Recently, I had a ramen epiphany in San Francisco. It was at Ken Ken Ramen, a tiny operation that pops up in the Mission every Thursday and Sunday, at The Corner (a coffee shop/ restaurant space).
Robert Patterson, who grew up in Japan, no longer wanted to travel all the way to San Mateo (or god forbid even hop on a bus to Japantown) for a decent bowl of ramen. He dreamed of a ramen shop right in his own neighborhood, where locals could gather over a steaming bowl of noodles and soup and guzzle down a pint of draft beer. After careful research through Japan with his team, Stefan Roesch and Taka Hori, they created a damn good bowl of ramen.
Ken Ken offers different specials every time they open, and even have a secret menu. [How to access that menu, I cannot divulge--you must be a regular!]. But their staples are simple, to the point, and very crucial for any ramen-ya (ramen shop):
Ramen. Gyoza. Karaage (Japanese-style fried chicken). What more do you need?
Taka preparing a bowl of ramen:
Gyoza, by Ryoji that day:
Taka straining noodles:
Torching the chashu (slow-roasted pork):
They offer the three basic soups: Shio (salt), shoyu (soy sauce), and miso. The latter is my favorite wherever I go, and this was no exception. All their soups are made from scratch--no industry ingredients are used for the base. WOW.
Ken Ken Miso Ramen:
Marinated soft-boiled egg porn:
The most impressive part of the bowl? The noodles. I contemplating as I slurped--these noodles are the REAL DEAL! I like my noodles bouncy and al dente, and they were both. The Japanese have a word for this--shiko-shiko. This was it.
Turns out that Ken Ken CUSTOM-MAKES their noodles. They use flour from Hokkaido and a noodle press from Japan--they are constantly tweaking their recipe. OH MY GOD. While other ramen shops are out there getting their noodles from massive manufacturers (often from China), these guys are actually doing all the research themselves! This is massive, and incredibly admirable.
I usually like my miso soup to be made from a redder miso, which I find brings out more complexity. I truly appreciated however, that the soup was clear-tasting, and not a greasy, oily, globby mess which seems to be all the rage these days. Can't deal.
Excellent gyoza. The wrapper was thick and had great texture. Again, shiko-shiko (bouncy).
Purin by Junko Schwesig, aka Bay Alien.
San FLAN! So clever.
Vanilla bean specks! Worthy of a Yamahomo battle, for sure.
Taka, from Hakata. Ryoji, from Yokohama.
All ramen is $11 a bowl, and $3 for extra toppings.
There are still a few ramen spots I need to try out or revisit around the Bay Area, but Ken Ken offers the best I've had in San Francisco proper thus far. There is an energy about these Ken Ken Ramen guys that is truly dynamic, and their passion for ramen, and every single one of its ingredients, shines through in each bowl. The chashu charred with a hand-torch, the perfectly soft-boiled egg, and most importantly, the CUSTOM-MADE NOODLES!!!
And keep an eye out during the summer months for hiyashi-chuka (cold noodle salad)!
Thanks Ken Ken, for bringing awesome ramen to the Mission! Let's keep it alive.
KEN KEN RAMEN
Thursday + Sunday
Till they run out of noodles!