some of its competitors, and that feature a balanced mix of noodles, meat, veggies, herbs, spices, and oils. The miso ramen is relatively mild, with noodles, sliced pork, scallions, corn, sesame seeds, and ginger getting some added richness from a soft-boiled egg--and if you want, some heat from the addition of chili-garlic oil (or you can get the gankara miso ramen which already has the heat). The shoyu ramen has noodles and pulled pork (which is a bit more like ground pork, actually) along with diced onions, scallions, sesame seeds, nori seaweed, and an egg, along with the addition of crunchy garlic that really boosts the flavor of the relatively mild broth. Perhaps the highlight of the three is the tan tan ramen, which includes ground pork, onion, pickled veggies, scallions, sauteed cabbage, cilantro, corn, and wakame seaweed, all in a savory and creamy sesame broth that is so marvelous that drinking it by itself wouldn't be a bad option. One appetizer is offered at Ganko--a delicious plate of pickled cucumbers with sesame seeds and sesame oil--and a few beers and ciders are available (including local brews), along with non-alcoholic beverages. One note--Ganko sometimes has pop-up events featuring ramen from Japan, and when they do, the crowds can get almost overwhelming, so you may want to check in advance to see if they have these events on their schedule (not just to avoid the crowds, of course, but to also have the chance to try some special ramen options).
There are some great ramen places in the region, but not many reach the heights of Ganko; the broths are tremendous without being overly heavy, the ingredients used are fresh and of high quality, and the restaurant itself has the feel of a serious spot for food that might not be out of place in northern Japan. It may be in a rather odd location--and it probably isn't a good place to go with a large group of people--but this Brookline eatery is one that ranks among the best dining spots ever tried for this site.
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