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The best ramen shops in San Francisco

Salty, spicy, slurp-worthy bowls that elevate the lowbrow noodle to a higher plane.

Photograph: Courtesy Ramen Shop
Ramen Shop

One of the few upsides to San Francisco's year-round fog is that, even at the height of Indian summer, it rarely gets too hot for ramen. It used to be that you had to take a trip down to the South Bay to find a decent bowl, but thanks to a recent ramen renaissance, that's no longer the case. Ramen joints in San Francisco and all across the Bay area are turning out delectable, carefully-constructed bowls, flavored by slow-simmered broth, piled with house-made noodles and topped by a perfect, runny egg. From modern, seasonally-inspired flavors to authentic Japanese izakayas, here are the top ramen spots around.

Best ramen shops in SF

Ramen Dojo

The line begins to form a half hour before opening at the dimly lit, 24-seat Dojo, which is hailed by many as the best ramen bowl in the Bay. It's one of three restaurants helmed by ramen king Kazunori Kobayashi (he also owns Santa Ramen, below), but each of the triumvirate specializes in its own unique style. Here, the specialty is the pork ramen in a spicy garlic broth, flavored with whole cloves of roasted garlic and heaped with curly noodles. Choose your own toppings—which include quail eggs, spicy cod roe, bamboo shoots and kikurage mushroom—as well as your level of spiciness, from mild to extra spicy.

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Outside San Francisco

Orenchi Ramen

Polaroids of broth-drunk, sated customers collage the walls at Yoshiyuki Maruyama's Santa Clara mainstay. Though the shop offers shoyu (soy sauce) and shio (salt-based) varieties, the star is the Orenchi ramen. The bowl's rich tonkotsu (pork bone) broth is thickened by a creamy raw egg, laden with chewy wheat noodles and topped with roast Kurobuta pork, green onion, bamboo shoot, mushroom, sesame and nori. Additional toppings are available for 50 cents to $1 each, like a Naruto fish cake or Tokyo leek. The restaurant closes when the soup runs out, so plan accordingly. And if you're not up for a trip to the South Bay, check out Maruyama's Mission spin-off, Orenchi Beyond (174 Valencia St at Duboce Ave).

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Outside San Francisco

Santa Ramen

This San Mateo restaurant is the counterpart to its tiny sister shop, Ramen Dojo, graced with easy parking, ample seating and high ceilings. The main event is the stewed pork belly ramen, which has been known to sell out within hours after opening. The fatty Kurobuta pork is complimented by a hard boiled egg, fresh bean shoots, green onion and nori, all submerged in a fragrant, meaty broth.

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Outside San Francisco

Izakaya Roku

Roku nails the feel—and food—of an authentic izakaya. Nightly menu additions, written in Japanese characters, are taped to the black-painted walls alongside pin-up style Japanese advertisements. Of the ramen flavors—including regular, garlic, spicy, curry and more—the red tonkotsu ramen is best. The steaming, deftly spiced bowl is filled with pork, mushrooms, green onion and a vibrant orange, runny egg. In addition to ramen, this spot is known for its Japanese tapas-style small plates—skewers and bite-sized fried snacks—that pair well beer and sake. Our favorite? Three words: bacon-wrapped mochi.

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Izakaya Sozai

Ramen joints tend to be dark, warm and crowded. Not so at Izakaya Sozai, where the restaurant is fronted by wrap-around windows framing views of bustling Irving Street. You'll find a single, time-tested bowl of ramen on the menu—the ritsu tonkotsu ramen—making your order a no-brainer. The creamy, savory broth is laden with tender, braised pork belly and thick, al dente noodles—you can add a fried egg and spicy miso if you wish. The soup is best paired with a bottle from Sozai's generous sake list, which includes junmai, ginjo, daiginjo and honjozo varieties. Bonus: This is a rare ramen restaurant that takes reservations.

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Inner Sunset

Ramen Shop

Helmed by co-owners Sam White, Jerry Jaksich and Rayneli De Guzman, this perpetually packed Rockridge spot is highbrow ramen at its best. Though comparably pricey at $16 to $18 a bowl, its ingredients—which may include shoyu-marinated egg, blistered tomatoes, chanterelle mushrooms or summer squash—are uncommonly fresh. It's also one of the few ramen shops to make its own noodles, hand-rolled and cut in-house each day. It sounds like an affront to tradition, but the veggie Meyer lemon shoyu ramen, flavored by red miso and heaped with a salt-cured egg and seasonal ingredients, is the spot's most raved-over order. In August 2015, the restaurant took over the storefront next door, expanding its sleek concrete bar and its assortment of Japanese whiskeys and sour beers.

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Oakland

Men Oh

Choose from five kinds of ramen—and a selection of pork- or chicken-based broths—at this Japanese chain. The vibe is reassuringly hole-in-the-wall, and the Tokushima-style ramen is legit, served with toppings like sweet corn, bamboo shoots, green onions, kikurage mushroom, nori, raw pasteurized egg and braised, simmered or stir-fried pork. The hearty, slightly thicker-than-usual noodles are served slightly firm and soften slowly in the milky, creamy broth.

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Richmond

Ken Ken Ramen

This Instagram-worthy Mission eatery is a prime setting for date-night ramen. The bar, aglow with hundreds of paper lanterns, serves up a list of inventive sake cocktails. (Even the bathroom is rather sexy, dark and teeming with jungle-like topiary.) There are several broths to choose from, including tonkotsu, miso, shoyu and shio. There's even a vegan ramen, which includes vegan broth and noodles heaped with a slew of vegetables. The specialty, though, is the tonkotsu pork ramen, in which a rich pork marrow broth is topped with chashu braised pork, nori, a soft-boiled egg, seasonal vegetables and chewy noodles made from imported Hokkaido flour. It's garnished with pickled ginger and scallions, a welcome touch to undercut the heat.

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Mission

Miki Restaurant

This tiny mom and pop spot only seats around two dozen, lending an intimate, hidden-gem quality. Tables are divided by screens and flags are strung overhead. There's a wide variety of choices on the menu, including six chicken- and pork-based broths—shoyu, miso, sio, spicy miso, garlic shoyu, and garlic miso. (You'll also find three vegetarian alternatives, topped with onion, carrot, zucchini, Chinese cabbage, and broccoli.) Order the pork belly, then pile on extras like corn, butter, green onion, egg, and bamboo shoots.

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Outer Richmond

Iza Ramen

Iza, a beloved, weekend-only pop-up since 2013, is expanding into its own space at 237 Fillmore in October 2015. The former's polished concrete floors, wood-slatted ceiling and long bar are a welcome change of pace from hole-in-the-wall ramen joints, and the new restaurant maintains a sleek design. Crowds line up for the silky triple-stock broth, afloat with slow-cooked barbecue pork belly, generous noodles, a soy-marinated soft egg and seasonal vegetables. Try the Tsukemen, a slightly thicker, mouth-watering base made for dipping, rather than soaking, your noodles.

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Mission

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