Ten epic (and eclectic) bowls of delicious noodles that rise above the ramen rabble
Let’s face it—the Bay Area is ramen-obsessed. Of all the region’s culinary trends and foodie fanaticism, nothing seems to spark longer wait lists and eater-on-a-mission car rides these days than those steaming hot bowls of noodles in exquisitely rendered broth.
And if there is one thing lengthier than the lines to get in, it’s the range of opinions on what constitutes a good bowl of ramen: from the purist’s perspective (in which you’ll constantly here the phrase “I used to live in Japan…”) to the fusionist’s wide view (we once got sent to a food truck in Napa that makes an Italian minestrone ramen).
So we searched the length of the Peninsula to make this handy list of the standout ramen restaurants in our area. It brought us from a San Jose food court stall to a social media-driven pop-up in Daly City, and (of course) landed us lots of time in San Mateo—the Peninsula’s ramen mecca—in between. So take a look, find your flavor….and get on line.
If live in the Bay Area and/or love ramen (and chances of the latter increase with the former), you’ve most likely heard of Ramen Dojo in San Mateo and its notoriously long lines. It’s one of the most well-known ramen shops on this list, with diners driving in from San Francisco, San Leandro and all over the Bay Area for the restaurant’s rich flavorful broth.
Their ramen comes in three flavors: soybean, garlic and soy sauce, with garlic being the most popular. It’s topped abundantly with two pieces of pork, chicken gravy, fried whole garlic, kikurage mushroom, chives and — love it or hate it — quail egg, instead of the more common soft-boiled egg. Yes, it’s a slightly innovative take on traditional ramen and makes for a colorful, vibrant, carefully curated dish.
Ramen Dojo’s noodles are on the thicker side and cooked al-dente, which helps balance out the strong flavor of the broth. Chashu slices are generous, juicy and perfectly smoked, with a simple flavor.
Be careful when you’re selecting the spice level — here, the extra spicy is actually extra spicy, and you might get a kick you weren’t expecting.
Ramen Dojo // 805 S. B St., San Mateo; (650) 401–6568
If you’re looking for a quick, no-wait ramen stop, Ramen Nagi might not be your best bet. Since its opening in June, the restaurant has drawn epic interest and round-the-clock lines that reflect its game-changing role in the Palo Alto ramen scene. In fact, this location is the Tokyo-based chain’s first-ever venture into the U.S. market, and their ramen is living up to the hype.
Customers can choose from four broths, dubbed “kings”: original (tonkotsu), black (squid ink), red (red miso and red chili paste) and green (with basil, parmesan and olive oil). Each bowl starts with the tonkotsu as its base. The pork broth is cooked for more than 20 hours.
Also notable is Ramen Nagi’s vegetarian ramen — the broth is made from cauliflower, onions, milk and garlic — that will be a rotating menu item in Palo Alto. Instead of the traditional chashu pork, it comes with thin discs of fried, shredded potato, like a paper-thin latke.
A second Ramen Nagi location is slated for the Westfield Valley Fair shopping center in San Jose this fall. In the meantime, strategize when to go and prepare to wait — though the restaurant now takes your name and number on an iPad and will call you when a table is ready.
Ramen Nagi // 541 Bryant St, Palo Alto
A cute, little stand located inside San Jose’s Mitsuwa Marketplace, Hokkaido Ramen Santouka is your classic, international ramen chain staple. But don’t brush off this location for being another bland food court disaster just yet: the spicy miso and shiso ramens boast perfectly seasoned broths and the most tender, melt-in-your-mouth chashu. Plus you can’t miss out on dessert. Just next door is Matcha Love, which dishes out some of the best matcha and black sesame soft serve we’ve tasted in the Bay.
Heads-up: Hokkaido Ramen Santouka is cash only.
Hokkaido Ramen Santouka // 675 Saratoga Ave., San Jose; (408) 446–1101
The curveball on our list is none other than a pop-up ramen outfit based in Daly City. So, no, it’s not as simple as just waiting out a long line, but if you’re interested in staying savvy to the local ramen scene and just generally excited about trying new off-the-beaten path ramen dishes, then sign up for Noodle in a Haystack’s newsletter and stay in the loop about their upcoming dinners (their August events sold out quick).
Noodle in a Haystack is the brain child of Bay Area native Clint Tam, who returned from time abroad in Japan to find himself “dealing with reverse food and culture shock.” (Lucky for us!) Since then, Clint has been constantly refining a sublime series of different ramen dishes by way of pop-up events around the Bay Area. Tan tan men, triple miso and chicken paitan are a few of his standards, but you might also encounter duck shoyu or Tam’s ever-evolving yuzu shio ramen. Yes, we have seen the future and it is … in a Haystack.
Noodle in a Haystack (Subscribe to their newsletter for updates.)
Also, follow on Instagram for all-around ramen reflections: @noodleinhaystack
If you’ve been wanting to get a taste of Orenchi Ramen but have been turned off by the wait at the Santa Clara location, the lesser-known outpost in Redwood City is the way to go.
Here, the homemade noodles in creamy tonkotsu broth reigns supreme, though we must say the shoyu (soy sauce-based) ramen is a close second.
The rest of the menu is worth a try as well, with great appetizers (hello, spicy french fries with wasabi mayo and blistered shishito peppers), not to mention Hitachino Nest White Ale on tap.
Orenchi Ramen // 2432 Broadway St., Redwood City; (650) 549–8059
3540 Homestead Road, Santa Clara; (408) 246–2955
If you’re into seafood like us, then you may want to set your sights on Ramen Parlor, whose famous lobster garlic ramen is always worth the trip and something you won’t find anywhere else in the area. It comes loaded with soft shell crab, spinach and quail egg. The broth is bold and the lobster creates a deeper, saltier flavor. Other seafaring bowls include the crab spicy miso ramen and shrimp curry ramen.
Not into seafood? There are plenty of other options. You can choose from three ramen categories — classic, parlor and house specialty — each of which offers different ramen broths (pork, miso, garlic, soy sauce).
The line isn’t as long here as some of the other popular San Mateo ramen locations, with food coming to your table almost as soon you’re seated. And rejoice, the restaurant has parking.
Ramen Parlor // 901 S. B St., San Mateo; (650) 344–9728
Craving Chinese and Japanese and can’t pick one over the other? Head to Yu-Raku, where the chef/owner Sakae Yuizumi has been specializing in Chinese-style Japanese cuisine for decades, first in Japan and now at his own San Mateo restaurant.
After culinary studies in Japan and helping at his father’s Chinese-style Japanese restaurant in Shizuoka, Yuizumi decided to open up his own Bay Area restaurant in 2010. Influences of both cuisines show up in his dishes, such as the best seller: tan-tan ramen, a traditionally Chinese noodle dish made with pure Japanese sesame oil.
At Yu-Raku, you’ll most likely get a dish cooked by the Yuizumi himself, who aims for all his dishes to transport his guests to Japan (in fact, most people at the restaurant on any given day will be Japanese).
One tip — don’t wait for other dishes to arrive after your ramen is served. Once the chef has measured everything with precision, it’s time dig into the noodles or they’ll lose their texture.
Yu-Raku // 104 S El Camino Real, San Mateo; (650) 558–8239
With a great interior and lively atmosphere, Yu-Gen has been a key location in the Peninsula’s ramen scene outside of San Mateo for awhile now. The restaurant’s tonkotsu “deluxe” ramen is a local mainstay and worth coming back for again and again. There’s also a chicken paitan ramen, served with a five-spice quarter chicken, as well as a mixed vegetable ramen for non-carnivores.
Delve into Yu-Gen’s lengthy menu for pre-ramen eats, such as the takoyaki (octopus dumpling balls) and nasu dengaku (grilled eggplant with miso paste), and round out the meal with one of the many sake options. All together, it makes for a quality date night with delicious eats to match. Win-win.
Ramen Izakaya Yu-Gen // 152 Castro St., Mountain View; (650) 428–0888
At first glance, Himawari might resemble a jazz bar more than a ramen restaurant: Vinyl record covers line the walls, with high stools and sophisticated industrial lights making for a great place to catch up with friends over ramen and beer.
The line isn’t too bad as long as you avoid peak hours. The menu is a long list of familiar dishes: soy ramen, shio ramen, miso ramen and deluxe ramen, plus appetizers such as agedashi tofu, gyoza and edamame. Himawari’s light broth and time-tested favorites satisfy both ramen fanatics and newbies.
Don’t forget to order the massive, crispy-on-the-outside, tender-in-the-inside chicken karaage, which comes on a plate that’s bigger than the ramen bowl.
Himawari-Tei // 202 2nd Ave., San Mateo; (650) 375–1005
Unlike tonkotsu or even shoyu, seafood ramen can be a rather hit or miss affair on the Peninsula. But fear not—for seafood ramen that is both delicious and dependable, we point you to Ramen Seas.
The Sunnyvale restaurant’s main seafood broth — the defining factor of good ramen — is light, savory and full of rich shellfish flavor. Other options include a clam (our favorite) and miso-clam ramen.
For something on the more unconventional (and vegan!) side, check out the ramen salad.
Ramen Seas // 173 S Murphy Ave., Sunnyvale; (408) 481–0900
Research and writing by Six Fifty contributors Christine Lee and Ashley Wang
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