About 2 months ago, we were sitting in an unusually quiet ramen shop. The place was empty save for us and one other couple two booths away. Then there was our server and one chef behind the counter. Our server approached, hands in front of his chest, clasped together as if he were begging forgiveness.
“We don’t have a full menu today.” His tone was apologetic and genuine. “There’s been an issue, our owners had a disagreement and will be splitting. We’re not sure what’s going to happen yet. But we have a few options for you today.” He pointed to the amended menu, with the option for miso ramen, tonkatsu, gyoza, and little else.
Since then, Fujiyoshi Ramen has been closed with no indication of a future reopening.
We’ve been on the hunt ever since—for our new ramen shop.
Mensho Ramen recently moved in on Geary, two blocks away from us. Straight from Tokyo, this is their first shop outside Japan. Lucky us! But with an hour line every night, we haven’t had the will to wait. So instead, last weekend we started our unofficial quest for San Francisco’s best ramen. And where better to start, then Japantown.
First stop, San Francisco’s Ramen Yamadaya.
The cavernous bowl of tonkotsu kotteri ramen looked like a flooded valley of cloudy broth. Steam washed our faces with the aroma of black garlic oil and braised pork belly.
After boiling for 20 hours, Ramen Yamadaya’s pork bone broth joins the ranks of the slow cooked sauces everywhere, allowing time and heat to unveil new complexities of flavor that dance on the tongue touching each taste bud one at a time. Pork bone broth, aka tonkotsu, hails from Fukuoka’s Hakata district and is often referred to as Hakata ramen. We first fell in love with tonkotsu at our neighborhood ramen shop in Nagoya.
We’d pop by once a week around 10pm after an evening of teaching English. The chef came to know us. Few words were exchanged, but he learned to serve us tonkotsu without dried seaweed. He knew we never ate it. We didn’t know each other’s names, but the shop began to feel like our place. One location we knew was welcome and relaxing in a country where uncertainty and language blunders awaited us around most corners.
At Yamadaya, we were eating among strangers, but sitting at the communal table we felt as if we were among friends and family. The shared table made us part of a group and the parties in the surrounding booths were far away islands watching from a distance. For a moment, it became our new ramen home.
More noodle reports coming soon…