The long wait is finally over; the dark interior where the PekoPeko Ramen used to reside has finally been illuminated again. Seniors, you might have felt some deja vu when you realized that we were once again getting a ramen place in the same storefront. However Kajiken has already set itself apart from its predecessor in terms of variety, price and flavor.
Kajiken is a Japanese chain restaurant that has expanded to the United States this year. The brand opened its first location right here in Baltimore on August 18. Following a brief soft opening, the restaurant now opens from about 12 – 3 p.m. for lunch and 5 – 9:30 p.m. for dinner every day except Tuesday. I am a staunch proponent of more late-night food options around campus (we’re college students, people, we want to eat at night), and 9:30 p.m. is a later closing time than the majority of nearby restaurants.
To mourn our summers and celebrate the presence of a new restaurant around campus, my friends Connor, Khue, Andre and I dined at Kajiken on the Sunday before school began. This was Khue and Andre’s third time visiting the restaurant, so I felt as though I was in trustworthy hands for my first foray.
The atmosphere is highly emblematic of how PekoPeko used to be: cozy wooden booths, warm and soft lighting and bar seating looking into the kitchen come together to produce all the comfort a late-night spot should have. The outdoor seating is employed when staffing is sufficient, so I hope to come back on a night while the weather is still warm, so I can enjoy it.
The menu includes nine appetizer dishes ranging from dumplings to various vegetable preparations. My friends and I began our dinner with the takoyaki, a fried octopus ball commonly served as street food in Japan. As a huge lover of octopus and all things fried, I happily offer my seal of approval for the dish. The exterior was perfectly crispy, and the octopus was well complemented by the sauces drizzled on top.
Kajiken specializes in mazesoba or abura soba, a brothless ramen that allows you to experiment with flavor add-ons and sauce combinations. There are three entree categories to choose from: classic ramen with a broth base, abura soba and donburi, which is a small portion of meat of your choice served over a bowl of rice. Each ramen dish starts at $15, abura sobas range from $11 to $13 and donburis are $7.50 or $8.50. You can add a multitude of toppings for 50 cents to $1.50 each.
As for our entrees, we all opted for one of the abura soba dishes. Connor ordered the original, Andre and Khue ordered the honmura, and I excitedly ordered the carbonara. You might be as surprised as I was to see that carbonara was on the menu at a Japanese restaurant, but that only made me more excited to try it.
The carbonara was creamy, well flavored and simply delicious. The noodles were cooked to a nicely toothsome consistency. Khue generously gave me a bite of her honmura, which was chock full of spice and umami notes from the spicy pork and seaweed. In response to my prompting for elaborate and descriptive opinions on the food, Andre offered me a simple, “It’s good, homie”.
Every server was very attentive and kind, and despite the restaurant being fully packed, our dishes came out relatively quickly. The portions are quite generous, especially for the price point; I was stuffed by the time I cleaned out my bowl.
For dessert you can order one of several ice cream flavors or cakes. While I’m not a huge matcha fan myself, the matcha crepe cake looks quite beautiful. If I had more room in my stomach, I would have opted for the yuzu cheesecake as a nice departure from any other dessert you’ll find around campus.
It is evident that Kajiken is off to a strong start at its 33rd St. location. I am hopeful that it will maintain its momentum past the new restaurant excitement. I encourage you to bring your friends and order all across the menu; take advantage of this new gem!