ADDRESS: 925 Isenberg Street, Honolulu, HI 96826
There’s something about a nice, hearty bowl of ramen that is always so satisfying. Growing up, there weren’t many authentic ramen shops in my area; the first time I visited a ramen shop was when I went to Ippudo NY with my friends Daniel and Ryne when we were visiting New York City. For my family’s Hawaii trip, our cousin Connie had mentioned that the island has a large Japanese food scene, so ramen was certainly on the list of something to keep an eye out for.
My brother Kevin has always enjoyed eating noodle dishes, so he was stoked when we added Agu Ramen to my family’s itinerary while we were on Oahu. The restaurant has since expanded to several different locations around Honolulu, but we went to the original location that was set up next to the St. Louis Alumni Association on Isenberg Street. It looked like a small location from the outside, but they could still probably fit about 35 – 40 people inside the space.
Ramen is usually categorized by the type of broth that is used. In Agu Ramen’s case, they served three primary types: chicken, pork, and vegetarian. The menu is absolutely filled with options, 20 different in this case. For a novice ramen eater like myself, that could get pretty overwhelming, and I spent a good chunk of time just reading through all the descriptions. All the different ramen bowls sounded great, which made it that much harder to choose.
Luckily, our waitress stopped by and we started asking her what she would recommend at the shop. She pointed out the kotteri tonkotsu style, or rich pork broth, as being what the restaurant was known for. Of the four different types available, I went with the Agu’s Savory Parmesan, which took their “Original Kotteri” broth (infused with black garlic oil and fried garlic slices) and added freshly grated Parmesan cheese for another flavor twist. We also added on an order of their house-made gyoza (fried dumplings) to start the meal off.
The exterior of the restaurant definitely stands out among the cream-colored buildings on the block, with the bright red paint job and the name of the place plastered up top in large letters. The dining room really gave off a modern feel, with contrasting colors between light / dark brown, white, and black, coupled with ample track lighting. The walking path around the dining room was just a U-shape, going around the central “bar” seating area. All the stand-alone dining tables had a mahogany wood finish to them, with the chairs having more of a light maple wood finish. Despite the smaller space, I’m glad that the management decided to distance them out a little bit to give each group some breathing room when eating.
Our order of gyoza arrived in no time, six pieces lined up and pan-fried until golden brown. The wrapping was nice and thin, so the overall dumpling didn’t taste too doughy. Inside was a nice mix of pork, cabbage, and chopped garlic, which combined for a great savory taste, but nothing too strong. All the gyoza was gone in no time, and understandably so; they really were a great way to get your appetite churning for the ramen to come.
A ramen bowl’s presentation is mostly a work of art, and these bowls of ramen were no exception. Served in a custom black bowl stylized with “AGU” on one side, my Agu’s Savory Parmesan ramen had an interesting array of contrasting colors, including black, white, tan, green, and yellow. The black sesame oil that floated to the outer edge of the broth almost made it feel like part of the bowl was blending into the food. The yellow from the aji tamago (Japanese soft-boiled egg) provided another bright spot to counter the black, and the bright green from the scallions helped to make it a garnish that visually stood out in the center. They say you eat first with your eyes, and that truly was the case here.
This ramen that I had was perfectly categorized under the “Kotteri” section, since it was definitely rich in flavor all right. Because almost all the ingredients in my bowl were associated with salty flavors, it pushed right up to the edge of my saltiness tolerance. Despite that, I still very much enjoyed the combination of flavors that the ingredients brought. The garlic chips and sliced pork char siu were great compliments to each other, with the black sesame and pork broth flavors soaked into the ramen noodles. The Parmesan cheese was definitely a slight question mark for me initially; cheese is almost non-existent in Asian dishes. It was certainly an interesting addition, and added that ever-so slight earthy taste characteristic with the cheese. Roasted sesame flavors were prevalent throughout the broth as well, and the scallions cut through the savory flavors with its own sharp, slightly sweet flavor.
As it turns out, my mom was still a bit hungry after her ramen, and asked our waitress for another recommendation outside of the ramen list. She was quick with her reply: the Soboro Donburi, which had ground chicken sautéed in a sweet ginger sauce, served over rice with half a soft-boiled egg, scallions, and thin strips of seaweed. Even though it arrived in a pretty large bowl (usually used to fit their ramen), all of the rice was gone in almost no time. All four of us ended up chowing down on this after our respective bowls of ramen; it was just so delicious, with a fantastic blend of sweet and savory flavor. That ginger sauce added a slight tart flavor that balanced the sweetness just right. The seaweed and scallions also helped to add contrasting flavor profiles to the remainder of the dish to round everything out.
The food here was absolutely spot-on. Great flavors, great portions, and certainly well-balanced. I’m not normally one to eat foods with warm broths during summertime, but for this ramen, I would certainly make an exception. Agu Ramen offered my family something completely different than everything else we had eaten during our two-week Hawaii trip. I was also glad that this place gave my mom and dad a very positive first impression of authentic ramen (not the 99 cent dried ramen packages from the supermarket that we used to eat years ago). Now with several locations around Honolulu, Agu Ramen is a great place to look to if you’re in the mood for a nice, hearty bowl of ramen that is rich with an abundance of flavors.
Let’s now take a look at the Agu Ramen Dish Spotlight. Asterisks (*) below mark my recommended dishes.
And finally, here are my rankings for Agu Ramen:
Food: 5 / 5
With a wide array of ramen options to choose from, it makes it difficult to determine what to try. For my bowl of ramen, the broth, noodles, and toppings all combined for a phenomenal flavor experience. The sweet and savory flavors of that Soboro Donburi shouldn’t be missed either.
Atmosphere: 4.25 / 5
The modern ambiance is complimented by a large window and windowed entrance doors on the front-side of the restaurant, which lets a lot of natural light into the dining room. The additional track lighting inside brightens up the place even more, and the finished wood furniture just gave things more of a slightly refined feel.
Service: 4.5 / 5
Our waitress was very friendly to us, answering all the questions we flung at her about the food. Throughout the meal, she would frequently stop by to refill our drinks and ask our thoughts about the food. We also didn’t have to wait very long before all the dishes were cranked out of the kitchen.
Price: 4.5 / 5
An average price of $15 for a bowl of ramen is about what you might find at major cities. From the taste, it seems like the restaurant uses higher-quality ingredients as well. Given how good my ramen was, I’d happily shell out the money.