From left: Ramen and tsukemen bowls line the bar at Taishoken in San Mateo; the tokushei ramen with a soft-boiled egg, sous-vide chashu and pork belly; owner Yoshihiro Sakaguchi assembles a bowl of ramen with intense focus. (Photos by Elena Kadvany)

Family noodle empire to touch down in the U.S. starting July 13

The first U.S. location of renowned Tokyo ramen shop Taishoken is set to open at 47 E. 4th Ave. in downtown San Mateo this Saturday, July 13.

Taishoken specializes in tsukemen, chilled noodles dipped in a separate bowl of broth. Owner Yoshihiro Sakaguchi is related to Kazuo Yamagishi, who is believed to have created the tsukemen style of ramen. Sakaguchi’s grandfather, Masayasu Sakaguchi, also co-founded Taishoken in Japan in 1951.

Sakaguchi makes the umami-rich dipping broth over two days, adding chicken, dried anchovy, bonito flakes, homemade soy sauce and other ingredients to a traditional pork broth. The broth is finished with a scoop of fish powder, green onions, yuzu and dried seaweed.

Taishoken will specialize in tsukemen — chilled, homemade noodles dipped in a separate bowl of umami-rich broth. (Photos by Elena Kadvany)

The thick noodles, made fresh with buckwheat, are cooked to a chewy but firm al-dente texture, then rinsed in cold water and folded into bowls for serving. You can add slices of sous-vide Berkshire pork chashu, pork belly charred with a blowtorch, green onions, bamboo shoots and marinated egg, among other toppings.

The menu instructs the uninitiated in how to properly eat tsukemen: First, taste the noodles by themselves, then dip them into the broth. “DO NOT POUR THE SOUP on to the noodles as it will dilute the soup,” the menu admonishes.

When you’re done with the noodles, you can order a side of soup wari, a dashi broth, for $1 to add to the remaining dipping broth as a palate cleanser. The combination of ingredients in the dashi broth — glutamate acid from kelp, guanylic acid from shiitake mushrooms and inosinic acid from dried bonito flakes — “will spread in your mouth and leave a great aftertaste,” the menu reads.

While tsukemen is the main event, Taishoken also serves several kinds of ramen, including tokusei ramen with a soft-boiled egg and chashu, spicy ramen made with two kinds of chili oil and vegan yuzu-shio ramen (the broth is made from kelp and shiitake mushrooms). The kitchen uses a thinner housemade noodle for the ramen.

The menu also includes three brothless noodle dishes, including abura soba and mazesoba.

The 58-seat Taishoken will open to a crowded ramen scene in downtown San Mateo. (Photo by Elena Kadvany)

Sakaguchi started working at an Italian restaurant in Tokyo after a post-college backpacking trip that took him abroad. He went on to cook at Mensho Tokyo in Japan for three years, then spent three years at the popular ramen company’s San Francisco location before branching out on his own with Taishoken.

Sakaguchi said in a previous interview that he was drawn to San Mateo because of the city’s Japanese culinary culture. San Mateo is home to numerous ramen shops, sushi bars, izakayas and longtime Japanese grocery stores Takahashi Market and Suruki Supermarket.

Sakaguchi envisions this to be the first of many Taishoken locations in America. He plans to expand throughout California; then to Portland, Oregon; and gradually, to the East Coast.

Taishoken is one of several prominent Japanese ramen chains to expand to the Bay Area in recent years, including Mensho, Ramen Nagi and Ippudo. Afuri Ramen + Dumpling is also set to open in Cupertino this summer.

Diners at the bar will be able to see into the open kitchen at Taishoken in San Mateo. (Photo by Elena Kadvany)

The 58-seat Taishoken will soft open with a limited menu on Saturday and Sunday, July 13–14, from 5–9:30 p.m. or until it’s sold out. Taishoken’s grand opening will be from Wednesday, July 17, through Sunday, July 21, from 5–9:30 p.m.

Taishoken will open for full hours, including lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., starting Tuesday, July 23.

Taishoken // 47 E. 4th Ave., San Mateo; 650.445.7579

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Elena Kadvany

A writer with a passion for investigative reporting, telling untold stories and public-service journalism, I have built my career covering education and restaurants in the Bay Area. My blog and biweekly newsletter, Peninsula Foodist, is the go-to source for restaurant news in Silicon Valley. My work has been published in The Guardian, Eater, Bon Appetit’s Healthyish, SF Weekly and The Six Fifty.

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