Restaurant

Hella Authentic Japanese Ramen Shops in San Francisco and How Much Does Legit Ramen Cost

Main image courtesy of Chikaranomoto Holdings, LTD.

Ever since food distributors made their instant ramen kits available to businesses, there has been an explosion of ramen restaurants on every corner (like ho’s in the Tenderloin back in the day). Yet there is no shortage of restaurants in the Bay Area touting “20+ hour pork stocks.”

Food distributors provide everything you need to serve ramen at your restaurant, and you no longer need much skillzzzz other than being able to defrost and warm it up. Except you probably would not know that since there is no shortage of restaurants hyping laborious 20+ hour cooking times. (I suppose the time in a centralized production facility doesn’t have to mean your restaurant kitchen/facility).

The growing popularity of ramen in the United States has created generic “food supplier” ramen restaurants, so I set out to research how they all stand up to places like Mensho, which I hold in high regard (like my main ho).

Started From the Bottom (Some of the Worst Ramen I Ever Had Was in the Bay Area), And Now We Here (to Some of the BEST Spots in the Country)

Back in the ’90s, good ramen was non-existent, and one of the only noodle spots in existence was Ringer Hut in San Jose off of Saratoga Ave (the birthplace of Yamachan ramen). They did not do ramen, and they specialized in Nagasaki champon, another Chinese-influenced noodle soup that the Japanese adopted. It is as much ramen as chicken noodle soup is. Well, till an influencer puts bok choy and an egg in and deems it so.

My “tuner shop” was located down the street, and I lived a block off of Stevens Creek Blvd (I still crave JC’s Famous BBQ).

Photo Description: Tomoharu Shono is the dude behind the Mensho Group, and this is a pic off of Instagram of 9 of his most liked ramen bowls.
Nothing traditional about Shono’san’s ramen at Mensho, but he epitomizes the core of what Japanese ramen is all about (when in the Bay Area, I have no issue paying 16-18 for Mensho). Image courtesy of Mensho.

Around 2013-2014, I took my girlfriend at the time, who had been living and working in Tokyo, and the spot I won’t name in the Tenderloin was horrendous (they are now closed). Luckily Mensho later opened to redeem ramen in the neighborhood and the Bay Area (I really like Orenchi, they’re legit, except they might have only had their Santa Clara location at the time).

Instant Restaurant Pork Stock Ramen

Having done ramen pop-ups, I do not blame small businesses for using frozen instant ramen soup stocks because it is so time-consuming, along with being a PITA (filtering meat and bone from your base stock). So you can save a lot of headache by using these base stocks as a jumping-off point because all you need is the below components:

  1. STEP 1: Take your pack of frozen pork (concentrate) extract and add 1kg (2.2 lbs) to 2.5 gallons of water (feeds approximately 25 customers).
  2. STEP 2: Now in a bowl, add 1 ounce of kaeshi (shoyu, miso, tonkotsu, or paitan flavoring), plus 12 ounces of soup stock (2 soup ladles), and mix thoroughly.
  3. OPTIONAL: adding your own tweaks to the base stock or kaeshi (link to Japanese Soul Cooking).
  4. STEP 3: Finally add noodles and toppings.

If you ever ordered mozzarella sticks to any number of pub foods, you got to experience the miracles of a freezer bag and a deep-fryer technology. The same goes for ramen, and if you saw Ramen Heads (a documentary on ramen shops in Japan), yea, that’s not happening with the majority of ramen restaurants in the US.

Japanese Ramen Ya’s

These businesses will be as close as you are going to get in San Francisco to Japanese ramen. (*) denote multi-store operations.

Americanized Japanese Inspired Ramen

Fusion Asian and Japanese-inspired ramen joints in San Francisco.

It does not matter if it is Japanese-style or Americanized ramen, it all comes down to what you like (just like how some people are into paddles and whips).

Photo Description: Kaiju Eats ramen bowl with renkon, radish, chili threads, and moyashi. All topped off with green onions and an egg.
Kaiju’s chicken coconut shoyu ramen, Image courtesy of Gary Stevens

San Francisco Ramen Price Comparison

If you are on an instant ramen budget, you just might have to stick to that diet because ramen in the Bay Area is not cheap (either is your $3-4k studio apartment/closet). You can blame the rent prices or the dotcoms for eff’n that all up, or maybe there are just a lot of bandwagon businesses wanting to cash in on $15 instant ramen (btw, pho also comes in instant form too).

I was not expecting such uniformity in pricing, and it looks like the typical range for a bowl of ramen in San Francisco is $14-18. In comparison, Tsujita charges $11.95 to $13.95 (Los Angeles), Ikkousha $12.50-$13 (Orange County), and Menya Ultra $11.95-12.95 (San Diego).

These are some of the best ramen ya’s in their region, but I cannot say the same about SF.
RESTAURANTPRICINGRAMEN TYPE
Ajisen$13.75
$16.15
Spicy miso ramen
Palm-sized pork ramen
Goku$14.50
$15.50
Rich tonkotsu ramen
Kakuni tonkotsu ramen
Hinodeya$14
$16
House ramen
Tori paitan
Ippudo$14
$15
Shiromaru classic
Bonito tonkotsu
Iza$16-17
$14-15
Iza ramen
Vegetarian miso ramen
Jijime$13.99
$16.95
Tonkotsu ramen
Seafood ramen
Kaiju$16
$30
Coconut shoyu ramen
Ebirah ramen
Kobo
Waraku
$14.95
$15.95
Tonkotsu ramen
Black garlic tonkotsu ramen
Marufuku$14.50
$18.50
Hakata tonkotsu
Hakata Tonkotsu DX
Mensho$16.50
$18
Tori paitan ramen
Vegan tantanmen
Nash$15.95
$12.95
Tori paitan
Honey BBQ sando combo
Nojo$15.50
$22
Soy sauce chicken paitan
Shrimp ramen
Orenchi$15.30
$18
Orenchi (tonkotsu) ramen
Vegan curry tatan ramen
Ramenwell$14.95
$16.45
Signature pork ramen
Souper spicy garlic pork ramen
Slurp$14
$15
Shio tonkotsu
Spicy miso tonkotsu
Umai
Ramen
House
$13.80
$16.80
Homemade “tonkutsu”
Oxtail ramen
Ushio
Ramen
$15
$18.95
Tori tonkotsu ramen
Seafood deluxe ramen
Yamadaya$15.50
$15.50
Yamadaya
Tsukemen
Pho Tan Hoa for a basic bowl is $10.15 and dac biet is $11.99
Chong Qing Xiao Mian offers a won ton noodle soup for only $9.95 and spicy beef noodle soup $10.95

Luckily for the country and the Bay Area, it has Yamachan (aka Nippon Trends Food Service, Inc.) for some of the best ramen in the US to service the Bay Area since they are in San Jose.

A Great Resource I Need to Pimp Out

For **Ushio (Jessica Park), I came across a site that is new to me which is Hoodline. They have a lot of great content, and I highly suggest you check them out (there’s very few praiseworthy sources, so I very rarely promote anybody). Also the interview they do of Ushio highlights how cringe worthy the owners of Ushio are by saying:

“we really like ramen, so we tried a lot of ramen places in the Bay Area but couldn’t find one that we liked,” said Ted Hui, Ushio Ramen’s general manager. “There may have been a couple that we liked, but they weren’t in San Francisco.”

– Ted Hui, Ushio Ramen’s general manager.

Ok Ted, so you only like the places that are not direct competition and once you open, you’ll be everybody’s savior, got it. Then they say they won’t use MSG, yet Ted might not know Japanese food is filled with glutamates.

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