805 South B Street, San Mateo, CA 94401 (650)344-5918 | note: they are moving to a new location Dec. 1
I have been pestering DDR and P for literally years to go to Santa Ramen, and somehow JT finally coordinated an expedition for last Sunday. We agreed to meet there at 11:00am sharp (they open at 11:30). Mr. K and I got there early and I took the picture to the left at 10:50 (notice the lack of people in front). Since there was no one in sight, we decided to walk around a bit, but got seriously sidetracked when we wandered into Draegers Market down the street. By the time we got back at 11:20, look at the picture below… aaaargh! We could have been first in line! Fortunately our friends were there holding a place in line for us, so we were able to squeeze in for the first seating.
It’s been at least ten years since the last time I came here, which is really too long ago to remember much except that they serve Tonkotsu ramen, a specialty from the Kyushu area characterized by a rich pork bone broth. Santa Ramen has quite a reputation for being one of the best ramen shops in the Bay Area and is also known for its long lines. One of their specialties is called stewed pork but it’s really braised pork belly or Buta Kakuni (read an excellent post about this delicacy by kirk at mmm-yoso!!). They only make enough to serve the first seating, so it’s really important that you get there early if you are craving this rich and delectable meat with your noodles. The menu is posted on the wall in a grid pattern, broken down by the different styles of soup: Shoyu (soy sauce flavor) which is the lightest, Tonkotsu (pork flavor), and Miso (soybean flavor) both of which have a richer soup base.
Notice the commanding hand pointing at the Stewed Pork and Roasted Pork Tonkotsu ramen, that’s DDR. She said we had to order it now or never, as they were still serving but would probably soon run out. I heard and obeyed…
This is my own bowl of Tonkotsu ramen with stewed pork and roasted pork. The slices of roasted pork are huge and meaty and the pork belly is rich and decadent when combined with the hearty and intense pork broth.
The broth is rich with bone marrow and pork flavor, bordering on creamy and you can see globules of fat glistening on the surface. Slices of green onion add fragrance and aroma and the sharp acidity of the bright red pickled ginger intersects with the richness of the soup adding depth and flavor.
The pork belly is tender but chewy and falls apart when poked with chopsticks. It’s quite salty, especially when combined with the rich, heavy broth. Like Halu Ramen, the noodles are thick, straight noodles, which while not the traditional thin noodles served with tonkatsu ramen, seem well suited for the full bodied soup.
Our group was too big to fit into one table, so Mr. K and I shared a table with Cherie and Amid, who in a chivalrous gesture offered a bite of his stewed pork to his wife who exclaimed, ooh get that away from me, that looks nasty! It is fatty looking and indeed quivers in blubbery delight, but the texture was soft and buttery, creamy and rich. I finished all of the pork belly meat but couldn’t finish the entire bowl.
While we were enjoying our fatty pork belly, we noticed one of the workers put up a sign that the stewed pork was sold out! Dang, they weren’t kidding, you really do have to make it in the first seating if you want to order it…
Silly me, I got an order of Kara-age, which is marinated chicken that is battered and fried. It arrived at the same time as the noodles and merely served to fill me up so I couldn’t finish my bowl of noodles! I ate one nugget, noted that it was not fresh from the fryer and then turned to my ramen, never looking back.
Mr. K had Miso Ramen with Corn which also had roast pork, bean sprouts and some strips of roasted seaweed.
JT had Tonkotsu style broth with a hard boiled egg, which comes with 2 slices of roasted pork, lovely crunchy pickled bamboo shoots and roasted seaweed.
DDR had the Miso Ramen with Stewed Pork which looks like a much less fatty combination. I believe she said this dish also included Yuzu, which is an aromatic citrus that is similar to lemon.
Afterwards, Mr. K said that his ramen was good, but thought that the miso broth was too salty. He’s thinking that there is better ramen out there to be found. I find this interesting because rameniac did not seem very impressed by Santa Ramen either, saying that its reputation was due to lack of options in the area… Me, I loved the fatty pork belly, although the the combination I had was clearly not for the faint of heart, the soup was delicious and quite a feast. For a first visit back in 10 years, I found it to still be a worthy food shrine filled with hungry devotees of ramen noodles. The mad crazy crowds thinned out after the first rush for the stewed pork and there was just a handful of people in line when we left.
We stopped off at Nijiya market to shop and noticed that the new future home of Santa Ramen is in the same shopping complex! This is good news, as it is a straight shot over the San Mateo bridge for us. I am definitely going to check out the new and improved digs when they open in December for another sampling, but am ready to check the other options like Maruichi, Himawari, Ryowa… any other suggestions?