While looking for a convenience store in San Francisco I ran into a place that had bunches of young folks hanging outside waiting for a table. As I got closer I could barely make out the word Ramen on the sign…uh oh…now we have to go. Finally, I could read The Ramen Underground (355 Kearny Street, San Francisco) – and it looked awesome. At least twenty people were waiting for a seat – there are only 19 – in the small space.
It’s a cozy spot where everyone is in close quarters, but there’s a great sense of communal dining indoors. We felt like we were regulars the moment we stepped through the doorway. It made for getting comfortable in an unfamiliar establishment more natural.
The process of obtaining a table is also unique. There’s a long sheet of paper outside with a marker and you write your name and the size of your party on the paper yourself and they come out and call ’em off one by one when there’s a table available. It’s very diplomatic. No squeezing people in, plus you can ALWAYS see where you stand in line.
When we got a spot at a couple stools along the wall, we had only waited about twenty minutes or so, not bad at all for great ramen…we hoped. We started with an appetizer portion of spicy kimchi. For only a few bucks, we were served a generous portion of excellent kimchi – a spicy pickled cabbage – we ate some and decided to save the rest to put in our ramen.
Jill ordered the regular miso ramen while I went with the spicy miso. Both were stellar versions of the dish. A seven hour broth is the base of the soup. It’s savory, earthy and had nice richness – key in great ramen. Pork belly, soft boiled egg, veggies and excellent noodles filled the bowl. Our orders took a little long to come out and the kitchen sent out extra pork belly – uh, score.
The ramen was fantastic. Excellent layered flavor with mushroom, earth, savory savory miso and umami qualities. Really fantastic. The broth had a nice mouth feel, but too thin or thick. The finish even stayed with you for a bit. My spicy miso definitely had a nice kick to it and it was right up my alley. You could see the red hot chili flakes sticking to the side of the dish after much of the liquid was gone. It cleared up my sinuses and satisfied my craving on a chilly California evening.
We agreed that…Wasabi in Chicago is still better, but this San Francisco spot is surely a close second. We spoke to the owner and she admitted that San Francisco doesn’t really have many great ramen spots. She was quick to tell all about Los Angeles’ near perfect ramen noodle houses when it comes to authentic Japanese noodles. I told her that as soon as I could, I’d be there.
I’m hungry. Let’s eat!