A Taste of Ramen in the Flathead

Japanese restaurant Hokkaido Ramen House opens new location in Kalispell while owner hopes to expand across the nation

By Maggie Dresser
A bowl of spicy ramen from Hokkaido Ramen House in Kalispell on Sept. 15, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

After opening a few Japanese steakhouses in Bozeman and Helena more than a decade ago, Hongyan Cai, a Chinese immigrant, saw a trend in ramen restaurants and traveled to Japan to learn the craft, returning to Montana with authentic recipes and opening Hokkaido Ramen House in Helena in 2018.

In fewer than three years, Cai already has eight different locations across Western Montana and Idaho with plans to continue growing.

“He wants to be the biggest ramen franchise in America,” said John Watson, otherwise known as John E. Ramen, the general manager for the newest location in Kalispell.

With restaurants in Bozeman, Great Falls, Billings, Idaho Falls, Pocatello and soon Coeur d’Alene, Hokkaido in Kalispell opened this August in the former Staggering Ox in the Hutton Ranch Plaza.

Following Cai’s visit to Japan, he crafted the first Hokkaido menu, which he has since been expanded to 12 different ramen dishes, including pork, beef, chicken, vegetarian, spicy and gluten-free options.

A sushi roll from Hokkaido Ramen House in Kalispell on Sept. 15, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

“It’s not very often you get something unique and authentic,” Watson said. “He studied in Japan and started working on new recipes. We’re definitely the most authentic ramen you will find anywhere and all of our ingredients are made from scratch.”

Most of the dishes are made from bone broth boiled for eight hours, and the in-house pork and eggs recipe uses meat that’s marinated for three days and eggs marinated for 24 hours. Popular vegetables include bean sprouts and bamboo shoots, and there’s also a miso option.

While the restaurants were originally meant to only serve ramen as the main dish, the general manager at the Helena location suggested adding sushi to the menu. Hokkaido now serves sushi at most of the locations, with the exception of Bozeman and Billings, mostly due to lack of space.

Now with roughly 50 different sushi rolls on the menu, Hokkaido offers traditional rolls, specialty rolls and four deep-fried rolls dipped in tempura, including the popular deep-fried Bozeman roll with salmon, avocado and cream cheese topped with eel sauce and spicy mayo.

John Earl Watson, general manager of Hokkaido Ramen House in Kalispell on Sept. 15, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Boba tea, otherwise known as bubble tea, was another menu item that Cai did not originally intend to sell, but Watson says it’s proven to be a successful addition. Usually made with tapioca balls, the teas come in a variety of flavors, including green apple, passionfruit and peach, along with specialty flavors like matcha cheese foam, Thai and brown sugar caramel tea. Tapioca can also be substituted with chia seeds.

Watson says the menu is more heavily weighted with ramen right now, but sushi, appetizers and boba tea are becoming increasingly popular as the restaurant grows.

The Kalispell location is currently in the process of obtaining a cabaret license to eventually sell beer, wine and sake.

Hokkaido Ramen House is located at 110 Hutton Ranch Rd., Suite 101 in Kalispell and is open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for lunch, 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. for dinner, Friday and Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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