It's strange sometimes how the same concept, perhaps even the same management team, can have results so different in an alternative venue. While I've been less than enthused by the Kahoo Ramen that languishes on El Camino, the Kahoo my compatriots and I patronize in West San Jose (at 4330 Moorpark Ave, in the Mitsuwa plaza) is a pleasant turn for the better.
Compared to the El Camino location, this place has a very different, much more hole-in-the-wall vibe that I attribute to a proper ramen shop. While the tower in the plaza has their sign, you've got to do a little hunting amidst the shops to actually find the place, which helps too. The ground level sign is hidden behind a column so you can't see it from the parking lot. Oops!
It's a sit-down restaurant, but its approach is much more like a diner than a bistro. The entrance is slightly awkward to navigate- unless there's a line, you can't see how busy the place is until you're inside and invested (possibly stuck with more hungry people behind you, too). The décor is rougher and more simplistic, with a pleasant mix of formica, wood, and steel. The bar's open, and the kitchen's in full view so you can really get a look at all the action. If there's a line, there's often a written waiting list too. Get on it, and if they let you fight back through the crowd at the door, go around the corner to pass some time at the Mitsuwa market. They've got tons of stuff to keep you occupied- mochi shop, bookstore, even its own small in-house restaurant.
Once you get into Kahoo and get seated though, it's go time. Considering the ambiance, the restaurant's service isn't lacking, but it's also nothing exceptional. The servers are polite, but sometimes loud or brusque since it can get quite packed in there. Also, make sure you order with reasonably clear volume and in order, from app to entree or it's possible your first course will get lost in the chaos. I've watched it happen- it's a quick enough fix, but a ding on the dining experience if you're not expecting it. Walking into the place though, you really ought to be.
I won't say this Kahoo's food is much better than its cohort, but it's good enough that I'll definitely go the extra distance if the traffic is right. Much of the appetizer menu is a touch better than the other location in terms of taste, texture, and flavor. It's really hard to screw up chicken kara-age, and their cha-syu is properly tender and flavorful. Their broths tend to be thicker than I expect for ramen, but I'm not one to call that a big problem. When I look for ramen, I want balanced, satisfying flavor and a full stomach. More often than not, Kahoo gives me just that. If you're not that hungry, their rice bowls are great for a quick pick-me-up too.
All in all, this Kahoo is a solid, straightforward ramen joint. They don't mess around with decorations or fancy stuff. The ramen comes out on cafeteria trays. But if you come hungry, you'll leave happy. What else is there?