If there was one foodie event that went viral last year, it was the Ramen Burger’s sold-out debut at Brooklyn’s Smorgasborg food fair. Creator and ramen blogger Keizo Shimamoto posted a preview post on his blog GoRamen.com and hundreds showed up to try it. His inspiration had been a study of ramen in Japan, where he tried a pork burger, and decided it was good but could use improvement. Shimamoto’s version featured sturdier noodle cakes, arugula, special sauce and a beef patty. The Ramen Burger became an overnight sensation, his pop ups selling to huge queues of burger needy fans all around the nation.
Shimamoto brought his creation to Honolulu in January, pop-up style, to Kaka’ako, selling more than 700 burgers in one day at $10 a pop. That caught the eye of Eddie Flores Jr., CEO of L & L. Flores had L & L corporate chef Raymond Cheng come up with their own version of the fusion sandwich, the Saimin Burger, which they now sell for $5.99.
At first, there was a bit of a legal kerfuffle between the Shimamoto and Flores camps, stemming from an internal memo that circulated at L & L, but that’s all smoothed out now, according to a recent Honolulu Pulse article that said, “Both Shimamoto and Bryan Andaya, L&L vice president and chief operating officer, said neither side will pursue any legal action against the other, nor will either seek to block further trademark efforts with the U.S. Patent and Trade Office.”
“We added it to our menu on Feb. 7,” says Brandon Dela Cruz, L & L’s marketing director. “To kick off the new item we held a canned goods drive at L & L Ke’eaumoku on that day. Hundreds of customers stood in line to try the Ramen Burger for free in exchange for five canned goods. All canned goods were donated to the Hawaii Foodbank.”
L & L plans to introduce the “Ramen Burger” to all of their 182 restaurants world-wide, but here on Maui you can find their “Saimin Burger” at their Honokawai, Kihei, Queen Ka’ahumanu and Wailuku stores.
“With the recent craze and long lines, we decided to make a local version that’s better so people don’t have to wait,” says Flores. “They can just come to L & L to try it.”
So the other day I showed up at the Queen Ka’ahumanu food court to do exactly that. The burger is devastatingly tasty. It’s made with Sun Noodles, the same noodles used in their saimin. Their saimin sandwich also repurposes their signature hamburger patty, and is topped with teriyaki sauce.
They cook the saimin, then fry it into crispy bun cakes. The handmade burger patty, dripping with teri sauce, is then topped with green onion and shredded cabbage. The whole package was a bit sloppy to handle, but worth getting dirty for. In fact, I think the teri burger patty was better with noodle buns then bread. They also make a damn good order of crinkle fries for about $4.
I asked Dela Cruz if there was a difference between what they are calling their Saimin Burger and the Ramen Burger.
“There is no difference,” he says. “We call it ‘Saimin Burger’ for our Hawaii locations and ‘Ramen Burger’ for our Mainland and international locations because they are more familiar with the term ‘ramen.’ There has been a fantastic response for the Ramen Burger. Many locations have been selling up to 40-50 burgers per day.”