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May 7, 2009 03:57 PM

pho vs ramen

If you had to chose only one, which would it be? And where would you go to get it in Waikiki? I've only had Pho in resturants, and ramen out of the 30-cent packages from the grocery store, so my opinion may be a little skewed, but please help me decide.

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  1. For pho, Cuu Long is best, IMO. Pearl Kai Shopping Center, 98-199 Kam. Hwy, Unit B7, Aiea. Worth the bus ride. There also is Cuu Long II on River St. near the SW corner of Chinatown, but I have not eaten there. But why do you have to choose?

    1. for ramen try Gomaichi just mauka of Ala Monana Center, across Keeamoku from WalMart

      1 Reply
      1. re: KaimukiMan

        I've tried both Gomaichi and Goma Tei and really prefer Goma Tei at Ward Center near Borders. They also have excellent chicken tatsuta-age.

      2. I'd choose ramen. Go to in Waikiki. When I went there, they only served ramen and ramen with pork. I've heard that they've expanded their menu. Get the ramen with pork. I haven't tried Gomaichi, but Kiwami had the best ramen I've ever had.

        23 Replies
        1. re: mixmastermidori

          Well, KaimukiMan, you have never steered me wrong before, but this time I went with Garrett because I was already going to Borders. Goma Tei was decent, I got in right away with a booth at the counter, and ordered Wakame (sp?) Tan Tan ramen - noodles with seaweed and half a hard boiled egg - based on the reccomendation of the person sitting next to me. It was good, and once I added the hot sauce, the spicyness was ok, but I think I prefer Pho due to the bowl of fresh chilis, bean sprouts, and basil. Also, the sauce is a little thinner, which I think I prefer. Overall, way better than store bought, but I think I'll go for Pho next time. Note: They are currently selling Ichiban at half price, which went great with my meal

          1. re: MrBigTime

            MrBT -

            I reread your original post, and realized, as often happens, my advice was slightly off topic. Since you have had good Pho (in restaurants) but only had packaged ramen before, my advice was based on the idea that you should try some good ramen. So, yeah, I may have misled you. I guess I'm glad I live in a world where I don't really have to choose one over the other, but can take my pick depending on how I feel. As Maxwell Smart used to say "Sorry about that chief."

            Ramen isn't normally considered to be a "spicy" dish, although there is nothing wrong with adding hot sauce or whatever, after all, thats why they put it out. Was the ramen you tried a soy or miso base? Sometimes I feel like one, sometimes the other.

            1. re: KaimukiMan

              Well, I've tried several pho and ramen places, and I defintely like pho better. How about a saimen recommendation?

              1. re: MrBigTime

                Saimin is a local variation of ramen, part Chinese, part Japanese, part Hawaiian. Four places i think you could try are:

                Shiro's Saimin Haven, The original is in Waimalu Shopping Plaza. Shiros has the widest selection of "add-in's" anywhere on the face of the earth. They also serve other local favorites like loco moco. The broth is good, but not too strong, and the noodles are really good.

                Forty-Niner Fountain: The building has been around forever, and operated under different owners on and off as long as I have lived in Hawaiii. I've only been twice within the last couple of years, but I think it is one of the more under appreciated eating places in Aiea. At the corner of Hoomanu and Kamehameha Highway, they have a really good saimin, they make their own broth and the noodles are cooked just right. They also serve plate lunch type food. The fried saimin is good here too.

                Boulevard Saimin, on Dillingham just ewa of Waiakamilo Road, Boulevard has also been around for a long long time. It's good, but not outstanding, but a step above Zippys.

                Palace Saimin: ok, the hours are nuts, and sometimes they just don't feel like opening. The menu is limited. Saimin, Udon, Saidon (half saimin noodle, half udon noodle), with or without wun-tun. But its good. So are the bbq sticks. This is the closest thing I know of to an old fashioned Hawaii Saimin Stand. Open Tue,Thu-Sat 11am-3pm, 8pm-11:30pm; Wed 11am-3pm. Prepare to stand in line, and maybe share a table. Palace is located on North King Street a little bit Diamond Head of Diner's but on the mauka side of the street. 1256N King St. Parking is iffy.

                I don't recommend McDonald's saimin. It's not terrible, but it is definitely McDonald's. Zippy's saimin for all the grief it gets is not all that bad, and its the only place I know of any more to get saimin in the middle of the night, unless likelike still has, but their saimin never impressed me much.

                Oh, there is a saimin stand on Liliha, half way between School and Kuakini (Jane's?). I've never been, never heard anything about it, so if anyone knows anything, I'd love to find out.

                1. re: KaimukiMan

                  Nice descriptions from KM, with Palace Saimin being my favorite, followed by Boulevard. KM is right though about Boulevard, good saimin but not outstanding. What makes up for that is the diverse menu, burgers, plate lunches, etc., where everyone in the family can find something to eat. Agree about Palace being the closest to those old time stands that used to be plentiful in Honolulu in years past. Sekiya's in Kaimuki which has been around forever is also a saimin, wun tun min, bbq stick option. Not as good as Palace but not bad either.

                  1. re: curiousgeo

                    ha, i live within 3 blocks of sekiyas, and never get over there. maybe i'll give the saimin a try this week, thanks geo! Come, we go grind.

                    1. re: curiousgeo

                      Just got back from Sekiyas. I had the WunTun Min, with Saimin noodle. The basic order comes with green onion and char siu garnish. I added "vegetables" (watercress and won bok) as well as kamaboku (fish cake.) Another friend got the same but no add-in's, and a third ordered the pork tofu (he added watercress.)

                      All of us thought our meals were very good, I ordered the large, and meant to order a bbq stick (teri beef) but forgot. The shiro (broth) was very flavorful, I thought I tasted pork, but maybe it was chicken or mixed. The saimin noodles were cooked just right, and the garnish was generous.

                      I think the biggest problem is that it is just under 3 blocks from my condo.

                      Thanks CG, great suggestion.

                      PS: Here is the link,
                      the prices on the pdf take out menu are current as of mid-dec, 2009.

                      1. re: KaimukiMan

                        KM, I was reading your post yesterday while having my morning coffee and said this is making me hungry. So today I pick up my son after school let out half a day for Christmas Break and ask him what he wants for lunch. He asks if we can eat saimin so I suggest Sekiya's!

                        We both order a large saimin with 2 bbq beef sticks, plus a cone sushi for him. The cone sushi has a typical okazuya taste, ok by itself but delicious with the bbq sticks. The bbq meat is nicely broiled with an old fashioned sweet, sticky teriyaki sauce, that is quite tasty. The saimin was good but the soup was a bit on the salty side today, which can happen occasionally. All in all a good, satisfying lunch.

                        Thanks for the link, I heard from my parents that Sekiya's used to be on School Street but didn't know it was on Kapahulu Avenue at one time. I've been coming to the present location since the late 50's, early 60's as a kid.

                        1. re: curiousgeo

                          CG, just letting you know I'm blaming you for any weight i gain in the next two months. Went back to Sekiya's on Thursday night. At 7pm we had to wait a few minutes for a table, and service was a bit slow... but... the food was good. I had the Chiken Katsu. Really good, maybe not the best I've ever had, but really good. Having the miso soup first along with the chazuke was really nice. The katsu was crispy, and not too oily, nice flavor. My two friends (not the same two) were both feeling haole (one is one isn't) they both had the hamburger delux and french fries. They both enjoyed them and told me we are going there more often. Fine by me.

                          Oh, yeah..the shiro was a little salty when I was there too, but not way salty, and it sure beats the watered down broth you find other places.

                          1. re: KaimukiMan

                            KM - speaking of weight gain, did you wander over to Leonard's for dessert? (Second best malasada on the island.)

                            1. re: MRMoggie

                              I have trained myself to be unaware of the proximity of Leonards, although I am occasiionally remided of the song from Camelot... "whenever the wind blows this way...."

                              the real problem is that Champion is only a few more blocks in the opposite direction. Thanks goodness Agnes' is across the pali and Punahou Carnival is only one weekend in February.

                              ps: was back at Sekiyas and had the fried saimin. not quite kings, but close.

                            2. re: KaimukiMan

                              Just ran across this thread about good old saimin and Sekiyas which took me way back in time several decades ago. I used to live on Belser St. (where the H-1 is now) when I was a kid but never knew Sekiyas existed until attending St. Louis in the early 60s. That used to be a local hangout for after dances and late night gigs playing at parties back then. I was told that Sekiyas was known for their cha shu fried saimin which to me is still my all time favorite. But what I was really interested is in finding something or somewhere to replace the old time standard Tanoue's saimin on Waialae which has all but disappeared with good ole' mama and papa-san of the past. Nothing to this day has ever come close to that certain flavor that I still remember. Maybe it was the certain type of noodle they made, or the kombu and seafood soup base, but mama and papa-san took it their graves for sure?

                              1. re: Clinton

                                Aloha Clinton. I liked going to Tanoue's too, not my favorite place, but always reliable and tasty saimin and bbq. You're right about places like Tanoue's, it had a one of a kind taste found nowhere else. It's a pho restaurant now, never set foot in there after Tanoue's closed. Thanks for the memories, I'd almost forgotten about it.

                                1. re: curiousgeo

                                  Aloha Curiousgeo. I've been searching for that ultimate old-fashioned saimin all my life and have never ever came close to that specific taste I remember. There was a small place on Kokohead Avenue in Kaimuki where I believe there was a delicatessen that served that type of saimin back in the late 50s close to where Duk Kee is now. Another place was on King Street near some Buddhist Temple on the mauka side of the street. Back then King Street was a two-way street too. But I digress.
                                  Anyway, back then saimin was categorized into two types. The Japanese version was with heavy flour pasta-type curly noodles topped with with kamaboko, egg slivers, and green onions. The other was the Chinese version with thin soba-type egg noodles with a shrimpy, beefy soup stock with a sprinkling of cilantro. My favorite for the Chinese version was at Tin Tin on Maunakea Street or at Fong Fong Restaurant on 10th and Waialae Avenues. Those days are all gone now.

                                  1. re: Clinton

                                    I don't recall Fong Fong Restaurant but I do remember Tin Tin Chop Suey, a Chinatown hole in the wall if there ever was one. Going to eat in the early morning hours was always an adventure, especially when the "girls" from the Glades would stop by for some wun tun min.

                                    There was a great chop suey place across Mauna Kea Street with a chalkboard menu, wooden booths and a cement floor that served steamed chicken with lup cheong and spare ribs with black bean sauce over wun tun. The name is on the tip of my tongue but I can't remember it, another long gone place.

                                    1. re: curiousgeo

                                      Tai Sam Yuen, if my memory is correct.

                                    2. re: Clinton

                                      The wonders of the Internet! someone who remembers Tin parents used to take us there for jook. So does anyone remember (long gone now) Shirabe Saimin Stand in Palama on the little street next to the Palama Theater? That was my grandparent's stand, they came over from Japan with their noodle making machine and made everything from scratch, broth, noodles, teriyaki meat sticks. I still remember that Coca Cola cooler with ice blocks in it!

                                      1. re: CHOPSTIX

                                        I live on the mainland now but I remember Shirabe Saimin Stand in Robello Lane with fond memories. Went there many times as a kid, but couldn't afford the bottle of Coca Cola. But sometimes I got treated with the barbeque stick. Do you remember the name of the Japanese camp behind the saimin stand?

                                        1. re: CHOPSTIX

                                          My goodness! I think that MAY be the place I was thinking about that had the best tasting saimin near the old Palama Theater. It was so long ago (probably in the 50s) but I do slightly remember the Japanese camp or school nearby. Also there were some pine trees in front that had little pine cones that hurt when you stepped on them barefooted. Oh if I could only find a place that can recreate their formula. That is the taste I was looking for.

                                          1. re: Clinton

                                            My grandparents lived in Honolulu before they passed away. When I visited them as a kid I remember getting won ton min and saimin soup at McCully Chop Suey. I am going to be back there this month and am curious to explore saimin again. However, now that I am all grown up I am a vegetarian! Does anyone by any chance have a recommendation for vegetarian saimin, if such a thing exists? Thanks!

                                            1. re: Aristotelian

                                              I think most Chinese places will have a vegetarian saimin (wor min?), but I don't know of any specific place to recommend. (McCully Chop Suey is no longer there, though.)

                                              Most ramen places also have a vegetarian dishes.

                                              Sorry, that wasn't very helpful.

                            3. re: curiousgeo

                              every time i go to palace saimin, i get to hear my dad tell everyone how when he was young, the mamasan now was just a waiter.

                              recently the owner has handed down the establishment to her children and they've made a lot of great changes!

                              the bbq sticks are now tender and sweeter, sometimes very rare (yum). the old ones tasted ok but were hard like a shoe heel.

                              saimin is still great and they made a few minor changes to the menu.

                              hours of operation are standardized, i think lunch and dinner every day, and they're a lot more efficient.

                              yes, the old saimin house is right across the street, but don't bother with them.

                              jane's on liliha by l&l is good saimin too.

                              i love both ramen and pho, but i don't have a favorite restaurant for either.

                              now i'm hungry.

                            4. re: KaimukiMan

                              Thanks, KM, for the recommendations for Saimin. You're always a great source and mainstay on this Board.

                              I thought I would respond to this old post regarding Ramen and Saimin. Having recently visited Oahu, I was curious about the actual history of saimin. Although Ramen has been gaining popularity everywhere, Saimin has a unique history of it's own and is uniquely Hawaiian.

                              Actually Ramen and Saimin have different yet similar origins. Sources say that saimin, which is a Chinese word, seems to originate in the old plantation days as a mixture of Japanese style soup with Chinese noodles.

                              Ramen also came from China, but mostly after World War II when the Japanese troops familiar with Chinese noodles came back to Japan developing Ramen. I think the noodles for Saimin and Ramen are different as well.

                              Having read about the origins of Saimin now makes me want to sample the various Saimin spots in Hawaii on my next trip.

                    2. OK,

                      I'm purposely reviving this thread because it has more about Saimin in in than any other thread I remember. Most of it is still applicable.

                      Boulevard Saimin has split into two companies, Dillingham Saimin and Tanaka's Saimin. Neither of which appears to have fared well for all the trouble they went thru. Supposedly both are the same as the original Boulevard, but from the reviews I have read, neither really is.

                      Tonight I got one of my friends to go to The Old Saimin House with me. It is almost across the street from Palace Saimin, and is another old style saimin stand. OK, it's a restaurant, but for some reason the term saimin stand still holds on. He and I both had a large wonton min. The wonton were good size and had a reasonable amount of filling. The saimin noodles were properly cooked, 'al dente' but not hard, and no broken pieces (one time at Cuu Long the noodles in the pho were all broken up, obviously the bottom of the barrel). The shiro (broth) was mild but nicely flavored. I've seen some people complain that it is salty, neither my friend nor I found that to be true. The shiro at Palace may be a little more intense, but this was good. I usually put some of my shoyu-mustard into the shiro, I held off on that just to be sure the salt taste didn't build up, and that there was no overwhelming MSG flavor either. Nope, nice clean clear broth. There was a nice portion of char siu and a very healthy serving of green onion. I was surprised there was no kamaboko, but maybe thats just the wonton min. I had a bbq stick, which was nicely bbq'd, more on the shoyu side than teriyaki, but it was a nice lean juicy piece of meat, so it didn't need the sweetness or the stickiness of a teri sauce. All in all a good bowl of saimin.

                      The guy at the next table got the fried udon (thick noodle) and it looked and smelled very good. Lots of garnish... looked like spam, charsiu, kamaboko, green onion and plenty of each. Gonna have to try the fried saimin or udon next time. Yes, there will be a next time.

                      Boulevard Saimin
                      1425 Dillingham Blvd, Honolulu, HI 96817

                      Cuu Long
                      175 N Hotel St Ste 2, Honolulu, HI 96817

                      Old Saimin House
                      1311 N King St Ste 2, Honolulu, HI 96817

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: KaimukiMan

                        This topic was a great stroll down memory lane for me. I loved McCully Chop Suey when I was a kid and there was a saimin place in the International Market Place I loved too. I was sorry to hear about Boulevard, both the split and the decline of "Dillingham" Saimin.

                        I do hear great things about Shiro's Saimin Haven though, but I seldom have reasons to head to Aiea on my trips to Honolulu, but I might have to make a trip that way. Even further out in Wahiawa I hear really good things about Shige's Saimin Stand. I may have to do a saimin tasting if I get some free time my next trip.

                        As to ramen, in Waikiki I like Ezogiku, Yotteko-ya Kyoto Ramen and Ramen Nakamura because I can walk to them usually. If I am out and about of heading back to my hotel from Downtown I like Goma Ichi Ramen and Goma Tei Ramen and I rotate where I go.

                        Coming from Orange County, I am pretty spoiled on pho, but Hale Vietnam, Pho Mai, Pho South King and Pho97 are more than acceptable.

                        I don't like pho better than ramen or saimin better than pho or saimin better than ramen, each is very distinct and at different times I crave one or the other. I do make a pretty good pho and passable ramen/udon, but I've never been able to get the broth right on saimin to give it that local flavor I remember.

                        Hale Vietnam Restaurant
                        1140 12th Ave, Honolulu, HI 96816

                        Shige's Saimin Restaurant
                        70 Kukui St, Wahiawa, HI 96786

                        Goma Ichi Ramen
                        631 Keeaumoku St, Honolulu, HI 96814

                        Ramen Nakamura
                        2141 Kalakaua Ave # 1, Honolulu, HI 96815

                        Goma Tei Ramen
                        Ward Ctr, Honolulu, HI 96813

                        1. re: KaimukiMan

                          Way back many years ago when I was a kid, we classified "saimin" as being either Japanese or Chinese. The Chinese style used the thin soba type noodles with intense pork or beefy soup stock while the Japanese-type saimin used a firm (al dente), curly flour noodle using either a shrimp or bonito flavored soup base. I've actually heard that some of the old timers used powdered scallops as their secret ingredient as well as dried kombu (seaweed) for flavoring. To this day, I have never been able to find anyone or any place that can replicate that recipe. Hopefully, one day I'll stumble across it? I love these threads about saimin history in Hawaii. Thanks Kman...