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. Now, they are 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 because they are like my main ho.Even pho restaurants are serving up instant pho broths, and many are no longer producing their stocks.
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).I miss the Bay Area, but it is no longer the way it was due to all the douchey out-of-state transplants.
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 and now closed (they re-opened in Vegas).
Luckily Mensho later opened to redeem ramen in the neighborhood and the Bay Area, although I also like Orenchi (I tried it at a ramen festival in LA that was a total chit show). They are 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:
- 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).
- 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.
- OPTIONAL: adding your own tweaks to the base stock or kaeshi (link to Japanese Soul Cooking).
- 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.Gordon Ramsay would consider these instant ramen restaurants in the “donkey” category.
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.
|Ajisen||*Fukuoka based chain, JP||865 Market St.|
|Hinodeya||*Sasala Group, Masao Kuribara||1737 Buchanan St|
|Izakaya Goku||Eichii Mochizuki||3232 16th St.|
|Ippudo||Managed by the *Panda Restaurant Group||18 Yerba Buena Ln|
|Iza Ramen||Ritsuo Tsuchida||237 Fillmore St|
|Jikasei MENSHO||*Mensho Group, JP||1355 Market St Ste 120|
|Kobo Waraku||Keiji Shimamoto, EK Food Services/Yamachan||1638 Post St|
|Marufuku Ramen||Eichii Mochizuki||Japan Center mall|
|Mensho Tokyo SF||*Mensho Group||672 Geary St|
|Orenchi Beyond||Kuniko Ozawa/Ogiku Corp||174 Valencia St.|
|Ramen Yamadaya||N/A||1728 Buchanan St.|
Americanized Japanese Inspired Ramen
Fusion Asian and Japanese-inspired ramen joints in San Francisco.
|Jijime||N/A||5524 Geary Blvd.|
|Kaiju Eats||Kevin Chen & Judy Chen||3409 Geary Blvd.|
|Nash Hot Chicken Ramen||Dae Jun Jun and Dongquan Lai||3970 17th St|
|Nojo Ramen Tavern||AP Company/based in Japan||231 Franklin St|
|Ramenwell||Harold Jurado||3378 18th St|
|Slurp Ramen||Eric Tom||710 Commercial St|
|Umai Ramen House||N/A||Japan Center mall|
|Ushio Ramen||**Kate/Ted Hui||3128 16th St.|
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).Taco Bell and Pizza Hut both don’t outwardly market themselves as Italian or Mexican and many of these ramen spots should also not be touting a Japanese connection.
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 $3k-4k studio apartment/closet). You can blame the high cost of living on 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.
|Spicy miso ramen|
Palm-sized pork ramen
|Rich tonkotsu ramen|
Kakuni tonkotsu ramen
Vegetarian miso ramen
|Coconut shoyu ramen |
Black garlic tonkotsu ramen
Hakata Tonkotsu DX
|Tori paitan ramen|
Honey BBQ sando combo
|Soy sauce chicken paitan|
|Orenchi (tonkotsu) ramen|
Vegan curry tatan ramen
|Signature pork ramen|
Souper spicy garlic pork ramen
Spicy miso tonkotsu
|Homemade “tonkutsu” |
|Tori tonkotsu ramen|
Seafood deluxe ramen
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.In Los Angeles we have the big daddy of them all, Sun Noodles.
I used to live down the street from the original Tung Kee noodle in San Jose off of 5th and Williams which was/is now a multi-million dollar chain. Although, their business split (TK and Tung Kee), and my guess is because there must have been a rift in the family?
I would avoid 90% of the faux “ramen” spots and opt for some legit Chinese or Vietnamese noodle houses in the Bay Area because why are you paying a premium for instant noodles when you can be eating bun bo hue or the Hai Ky House Special by Hai Ky NoodlesRamen came from China and there are better alternatives to the Americanized fusion ramen spots in the Bay Area.
The success of that chain of noodle restaurants was partially due to their entire menu items being only $3-$4 dollars with their chow fun for $5 back in the day. That affordable pricing made the restaurant widely appealing not just to Asians, but anybody and everybody.
Nowadays, would-be opportunists see the popularity and the premium ramen may fetch, yet they take every shortcut possible and are oblivious to what ramen is. They are also unaware of the focus somebody like my ex-girlfriend, a patisserie in Tokyo has. Her life consists of 12-14 hour days, and her level of craft is beyond most Americans, yet these entrepreneurs are trying to cash in on ramen with nowhere near the level of commitment.
A Great Resource I Need to Pimp Out
For **Ushio, I came across a site that is new to me which is Hoodline (Jessica Park). 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 and food from around the world is filled with glutamates.