It can't be denied: ramen is having a moment. From the long lines at Mensho Tokyo to the long lines at the Itani Ramen pop-up, folks on both sides of the Bay are eagerly licking their lips over this Japanese comfort food. Whether you're seeking a bowl straight from Asia or a new take on the classic, here are four East Bay spots where you should be slurping noodles.
Ever get that all-too-common, late-night craving for a hot bowl of ramen? Maybe you’ve been out drinking, maybe you’ve just been working late, but nothing says midnight snack like steaming ramen. Well, it's your lucky day: Hopscotch, a Japanese-American fusion restaurant and one of Oakland’s newest bragging rights, has been wowing ravenous late-night eaters with their Friday night pop-up, Yonsei Ramen Shop.
Although Bay Area Japanese noodle connoisseurs have long insisted you need to go to the South Bay for great ramen, the popular comfort food is beginning to develop a legion of followers here in San Francisco. Identified by a rich broth—milky with emulsified fat—and long, springy alkaline noodles, there are textbook bowls of ramen to be found from the Marina to the Outer Sunset. Here's where to go when the craving hits.
I rarely get over to Betelnut for dinner but last night I sat at the smooth, red counter and ordered a bowl of the Malaysian curry laksa soup. What a perfect bowl of comfort. The shrimp were plump, the shredded chicken tender, the kinked up noodles springy. It was all bathing in a rich, fragrant coconut curry a pumpkin color of orange that could stop traffic. It warmed me up as I shivered my way through yet another restaurant in SF with an open-door policy. (As in the front door is kept open even on windy, cold summer nights.)
Leave it to Namu chef Dennis Lee to take the SF ramen craze one step further. One step towards fried that is. His ramyun—a Korean version of ramen made with fried noodles (instead of ramen's fresh), plus pork belly, egg, and kimchi—is the new must-eat at the Saturday Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market. (Fifty bowls are made every week and they sell out fast, so get there early.) We spoke to Dennis about his new soup on a recent Saturday morning as he stirred stock and assembled bowls.
I’ve attended almost every Culinary Institute of America at Greystone World of Flavors conference in St. Helena since they started with Mexico way back when. These conferences are for food professionals only, which is a shame because they are phenomenal. I always get to try something I’ve never had before. That first year, way back when, it was traditionally-made conchinita pibil—a pig roasted in the ground (they actually dug a pit on the grounds of the CIA) by an expert pibil maker from a village in the Yucatán—a man who had never been out of his village, much less hung out a castle-like facility such as the CIA.
Before former Nopa sous chef Richie Nakano launched his Hapa Ramen stand at the Thursday Ferry Plaza Farmers Market this summer, he did his due diligence—analyzing everything from broths to noodles to chashu in ramen joints from SF to NY. Then, he took what he learned and came up with a bowl he could call his own. Here are his picks.