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Menu includes ramen, banh mi, bibimbap, noodle and rice dishes. Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Register

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In brief

  • Krunkwich’s ramen hits both high and low notes.
  • At its best when dishes feel like midnight kitchen genius.
  • Interesting fusion fare, served quickly and cheaply.

Full review

Ramen exists at that nexus of tradition and trend. It’s unpretentious comfort food, but its infinite variations have launched empires (Momofuku in NYC; Tsujita in Tokyo, then L.A.), to say nothing of its bastardized form as a dorm-room staple.

Ramen boasts bold, rich flavors, and its many variations invite further exploration, a seemingly perfect match for Sam Auen, who made his name with the fusion offerings at Tacopocalypse. Creativity and a certain playfulness infuse the menu, which is at its best when it fulfills a hangover-like craving, but Des Moines will have to wait for Auen to up his ramen game, or someone else to take a stab at it, to experience ramen at its best.

The Banh Mi is a steal at $4 for a generous sandwich packed with flavor. The bread had a faintly crispy crust but was soft and pleasantly chewy, the daikon-carrot pickles bright and crisp. That said, it pulled some punches. The mayo was slathered on far too heavily. And the biggest problem came with the pork belly, which on two separate occasions seemed to have not so much been cooked as to have been threatened to maybe someday be cooked. Boiled, fried, broiled or sauteed, thick-cut pork belly is going to have a lot of fat, but that fat should have at least begun to have been rendered.

#1 Krunkwich Ramen ($9) was OK. It scratches an itch, but I wasn’t blown away. The shredded pork was tender and juicy, but the pork belly was unbearably flabby. The broth was savory, but thin in both flavor and body. Digging into the tangle of noodles with chopsticks is flat-out fun, but they lacked the appealing springiness of better versions.

The Korean-inspired #38 Seoul Food Ramen ($9) was full of pleasing contradictions. The dish was doused in rich, spicy gochujang (red chile paste) and the broth had an appealing smokiness. The tangy and lightly spicy house-made kimchi subtly stole the show. Unfortunately, the bulgogi was noticeably overcooked and lacked flavor to go with its dry and pulpy texture. The egg was similarly overdone (hard boiled) and bland, as it didn't appear to have been marinated, as I would expect from a proper Ajitsuke Tamago (Japanese marinated soft boiled egg). #99 #$@&!! Ramen ($11) featured the same smoky broth and addictive kimchi, but subbed in sesame pork, pulled pork, and jalapenos for a more rewarding bowl, richer with flavor and depth, and a big hit of heat.

#46 Laksa Curry Ramen ($9) was fragrant with lemon grass and an elusive hit of coconut, which balanced the heat of the yellow curry. The menu promised a citrus/cilantro vinaigrette, but if it was there, it was imperceptible, a real shame, because the broth cried out for some acid — a squeeze of lime or a tipple of rice vinegar, if not the promised vinaigrette.

Traditional bibimbap uses a clay or stone pot called a dolsot to create a crispy crust on a layer of white rice. The Bibimbap ($10) at Krunkwich came to the table audibly sizzling, but sadly, there was no crust to be had. The pickled onion and pickled shiitakes were slivers of tangy beauty, but paired with undressed shreds of carrot and cabbage, and plain rice, the dish lacked a cohesive flavor or any oomph. Again, the egg was disappointingly overcooked as in the ramen, whereas a runny yolk would have helped form a sauce with which to stir up the whole mess.

The Kimchi and Bacon Krunk Rice ($8) managed to be what the bibimbap did not — a cohesive dish packed with flavor and bits of crusty rice. It was flecked with chewy bits of smoky bacon and the crisp spicy-pungent kimchi. The egg here was gratefully gooey, the yolk melting into unctuous bliss.

It was the Bulgogi Tots ($6) that most perfectly embodied Krunkwich’s vision. Above, I mentioned the disappointingly dry and dowdy beef bulgogi, and it was here, too, on these most American tater tots, but it didn’t register, because the magical miso-whiz, a combo of miso and American cheese, was so gloriously decadent, comingled with gochujang and drizzled over the tots. Black and white sesame seeds (nutty), scallions (green crunch), and more of their excellent kimchi added to the overall effect. On a subsequent trip, I ordered the Kimchi Tots ($5) which were the same minus the beef — it was not missed.

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Eating ramen inevitably involves sloshing and slurping. My advice is thus: Don’t wear a white shirt. You might not care in the moment because it is hot and delicious, but you might later, when you look down and realize those splotches aren’t polka dots. Krunkwich Ramen House, with its eclectic menu of Japanese, Vietnamese, and Korean fusion, is a fine place to dirty up some shirts.

Krunkwich is friendly and hip, with its tattooed employees and walls adorned with grinning cats and anthropomorphic dumplings. In keeping with the casual atmosphere, they offer counter service: Food is dispatched quickly and dinnerware promptly cleared as it is emptied, and they are quick to offer take-out containers for leftovers. Though no booze is sold at Krunkwich, they offer up a BYOB policy — had I known, I would have certainly brought a couple of cans of Dorothy’s Lager from Toppling Goliath.

Krunkwich succeeds when bold flavors clash in exciting, hedonistic fashion. But it stumbles when key ingredients fail to deliver on their promise, whether pork broth that feels too thin and watery, tepid bulgogi, or an overload of mayo. These are lost opportunities to bring rich texture and dynamic tastes of intense umami to the table. Despite any shortcomings of consistency and depth, you can be assured of a quick, inexpensive and tasty meal.

Emily Ekle is a senior acquisitions editor for an academic publishing company in the area of psychology. Emily dines anonymously for her reviews in efforts to capture the authentic experience of a customer. For questions on Des Moines Register reviews, contact storytelling coach Lisa Rossi at lrossi@dmreg.

Krunkwich Ramen

Critic's rating: 2 stars

Food: 2 stars

Ambiance: 2 stars

Service: 2 stars

Price: $3.50 to $11

Address: 2721 Ingersoll Ave, Des Moines

Website: krunkwich.com

Phone: 515-867-3674/515-244-8813

Atmosphere: Casual, trendy, hip.

Recommended orders: Kimchi and Bacon Krunk Rice, Laksa Curry Ramen, Bulgogi Tots

Sound: Background music.

Drinks: Canned and fountain soda. Thai Iced Tea.

Open:

  • Monday-Thursday: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
  • Friday-Saturday: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
  • Sunday Dim Sum: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Wheelchair access: The restaurant is all on one level and wheelchair accessible.

Allergen friendly/Willing to accommodate vegetarians? Vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options available.

Kid friendly? No kids menu. High chairs and boosters are available.

What the stars mean

4 stars: (Extraordinary) Transcendent. A one-of-a-kind experience that sets the local standard.

3 stars: (Excellent) Superior. Memorable, high-quality food; exciting environs; savvy service; smart concept.

2 stars: (Good) Solid example of restaurant type.

1 star: (Fair) Just OK. A place not worth rushing back to. But, it might have something worth recommending: A view, a single dish, friendly service, lively scene.

No stars: (Poor) Below-average restaurant.

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