Today I’m revisiting one of my favorite restaurants in the state of Iowa – Krunkwich Ramen House in Des Moines’ East Village. I dined at Krunkwich for the first time back in May. Krunkwich is a casual, order-at-the-counter eatery, where you take a number and have food brought to your table. It’s a non-vegan restaurant with loads of interesting vegan options.
The first time around, I got the vegan burnt ends sandwich, which was exceptional. Since then, I’ve had a chance to explore more of the menu.
Tater Tots & Appetizers
At Krunkwich, the tater tots get an entire section of the menu to themselves. They come with a variety of topping options. Three of the choices can be prepared vegan upon request. The first is Whiz tots with no cheese (i.e. plain tater tots). They are dusted with “Krunkspice,” which has the flavor of sweet curry powder. The kimchi-covered tots are vegan without the whiz, and the BBQ tots are vegan with the seitan option and no whiz.
I ordered the BBQ tots. The sweet barbecue sauce has undertones of hoisin sauce and is topped with pickled red onion. Seitan is hard to come by in Iowa restaurants, even in those restaurants marketed towards vegans and vegetarians. So it’s great to see house made seitan done well with a delicious and flavorful barbecue sauce. The sauce combines with the crisp tater tots in a mouthwatering way that requires no dipping. It’s all been done for you.
This past weekend while we were in Des Moines, Krunkwich was offering a vegan “wing” basket with the same BBQ seitan that’s on their burnt ends sandwich and buffalo tofu. The tofu was deep fried in crisp squares, tossed in buffalo sauce, and served with a side of ranch. This special was terrific, and I hope they add the buffalo tofu to their regular menu.
Hot damn. This is how you make ramen.
The thick wheat noodles are house made with great bite. When it comes to fresh noodles, the difference is obvious. This isn’t your typical, dried packet ramen.
Every slurp is a unique taste experience. In the vegan ramen, there’s crisp fried tofu, pickled onions, ginger seitan that has a pleasant sweetness to it, napa cabbage, cool pickled cucumber, and a full-bodied broth. It was in the 90’s this weekend, but that didn’t stop me from ordering the ramen. Sweat be damned. (The ramen typically comes with a sheet of nori on top, but I request it without because I’m not a fan. If you don’t mind the fishy flavor, though, go for it!)
Once the soup has been devoured, there’s a surprise at the bottom of each bowl. The bowls themselves are handmade by local potter, Amanda Barr. She has printed different cat stamps inside of them. With every bite, you come closer to uncovering it. As a pottery lover, this is part of the restaurant’s charm. I think it’s cool they used the work of a local potter instead of simply opting for bowls from a restaurant supply store.
On a different trip, I tried the banh mi, which can be prepared vegan. It comes on a toasted french roll along with pickled cucumber, daikon radish, carrot and cilantro along with a choice of seitan or tofu as the vegan options. (Vegan aioli automatically comes with the seitan or tofu options, not egg-based aioli.) I got it with the choice of seitan. It was a tasty mix of cool and hot, crunchy and crisp; however, if I could only have one sandwich there, I’d go for the vegan burnt ends for maximum flavor.
David’s favorite order is the Krunk Rice. It’s fried rice that’s topped with shitake mushrooms, carrots, onion, ginger, and edamame. For two dollars more, you can get a choice of proteins, and he has opted for the fried tofu and on a different occasion, ginger seitan. The fried rice has an addictive quality with varied flavors that keep you coming back for just-one-more-bite.
On another occasion, David ordered the Japchae. The thin glass noodles are topped with shitake and black mushrooms, carrots, onion and sesame seeds. It’s brimming with the flavor of black pepper. This time for his choice of protein, he asked for the buffalo tofu they had on hand from the weekend’s special. David normally isn’t into thin noodles, but these weren’t overdone and had a good texture and mouth feel.
Krunkwich has quickly become my favorite restaurant in Des Moines and is in a dead heat with Forbidden Planet for my favorite restaurant in Iowa. (Lucky for me, I don’t have to choose!) They’ve expanded their hours to include dinner on most days. So if you’re going to be in Central Iowa, you owe it to yourself to make Krunkwich your food destination.