Now that the ramen trend in San Francisco has gone mainstream, the taste profile of the ideal bowl of ramen has become increasingly innovative and cross-cultural. Here are the top ramen shops in the Californian city.
During lunch hours in the Financial District location, reservations are not allowed, and there’s always a line outside the door, but the food is well worth the wait. Locals suggest trying Ramen Underground’s creamy, soy milk broth with a helping of corn, spinach, a soft-boiled egg, and braised pork belly. With an original location in Japantown, Ramen Underground’s reputation for MSG-free, non-greasy, and ultra-savory ramen has earned it business in an even more populated part of town.
Four words: deep fried chicken ramen. Ramen lovers and Genki Ramen enthusiasts boast trying the Chicken Karaage Ramen in a salty miso base with a side of gyoza (pork) fried rice. The juicy fried chicken nugget is served in a tonkotsu broth with fresh corn, green onions, and wakame. Add a dollop of that gyoza rice in the bowl, and your tastebuds will come alive with the miso spices. Most importantly, there is no need to pick-up or eat-in as this little noodle house delivers.
Chotto is the most popular ramen house in the Marina District; it’s got a five-star broth rating. Known for its house-made chashu, ground pork, chives, bean sprouts, menma, and nori, marinating in a juicy hybrid of miso-tonkotsu broths, Chotto has two varieties. These are regular and spicy. Unlike other bowls of ramen in the Bay Area, the rich slices of roast pork do little to underscore the cloudy, pork-infused broth. Just make sure to pay a little extra for the spicy homemade kimchi and soft-boiled egg.
As a hip little ramen noodle house, Ken Ken Ramen draws quite a brunch crowd. Its contribution to the San Francisco ramen scene has always been the porky Hakata-style tonkotsu ramen with straight noodles, wood-ear mushrooms, pickled ginger, and a whole soft-boiled egg. The vegan ramen noodles may not taste as firm or eggy, but they are sprouting with flavor. The bamboo, bok choy, pea sprouts, and lightly fried kabocha give texture and freshness to a salty shoyu or miso broth.
This sleek ramen restaurant is designed for socializing during lunch and after hours by providing a number of small tables, bar seats, and group tables. With a cozy, well-lit interior, The Ramen Bar has become a favorite San Francisco hang-out for young professionals and locals living and working in the Embarcadero District. The most interesting dish is by far the shrimp with crab dumpling in a pickled ginger-clam broth with sweet corn and mizuna. Chef Ken Tominaga created Tokyo-inspired ramen for aficionados looking for a new spin on an old trend. Bonus points: the Ramen Bar even offers gluten-free noodles upon request.
Prepared in-house with an imported noodle press from Japan, this ramen joint in the touristy Embarcadero District is off-the-chain authentic. It provides the most texture per noodle. These bowls have rich and fatty broths that pair seamlessly with the thick, chewy, homemade noodles, fresh herbs, and vegetables like arugula, kikurage, corn, and the gooiest soft-boiled eggs imaginable. Whether they’re eating the shoyu, tonkotsu, miso, or vegetable miso, customers are always visible slurping away at Kirimachi Ramen.
On any given day, a long line of locals waits at this divey noodle shop in the heart of the Tenderloin District. Inside the store, most of the customers wait eagerly for savory bowls of chicken fried ramen and evenly cooked noodles laden with potatoes, egg, corn, and fried chicken in a choice of soy-, miso-, or shio- (salt) based broth. Katana-Ya makes it easy for ramen foodies to customize their own bowl by providing additional meat and vegetable toppings that far exceed options at other ramen joints. Pork pot stickers, wontons, fried chicken, kimchi, seaweed, and tofu are just some of their beloved added specialty toppings.
Tanpopo is the epitome of kitsch, packed with a bunch of little tables, dingy lighting, and a TV airing Japanese shows. Despite the strange setting, some of the ramen dishes like Shoyu Chashu are insanely mouthwatering. A substantial, soy-based broth with perfectly cooked pork accompanies a generous helping of fish cake, seaweed, some scallions, and half an egg. The combination brings about feelings of euphoria no matter what kind of day you might be having.
Izakaya, which translates to ‘sit-down sake place,’ is just as it sounds: a quality Japanese restaurant with a late-night vibe. In addition to offering a selection of Japanese tapas, this small restaurant also cooks up some of the tastiest ramen in the city with sake to match. The traditional Tonkotsu ramen at Izakaya Sozai simmers in a collagen-rich, white, milky miso broth. The breaded fried pork tendon is cooked perfectly, and its rich, fatty nature is what makes the broth so full-bodied and tasty. Pair it with a light and smooth yet medium-bodied sake like Izakaya Sozai’s Harushika or Urakasumi and slowly but surely feel the comfort.
Serving more traditional but nonetheless flavorful bowls of Japanese ramen, Men Oh’s menu includes savory but spicy tonkotsu/shoyu broths. Ramen noodles are cut thick to soak up the richness of the stir-fried pork belly, while a dollop of miso pork paste and chili threads marinate along with a gooey soft-boiled egg. The complex broth combinations are melt-in-your-mouth delicious and the most salient feature of the ramen menu. The Kurobuta Tonkatsu Ramen dish is a fan favorite and includes fatty chashu pork, bamboo shoots, earthy kikurage mushrooms, green onion, nori seaweed, and a seasonal boiled egg.