Food

Izakaya Ronin: Filling Late-Night Ramen Cravings with Its Underground Speakeasy

January 3, 2018
Izakaya Ronin ramen

UPDATE 1/14/2018: Due to popular demand, Izakaya Ronin will now serve the excellent ramen starting at 5 pm. The izakaya speakeasy downstairs will now also open at 5 pm. It formerly was 10 pm.

In case you’ve forgotten, I love ramen and I’m on the hunt for the Best Ramen in Denver. My latest entry ranked Uncle, one of the top contenders for the best ramen in town. But there is a new bowl of noodles that has come upon the scene as of December 2017: Izakaya Ronin.

Chef Corey Baker and team have opened up this new space in the up-and-coming RiNo district, featuring some of the same things that made their first restaurant,  Sushi Ronin in Highlands, so popular – namely sushi, sake, and omakase menus. However, this second venture features a hidden gem: a late-night moguri izakaya opens from 5pm 10 pm – 1:30 am (sometimes later if the joint is still poppin’ at closing time) Tuesdays – Saturdays housed in the former boiler room in the basement of the restaurant.

Please note: Financial compensation was not received for this post. I was invited by the PR firm working with Izakaya Ronin to come in and try the ramen and some other items on the menu on the house. Opinions expressed here are my own.

Decor

Walk to the bar of the main restaurant and look to your right – you’ll notice a nondescript set of basement stairs. However, once the clock strikes 5 pm 10 pm, if you make your way down to the bottom of those steps, you’ll discover a two-room hidden speakeasy.

Izakaya Ronin speakeasy stairwell

Once inside you immediately find yourself in a charming wood-lined dining area with a handful of two-, three-, and four- tops suitable for gathering a gang of friends for a late-night feast. Cozy, but not cramped, and the space feels transported from the cool underground restaurants of a city like New York or Tokyo.

Izakaya Ronin downstairs dining area

Izakaya Ronin table top

Walk through the front room and you will discover a dimly lit, sexy bar.  On the other side of the wall sits a row of small round bistro tables lit with candlelight — the perfect setting for an intimate date night huddle over a set of cocktails.

Izakaya Ronin downstairs bar

Food

The subterranean moguri izakaya, or “hidden tavern” as it loosely translates to in English,  is a completely unique experience from eating in the dining room of the main restaurant. The moguri izakaya menu features the Japanese equivalent of “pub food,” with a mix of small plates, grilled meats and veggies on skewers, and a number of larger soups – including the Laman Tonkotsu Ramen. (More on that later.)

First we started off with the Tsuekemono ($5), an assortment of pickled vegetables). My husband loves pickled things, and I’m normally less enthusiastic, however, this set of veggies (including takuan – daikon pickle, shibazuke – chopped cucumbers and eggplant, Japenese cucumbers) were wonderfully executed and feature more subtle tart and tangy flavors.

Tsuekemono from Izakaya Ronin

Next, we went for the deep-fried Age Gyoza ($6), a six-piece shared plate featuring crispy dumplings with a juicy center.

Age gyoza from Izakaya Ronin

We were then treated to the Ika Gesso Age ($6) dish, a Japanese version of calamari – featuring fried squid legs with an elegant dipping sauce.

Ika gesso age from Izakaya Ronin

Then it was on to the main event: The ramen. Only available on the late-night menu, the Laman Tonkotsu Ramen ($10) definitely worth stopping in to try on its own.  First off, it’s a beautiful looking bowl. Served in a wide and shallow ceramic dish,

This ramen goes one step past just using pork belly and fries the delicious pork product into sinfully crispy, flavorful bits of chicharron – a much-welcomed change from dry, stringy, gray pork belly slabs that can sometimes accompany lesser tonkotsu ramen. I also liked that the chicharron brings a Spanish/Latin American spin, infusing a dash of creativity and playfulness to the Japanese dish.

The runny egg (which costs $2 extra) was cooked perfectly, the whites still bright and tasty on their own. The broth was pleasingly creamy, with a bit of heat thanks to some chili oil. Overall a wonderful bowl worthy of one of the top spots on my list.

Ramen from Izakaya Ronin

When I asked Chef Baker why the ramen only appears on the late-night menu he replied that he never intended to serve ramen at this restaurant in the first place. It was only after winning the Denver Ramen Showdown a month before Izakaya Ronin’s opening that the dish even existed. After the success of that win, it seemed only natural to throw it on as a fun offering on the speakeasy menu.

Ramen from Izakaya Ronin

When I commented on how struck I was by the incredible the pricing on his ramen bowl in comparison to some of the other top ramens in town, Baker explained his belief that there’s no reason to upcharge guests on dishes if the ingredients themselves were cheap, going along with the ethos of the speakeasy as a place of fun and experimentation.

Verdict

I found many things to love about Izakaya Ronin’s downstairs moguri izakaya: the overall vibe and atmosphere is wonderfully intimate and casual and the prices of the dishes are hard to beat – most costing less than $10, making it entirely possible to roll out of there full for less than $20 per person.

I loved everything I ate there – including the ramen. I’m very excited to return to the speakeasy and try out some of the other items on the menu – including the Udon and yakatori items. I am also looking forward to trying out the regular upstairs dinner menu as well to see how that compares.

Best Ramen in Denver ranking

  • Broth flavor – 8 points
  • Protein quality – 5 points
  • Noodle quality – 3 points
  • Other ingredients – 3 points
  • Presentation – 3 points
  • Total: 22 points

Details

Izakaya Ronin – 3053 Brighton Blvd, Denver, CO 80216

  • Decor: Crazy, sexy, cool
  • Crowd: Young couples and groups of friends
  • Recommended: Age Gyoza, Laman Tonkotsu Ramen

Have a recommendation for the next ramen joint in Denver I should try on my quest for the Best Ramen in Denver? Leave your picks in the comments!

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