Find this article here on bayarea.com:
Like this article? Check out my Favorite Ramen list here:
Wow! Is it getting chilly, or what? Lately, the forecast has been a little scary with the weather forecasters mentioning that some Bay Area locations are getting as low as 20 degrees. Yikes!
This is some DEFCON 1, code-red level problems only a born and bred Californian could appreciate. And yeah, yeah, yeah, we get it, East Coast: you shovel snow in your driveway blah blah blah… But during the winter months out here in the West, we, too, feel the seasons change.
Though not as drastic, we still appreciate the things that help to keep us warm, like a cup of Joe, a bonfire, or a tasty bowl of hot ramen. And I’m not talking about the instant Cup-O-Noodles you ate during college or that package of square noodles you used to help you “learn how to cook.” I’m talking about the real, authentic and flavorful kind of ramen that originated in Japan.
Believe it or not, I actually never had my bowl of “real” ramen until I met my husband (then my boyfriend) almost 10 years ago, and I haven’t gone back to the packaged stuff since. (Okay, I may have eaten some instant noodles here or there, but that’s only if there is absolutely no food in the house.) But seriously, when you dig into your first real bowl with thick pieces of pork, al dente homemade noodles, perfectly poached eggs, and a broth that soothes your entire soul on the way down, you may never go back to that packaged kind.
Ever since my first bowl, I’ve traveled to many places including Japan to eat some of the tastiest ramen out there, which now leads me to the good ol’ Bay Area: Though the greater Bay Area has always been known for good Ramen, the Peninsula and the South Bay might surprise some people by how good their ramen places actually are. And since it’s been cold AF, be sure to take yourself post-not-shoveling-snow on a trip to some of the Peninsula and South Bay’s best.
Best Ramen on the Peninsula:
Best Spicy Ramen
An instant classic: People love spicy food and they also love ramen — you put them together and get this ever-so-popular spot in San Mateo that can always be seen with the crowds of people waiting outside to get seated. They don’t take any reservations, and you must be present with your entire party to get seated. So, please be patient. If you are far down on the list, don’t go too far or the “Ramen Nazi” (as I call her) will skip right past your ass and move on. “No soup for you!”
However, if and when you do get in, you must try the spicy garlic ramen. The broth is packed with flavor, and the spiciness of it really takes it to another level. You can choose your own spice level here, and the bowl comes with ramen noodles, quail eggs, good sized pieces of pork, and saffron to garnish. I also recommend ordering the chicken karaage appetizer as well.
Best Seafood-Inspired Ramen
Right around the corner from Ramen Dojo, you’ll find another delicious Ramen restaurant from the same chef/owner of Dojo, Kazunori Kobayashi (who also owns Santa Ramen, which is mentioned next).
Though Dojo has a cult following, Ramen Parlor is in on the Japanese trend of making the broths more robust and flavorful. Here, they do that by adding a layer of lobster oil to any of their traditional ramen flavors (shoyu [soy], miso, pork, and garlic pork).
You can also order traditional ramen if that’s not your style, but really, the lobster-flavored ramen is where it’s at. It comes with your standard two pieces of pork, two quail eggs, spinach, roasted seaweed, bean sprouts, and one-half of a soft shell crab. Delish!
Best Traditional Ramen
The bowls served here come in traditional flavors and offerings, along with other unique ones like the pork cheek ramen and, my personal favorite, the pork belly ramen. The portions here are also what stand out compared to the other two previously mentioned restaurants because, to me, they far exceed them both.
Choose to get the fried garlic toppings which add an extra tasty and crunchy element, and order the chicken karaage appetizer to start. You won’t be disappointed.
Best Tan Tan Ramen
When you walk into Himawari, you may actually think you’re in a jazz-like coffee bistro, but don’t be fooled: You’ll be able to get tasty Ramen with a unique ambiance.
There are records on the wall and jazz music playing but order their Tan Tan Ramen and you might be hooked. Though Himawari has other offerings here like the Clam Butter, Tonkatsu or the Shio Butter Corn Ramen, the Tan Tan Ramen is a stand out with its spicy chili broth, made with ground pork, big chunks of stewed pork, and a helping of cilantro — perfect for the cold weather or fighting off a cold.
And if you don’t want to get ramen here, you don’t have to. All of their offerings from the pork fried rice to the agedashi tofu and sushi are great options here too!
Hanabi Ramen & Japanese Curry
Best Curry Ramen
All of their rice dishes and appetizers are worth trying, but their curry plates and curry ramen shine here. There is an art to creating delicious Japanese curry — a blend of spices and vegetables — and to go one step further to making a ramen out of the delicious concoction makes it even more amazing. Order the chicken katsu or chicken karaage curry ramen, and you’ll be instantly comforted by the food you just had. And if you’re not into curry, I recommend trying their Asari (clam) ramen or any of their spicy specials: Hot, but oh-so-good!
Best Ramen in the South Bay:
Best Ramen Set
When you come to Santouka, make sure you make an afternoon of it — go grocery shopping, and get all your Japanese food goodies then eat here for lunch or dinner.
Hosted inside the Mitsuwa Market in San Jose, Santouka may look unassuming, but trust me, you’ll never look at eating inside a grocery store the same again. Here, you should try any of the combination sets, which include a delicious bowl of ramen that comes in four different flavors (salt, soy sauce, miso, and spicy miso) and a small side dish of yumminess like cha shu pork over rice, salmon roe over rice, and more. You’ll drool so much over this combo for lunch or dinner that you’ll forget you’re in a grocery store!
Best Tsukemen Ramen
Ramen Halu may not be the first ramen destination on your list, but they offer a popular type of ramen I first had in Japan called Tsukemen. The Tsukemen-style is sort of like a deconstructed ramen where the broth comes separately than the noodles and fixin’s.
You actually dip the ramen noodles and goodies in the broth then eat it — it is an experience you should at least try once. I feel like you really get the flavors of both the noodles and the broth differently as they don’t “drown” each other out.
The Tsukemen option is not available at many restaurants around the Bay so Ramen Halu may be your pick if you want to try something new. They also have traditional flavors, wheat noodle options, and fun seasonal flavors like their pumpkin ramen that comes with a bat-shaped seaweed strip. Say what?!
Best Kuro Ramen
Yes, Kuro Ramen — a blackened, garlicky-based ramen is something that may not be appealing to the eyes, but it is damn delicious. Kuro means “black” in Japanese, and Maru Ichi does a great job at preparing theirs with charred garlic, which gives the broth depth and an aroma that only garlic can.
Come here for the combo sets, and you can get your ramen with a side of salmon sashimi over rice, curry rice, or even potstickers. But Maru Ichi doesn’t just have Ramen; they are considered a noodle shop and make savory udon bowls as well. Don’t forget to bring your cash or you won’t be slurping up your noodles at all.
Best Overall Ramen Restaurant
Santa Clara & Los Altos (Also Orenchi Beyond in San Francisco)
Orenchi is probably the South Bay’s most popular ramen restaurant, because they offer so much more than just ramen.
The appetizers are stand outs all on their own, like the takoyaki, salads, and literally anything with their minced garlic; however, the house special, Orenchi Ramen, seems to be a crowd favorite with its milky-looking tonkatsu broth and a soft-boiled egg, cooked to perfection. Actually, all the eggs in all the dishes seem to be cooked perfectly, especially in the ramen, so do yourself a favor and add on that extra egg with yolk of gold. You deserve it on a cold and chilly day. Yum! And be prepared to wait in line; it just comes with the territory. It’s no wonder they’re a Michelin-recommended restaurant.