Ramen is a touchy subject in the Bay Area. Scratch that, it is a touchy subject ANYWHERE. In New York, LA, Tokyo... it doesn't matter what town you may be in -- everyone has a god damn opinion about ramen. So I haven't really wanted to tread the waters of "The Best Ramen" in the Bay Area. It sounded too grandiose to me. And to be honest, I've been sitting on this article for months! But it is time to unravel my top three bowls of ramen in the Bay Area. Cause dammit, Umami Mart's opinion matters too. Right?!?!?
Before reading further and getting your panties in a bunch over my list, I want to make a few things clear:
- The list is short. I mean, you don't really want an endless list, do you? These are, in fact, the only bowls of ramen that I return to on a regular basis. Believe me, I have tried mostly all of the ramen shops in the Bay Area -- I grew up here and have gone through many bowls throughout the last 30 years here with my family and friends. Yes, I went to Santa, but the quality has gone downhill since they expanded. Yamadaya and Menoh and Misoya are alright. Goku was nasty.
- My top criteria are noodles and soup. I like my noodles bouncy and curly. The soup must hit me at the core. Miso is my go-to soup base.
- I think gyoza is a very important component in a ramen shop and none of these places serve gyoza. That is a travesty to me. However, if I'm craving a bowl of ramen, there are the places where I go. If I want gyoza, I guess I would just make it myself.
Nestled inside the Mitsuwa food court in San Jose, this has been my go-to bowl for years now. It's not glamorous -- you're eating under fluorescent lights with a lot of other people with a flimsy plastic soup spoon. But I, along with throngs of others, are willing to stand in line for 30 minutes here, just to wait another 30 for them to call your number. And they only take cash!
But what you are rewarded with is worth the wait. I usually get the spicy miso, which comes with menma, mushrooms and a slice of pork.
The egg is always a tragedy but I get it anyway. The bowl is always piping hot and the noodles, toothsome. But the broth here is why you really come. It is so deep and rich, and stays with you for hours.
Get a side of rice with natto or ikura for a carb-on-carb delight!
This place needs no introduction and to be transparent, they buy their glassware from Umami Mart. But that's not why I put them on my list. Their ramen deserves to be on here because it is the best it has ever been -- Yoko and I come here about once a month and the bowls are consistently good and inventive. Also, I must say that the noodles have improved drastically since opening.
JJ, the main ramen chef, is committed to making ramen using seasonal ingredients, and the flavors are always well-matched and balanced. He has fun with ramen, which is evident, and I appreciate.
We come on Mondays for JJ's tsukemen (ramen with dipping sauce). And if you happen to be there for a night of noodles made with nettles, you are in for a treat!
JJ did train at a ramen shop in Hokkaido before opening Ramen Shop, and he travels back every year. I think that both Rayneil, the other chef, and JJ have a great understanding of dashi and and their tare (soup base stock) is admirable. They've really created a whole new sub-genre within ramen with their farm-to-table ethos, and despite the naysayers, there is usually an hour wait to get a table here. People can not get enough of Ramen Shop!
We are lucky to have Ramen Shop so close to Umami Mart HQ. Not just for ramen but for cocktails too!
I've known ramen nerds and connoisseurs from all over the United States to make the pilgrimage to San Jose, California, for Orenchi Ramen. They opened about 15 years ago in this little strip mall down the street from where I grew up, and the line for a table is more endless and ridiculous each time I go. Half the time, we leave.
Lucky for us SFers, we now have Orenchi BEYOND in the Mission, serving just a few types of ramen, along with some of their signature appetizers and a nice sake list. The space is very stylish (compared to aforementioned strip mall) and all the cool kids hang out here:
It's only been about a year since Beyond opened, and it's always hard to get a table. But you can order a drink while you wait outside, which is so rad.
This space is dedicated to street culture, and there's a lot of great art on the walls and tables. This one of Beat Takeshi is my favorite:
I love getting a seat here.
All the bowls of ramen here are truly delicious, and each represent why Orenchi has developed such a cult following. Orenchi's signature bowl has a tonkotsu broth with an egg, menma, nori, mushroom and a slice of pork:
The flavors are deep and soothing, especially on a cold night.
I also recommend the chuka-soba which is a basic ramen with a shoyu base, for a lighter, more refreshing bowl.
That's my list! Comment below and let us know if we've missed any of your favorites.
675 Saratoga Ave
San Jose, CA 95129
5812 College Ave
Oakland, CA 94618
174 Valencia St
San Francisco, CA 94103