Navigating the menu at ramen restaurants can be confusing, but not with these helpful tips.
Walking into a ramen restaurant can be like entering another world — one filled with loud slurping, jaunty movements of the chin and chopsticks furiously digging through noodles for unseen treasures. Ramen eaters are focused creatures with gazes downcast into the steaming worlds below, moving utensils in a methodical, practiced motion.
For the ramen newbie, here are a few must-know translations and tips for eating that perfect bowl of ramen.
The broth for ramen soup, tonkotsu originates from and is the specialty of Fukuoka Prefecture on the Kyushu island of Japan. (Interestingly, in Fukuoka, Tonkotsu is actually referred to as Hakata ramen.) The broth is known for its rich and creamy character, derived from simmering pork marrow bones for hours on end.
Where to try it: Tajima states it takes 12 hours to craft their signature tonkotsu broth. Offering a range of noodles, including fat, thin, spinach and gluten-free, their “Original” comes with pork or chicken chashu, green onions, egg, sesame seeds and seaweed.
Kearny Mesa: 4411 Mercury St., #110, 858.278.5367 and 4681 Convoy St., 858.576.7244; Hillcrest: 3739 Sixth Ave., 619.269.5050; Downtown: 901 E St., 619.431.5820; North Park: 3015 Adams Ave., #102B, 619.756.7517, tajimasandiego.com
Referred to by Raki Raki as “the dippin’ ramen”, this style separates out the broth from the noodles, and the diner dips the noodles in the soup before eating. Typically udon or soba noodles are used — served cold or room temperature — and the broth tends to be more intense than traditional ramen soup.
Where to try it: Raki Raki Ramen & Tsukemen serves versions with organic chicken, flame blistered underbelly, and oxtail.
Kearny Mesa: 4646 Convoy St., #102-A, 858.573.2400; Little Italy: 2254 India St., 619.240.8511, rakirakiramen.com
The quintessential appetizer for ramen, yakitori generally features skewered grilled chicken, but can include beef, pork, toppoki (a Korean spicy rice cake with fish and chili), heart, gizzard, and tongue.
Where to try it: Offering 20+ options, Yakyudori is the place for every imaginable type of yakitori, from the standard to the Bizarre Foods-style adventurous.
4898 Convoy St. #101, Kearny Mesa, 858.268.2888, sandiegoyakyudori.com
Not for the faint of palate, octopus balls can range from mild to downright salty. An appetizer specialty found at most ramen spots, the balls are deep fried and served with specialty sauces.
Where to try it: If the idea of octopus balls is too much, Izakaya Masa flattens their takoyaki into pancakes for an interesting spin. (The name Izakaya is a Japanese name for a common bar or restaurant that is popular for after-work drinks.)
928 Fort Stockton Dr., Mission Hills, 619.542.1354, izakayamasa.com
Karaage (or Kara-Age)
A Japanese method of deep frying in oil chicken, meat and fish coated in flour or potato starch.
Where to try it: Ramen Yamadaya offers Karaage as an appetizer or add on to ramen dishes, including their “rich and fatty” Tonkotsu Kotteri and Level 3 heatwave Tonkotsu Spicy.
4706 Clairemont Mesa Blvd., Clairemont, 858.483.3431, ramen-yamadaya.com
A method of braising meat (primarily pork belly) at low temperatures in sauce until very tender. The low-n-slow cooking method renders out the fat as the meat continues to marinate in the sauce until serving.
Where to try it: Nishiki Ramen serves a variety of chashu ramen and minced bowls, including pork belly, beef rib, chicken and even a tofu chashu for vegetarians.
8055 Armour St., #201A, Kearny Mesa, 858.987.0222, nishikiramen.com
A Japanese/Chinese hybrid, this pork-based ramen broth turns up the heat with sesame and chili oil.
Where to try it: Menya Ultra (hailed as serving the best ramen in America in 2017 by Andrew Zimmern) serves up their Tantan Men in a hot version with Chinese-style pork or chicken, stir-fried bean sprouts, green onions, minced pork, sesame seeds and red pepper. For summer only, the specialty can be ordered cold, with seasoned minced pork, cucumber, tomato, onion, roasted sesame seeds and ginger.
8199 Clairemont Mesa Blvd., Unit M, Kearny Mesa, 858.571.2010, menya-ultra.com