Steaming bowls of ramen aren’t just reserved for San Diego’s rare cold — OK, under 60 degrees — nights. Ramen (the Japanese word for “pull,” representing the hand-pulled Chinese noodles in the dish) and its richly flavored broth and toppings is growing in popularity among locals, and on any given day or night, lines can be spotted outside some of the most buzz-worthy locations.
So where to go for a great bowl of ramen in San Diego? PACIFIC asked members of the Facebook group Eating and Drinking in San Diego, as well as several other area ramen aficionados, to name their favorites and the following 16 locations are what topped their lists.
Menya Ultra Ramen, Kearny Mesa
Menya Ultra came in first place by a country mile with local ramen lovers. The credit goes to its noodles, made in-house twice daily with wheat flour imported from Hokkaido, Japan. Menya noodles are known for a distinctive sweet wheat scent, smooth texture and springy consistency. Founder Takashi Endo opened his first Menya shop more than 20 years ago in Japan and has since expanded throughout Asia. Last year, he chose San Diego as his first U.S. market, prompting a visit last spring by Travel Channel’s Andrew Zimmern, who declared Endo’s ramen the best in America. A second outlet is planned later this year in Mira Mesa.
Be prepared: The shop is so popular that diners wait in line up to two hours on weeknights and weekends.
8199 Clairemont Mesa Blvd., Ste. M, 858.571.2010, menya-ultra.com
Izakaya Masa, Mission Hills
While this Izakaya offers an extensive menu of sushi and hot and cold dishes, it’s the basic ramen menu that people line up for most evenings. Masa has just one broth (tonkotsu, made from boiled-down pork bones and meat), three ramen dishes and no optional add-ins. But fans say it’s one of the most authentically Japanese ramens in town, and they love its less-fatty, lighter broth.
928 Fort Stockton Dr., Mission Hills, 619.542.1354, izakayamasa.com
Nishiki Ramen, Kearny Mesa
Opened in 2015 by Japanese chefs Jimmy Kitayama and Mike Furuichi, Nishiki is renowned for its noodles, made in-house daily. Its tonkotsu is cooked for 24 hours. And its choshu pork add-in is so tender, fans say it melts in the mouth. The Smoke Bomb Black ramen, with black roasted garlic sauce, is the fan favorite, with spicy miso pulling in as a close second.
8055 Armour St., Ste. 201A, Kearny Mesa; 858.987.0222, nishikiramen.com
Tajima, multiple locations
Sam Morikizono launched this seven-store ramen chain in 2001 on Convoy Street, which remains the mecca for longtime fans. Diners can choose from four noodles (including spinach and gluten-free) and three broths. But the chain’s cult favorite, only available at the Convoy outlet, is the famed curry ramen, made with the tonkotsu soup base mixed with Japanese curry. Also consider the Tonkotsu Ramen with fat noodles with add-ins of fried garlic and bamboo shoots.
4681 Convoy St., Kearny Mesa; For other locations, visit tajimasandiego.com
Hokkaido Ramen Santouka, Kearny Mesa
Founded in Japan in the 1980s by Hitoshi Hatanaka, this now international ramen chain has a counter-service outlet inside Mitsuwa Market. To help customers choose from the huge menu, Santouka displays plastic representations of each bowlful. But those in the know say the creamy shio (salted) and special pork ramens are the most addictive. Lines here are shorter than at other Convoy district ramen shops, but be prepared, the shop only takes cash.
Inside Mitsuwa Market, 4240 Kearny Mesa Dr., Kearny Mesa, 858.974.1101, mitsuwa.com
RakiRaki Ramen & Tsukemen, multiple locations
In 2012, restaurateur/chef Junya Watanabe launched his first RakiRaki location on Convoy and has since expanded to Little Italy and Liberty Public Market. After earning degrees in economics from UCLA, Watanabe missed the authentic ramen of his native Japan. So he apprenticed under famed Japanese “Iron Chef” Mitsuhiro Araki (hence the name) to learn the art of ramen-making. RakiRaki’s broths are cooked for eight to 10 hours daily and seasoned with Araki’s signature spices. The noodles are cooked in alkaline water, the veggies are all organic and the toppings are all served “flame-blistered” for added texture and flavor. Top sellers are the Black Edition (fermented with charcoal-roasted organic garlic oil) and Red Edition (fermented with spicy takano-tsume red chili pepper and paprika).
4646 Convoy St., Kearny Mesa; For other locations, visit rakirakiramen.com
The Whet Noodle, Oceanside
Chef Davin Waite opened this nontraditional ramen shop two years ago. His house-made broths are lighter and healthier than most, including his fish tonkotsu, made from the bones and trimmings from his popular sushi eatery next door, Wrench & Rodent Seabasstropub. His other broths are duck shoyu, vegan hot and sour miso, adobada pork and mixed beast.
1815 S. Coast Hwy., Oceanside, 760.453.2738, thewhetnoodle.com
Ramen Izakaya Ouan, Hillcrest
This shop is known for its Ouan Black Ramen, made with flavorful black garlic oil, ultra-soft-cooked egg and crispy garlic chips. Fans also love Ouan’s Piggy ramen bowl, made with tonkotsu broth with chashu, soft egg, garlic chips and red ginger.
3882 Fourth Ave., Hillcrest, 619.683.3230, izakayaouansd.com
Underbelly, North Park & Little Italy
With locations in Little Italy and North Park, Underbelly’s stylish ramen bars are known for their not-too-heavy broth — with just the right ratio of flavor to fat — and interesting add-ins like confit chicken, eggplant-wrapped tofu and garlic miso butter. Try: Belly of the Beast, with oxtail dumplings and beef short rib.
Little Italy: 750 W. Fir St.; North Park: 3000 Upas St., No. 104,
Yakyudori & Ramen, Kearny Mesa
Diners wait in line up to an hour on weekend nights for this yakitori’s famed spicy miso ramen, made with stir-fried minced pork and chopped BBQ pork. Another favorite is the Nagoya-style ramen, with spicy bamboo shoots.
4898 Convoy St., Ste. 101, Kearny Mesa, 858.268.2888, sandiegoyakyudori.com
Beshock Ramen & Sake Bar, downtown
Co-founders Kumi Ito, Ayaka Ito and Masaki Yamauchi spent three years researching the art of ramen, both in Japan and the U.S. before opening Beshock in 2016. It’s known for its rich, complex broths. There are eight ramen dishes, plus nearly 20 add-in options. Top-sellers are the tonkotsu black and spicy miso varieties. But for a change, check out the creamy vegan ramen, made with soy milk broth, or the Gorgonzola cheese variety, served with chicken chashu, avocado and slices of prosciutto.
1288 Market St., downtown, 619.501.9612, be-shock.com
Ramen Yamadaya, Clairemont and downtown
This Torrance-based ramen chain has built a solid Southern California reputation on its tonkotsu broth, which is boiled for more than 20 hours. One food critic described the thick, rich soup as “the closest thing to melting a whole pig into a bowl.” Followers also recommend choosing the thick noodles and asking for a shave of fresh garlic on top.
Clairemont: 4706 Clairemont Mesa Blvd.; downtown: 531 Broadway,
Hachi Ramen, Bankers Hill
Owner Shihomi Borillo opened this ramen-centric fast-casual eatery in early 2017, and describes her menu as a cross between California cooking philosophy and Japanese techniques and ingredients. The tonkotsu pork dish is mostly traditional, but there are out-of-the-box options like the Cheezu, with choice of Brie and vegan cheddar cheese, or the new Baja Birria, a beef shoyu bowl accented with chipotle, onions and cilantro.
2505 Fifth Ave., Bankers Hill, 619.231.0700, hachiramen.com
Open House Food + Kitchen, Encinitas
This four-in-one dining venue, which opened in September, includes Asian Kitchen, which serves Chinese, Korean, Filipino and Japanese dishes. Here, chef Marlaw Seraspi shares his signature ramen bowls, the most unique of which is the vegetarian, served in a shiitake mushroom and vegetable dashi broth with marinated tofu, snake beans, black garlic oil and more.
345 S. Coast Hwy. 101, Ste. B, Encinitas, 760.452.2555, openhousefooddrink.com/asian
Harumama, Little Italy
Jenny and James Pyo, the husband-and-wife team behind Love Boat Sushi, Pokewan and Blue Ocean Robata, opened this contemporary ramen bar at the beginning of the year. The menu gives a modern twist to traditional Japanese classics. A menu signature is the Flying Pig, where the noodles are served in a mix of chicken and tonkotsu broths with robata skewers of cubed pork chashu, soft-boiled egg, fried garlic and the unusual addition of flame-roasted Brussels sprouts.
1901 Columbia St., Little Italy, 858.269.7122, facebook.com/harumamasd
Wokou Ramen & Yakitori, Carmel Valley
This new fast-casual eatery in Pacific Highlands Ranch is a modern, California take on a traditional ramen bar. Besides vegan and gluten-free options, Wokou offers a spicy carnitas ramen dish with tonkotsu broth, shredded chili, slow-braised carnitas and a wedge of lime. A top-seller is the black garlic ramen.
5965 Village Way, Carmel Valley, 858.779.2620, wokouramen.com
KNOW YOUR RAMEN
Ramen: A Japanese dish made with noodles, a rich, long-cooked broth, sliced meats and vegetables.
Tonkotsu: Milky-colored ramen broth made with pork bones and meat boiled for 10 to 24 hours.
Shio: Golden-colored ramen broth or tare (seasoning), often made with fish or chicken, and added salt.
Shoyu: Light brown ramen broth or tare (seasoning), often made with chicken and vegetables, with added soy sauce.
Miso: Clear ramen broth or tare (seasoning), made with fermented soybean paste.
Noodles: Japanese wheat-based ramen noodles are traditionally served al dente, since they continue to cook in the bowl and are easier to eat with chopsticks. They come in thick and thin varieties.
Moyu: A pungent blackened garlic-sesame oil used to flavor broths.
Ajitsuke tamago: Soft-boiled egg, slow-cooked in mixture of water, sake, mirin, soy sauce and sugar.
Akadama: RakiRaki’s housemade “spice ball” consisting of a blend of spices that includes red peppers, habanero and chili oil depending on desired heat (mild or spicy).
Beni shoga: The literal translation is “red ginger.”
Menma: Simmered bamboo shoots
Negi: Green onions
Ninniku: Garlic chips
Nori: Dried seaweed
Pork chashu: Tender, sliced pork belly, marinated in soy sauce, sake, mirin, sugar and garlic, then slow-cooked for three to four hours.