Ever since Top Ramen hit the shelves it has been my favorite snack, but it wasn’t until I moved to San Francisco that I discovered the deliciousness that is true ramen. I consumed many a vast bowl of ramen in J-town since then, and still do have a packet or ten in the pantry. If I can’t decide what I want for lunch or dinner I turn to ramen. My favorite food movie of all time remains Tampopo. It’s no wonder that I turn again and again to a deep bowl filled with golden noodles, miso or soy based broth, a billion topping options and dashes of togarashi.
Earlier this year I decided to embark on a quest to eat the best ramen in the City and nearby environs. Since my shoulder injury cooking for myself hasn’t been happening but I learned I can still eat ramen, even using chopsticks in my left hand. Yay, ambidexterity!
Thus begins my journey of bliss in a bowl, a journey of many spoons, chopsticks and soup splatters across my clothes, a journey into the center of satisfaction.
First off, I frequent Hapa Ramen at lunchtime at the Ferry Building Thursday food carts. I go there almost every week since they started. The City has been abuzz about this stall since its opening last year and brave long lines and uncertain weather to eat this ramen. My favorite is the Big Daddy Ramen which once consumed causes me to positively slosh back to the office where I long to sling a hammock in the server room and nap the afternoon away.
The Big Daddy features a rich porky broth loaded with seasonal vegetables, pork belly, nuggets of crispy karaage – Japanese fried chicken – seaweed, nori and a slow cooked soft egg. Here, look and it’s better in person.
Their own kimchee and pickled veggie garnish is so popular they have now wised up and are charging for it. I am not a kimchee sort of gal but theirs is brilliant as a topping or nibble post-ramen. They also make little fried tidbits on occasion such as this pork-shrimp-radish cake.
The rich broth at Hapa is the thing and I would like to bob in their propane-heated giant pots like they were hot tubs and bring a spoon. Mmm, long pig (just kidding). These folks are *dedicated*, they’re more like acolytes than cooks. I also follow Ritchie on Twitter, he’s just generally amazing.
Onwards on my quest, I headed south in the dead of winter like a magpie after tinsel or in my case I was after yarn at Stitches West, which I visit every year with my pal E__.
It was a cruddy rainy day and we had to park what seemed miles away from the convention center. We did not bring umbrellas. After gorging our totebags with yarn we slogged the long trip back to the car and shivered in our sodden clothes for the long drive back home. E__ suggested stopping for ramen, and we were rejuvenated instantly at the prospect.
Sadly though, our hopes were dashed when Ramen Dojo in San Mateo was inexplicably closed. Disaster!
Fortunately the miracle of the iPhone saved us and we saw on the map that there was another place 5 minutes away in Burlingame.
Behold the unexpected joy of Ramen Club. Apparently this place has almost a cult status and we lucked into it. Luck or destiny?? My pal Jeters told me that she dines there frequently.
We sat at the counter, warmed our hands around mugs of steaming tea and ordered the seasonal special.
How could we say no to bacon ramen? And corn. And butter? It had to be wrong but sure enough each huge bowl was topped with pats of salted butter. I learned later this is common in the Sapporo region.
The chef stir-fried the vegetables first in a huge wok, then added the miso broth, divided it between our two bowls and topped them with all the good stuff including extra roasted pork and eggs. ZOMG. This was best ever.
I am still thinking of those noodles, hand pulled no less, the bacon, the pork, and the sweet corn, all coated with butter.
Recently E__ sang at a concert in Palo Alto. Her chorale group is incredible – Masterworks Chorale, you must hear them soon and often – lately I couldn’t swing the ticket cost but instead I was allowed to usher the event, bad wing and all.
After the concert, souls filled with beautiful music but achingly empty in our bellies we headed once again to San Mateo see if Ramen Dojo was open. Huzzah, it was, and it was a good night for ramen judging by the masses of people milling outside the tiny restaurant storefront.
This place seats 24 only and there were *so* many people ahead of us. We persevered, catching a whiff of their famous spicy garlic pork broth that poofed out the front door when it opened briefly to disgorge happy diners or receive hungry new patrons.
It was freezing cold outside, our exhalations enveloping us like SF fog. We stamped our feet and our order size kept increasing each minute we waited. After seventy minutes we were still determined. And ravenous. They ran out of slow cooked eggs but we didn’t care. Finally it was our turn!
As we were seated we heard the hostess say they were almost out of noodles. Thankfully there was emough for us. We ordered spicy garlic ramen with extra everything: pork, roasted seaweed, corn, quail eggs, it already comes with bamboo, whole roasted garlic cloves and red peppers. We ordered karaage and octopus filled wheat balls too.
Everything arrived quickly. The spicy garlic pork broth was incredible. If the line wasn’t so long I would get on the train and head down there several times a week after work. We got there at 6:3 pm and they’re only open 5:30 pm to 9:00 pm so I think it’s safe to conclude you need to be there as close to their opening to ensure a bowl is yours.
We ate it all. I mean that. For the first time in my life I ate an entire bowl of ramen. Behold, the bottom of the bowl. I may never see it again.
I don’t remember the drive home. My feet were hot and so was the tip of my nose. I could have repelled a horde of vampires with my garlicy countenance. It was divine.
And this is just the beginning. I have many more places on my list to visit and would love to know your favorites.
805 South B Street, San Mateo, CA 94401