*Editor's Note 1/6/16: This J-Town location of Ramen Underground has unfortunately shuttered, but their Financial District location still remains open. I, like most food lovers over the past five years, have become obsessed with big, authentic bowls of ramen noodle soup. In my nationwide explorations, I've come across an extremely wide variety in terms of style and quality, but for some reason I have been struggling to find a great, comforting bowl in San Francisco. I've had a number of satisfactory bowls, but I was convinced that if I looked hard enough, I was going to find an outstanding version. For a city so close to Japan and the rest of Asian, I was finding it hard to believe that it would be so difficult to find – especially because I had already found perfection in Silicon Valley of all places.
One night a few weeks back, a friend who lives in SF called me to up to ask if Amy and I were free that evening. She and her fiancé wanted to go out for a dinner double-date night and it was up to me to pick the place. Amy and I were not feeling particularly great that night so we decided that ramen would be the perfect pick for a low-key double date that could provide us a delicious meal and make us feel great. I had heard particularly good things about a strange, little place in Japantown called Suzu so I selected that as the destination for all four of us to head to that evening.
What a year!! I did something like this last year too, but oh boy was 2014 a doozy. I started off living in NYC, then a started a new job that whisked me off the San Francisco and Silicon Valley for a few months before ultimately relocating to San Francisco permanently. And along the way, I squeezed in a couple of vacations too. Sooooo, I did a LOT of epic eating this year. And truth be told, I found it particularly difficult to narrow down my list as concisely as last year's, but I somehow managed. So, without further ado, I present the winners (and runner-ups) broken down by category. I tried to cluster similar dish types together, but really they are in no particular order. Let's begin! And if you wanna hear about the 2014's Best Cocktails, read more here.
I've talked at length about how challenging it can be to find great lunch spots in Silicon Valley, but one item I've found no shortage of is ramen. And the competition is fierce. I've already been to Orenchi which I claimed to be the very best ramen-ya in the Bay Area, but sometimes I just don't have the luxury or time to kill two hours to drive, wait in line, and eat lunch. Sometime I need something just a bit faster. That's where places like Maru Ichi and nearby Shalala in Mountain View come in handy. Once again Mountain View is coming to my lunchtime rescue!
We showed up to this crappy little Silicon Valley strip mall in Santa Clara on a Tuesday at 11:30 AM on a lunchtime mission. Sure enough there was already a congregation of hungry and anxiously waiting patrons lined up out the door frothing at the mouth. But, I pushed my way to the front of the waiting room and successfully added my name on the handwritten list for my group of four. Why would I endure this kind of brutality on my lunch break? For ramen, of course – reputedly the best the Bay Area has to offer at that. Orenchi Ramen's reputation clearly preceded itself, but I was ready to experience it for myself.
Hell's Kitchen, well not really. That chunk of New York City on 9th Ave. between 34th and 42nd tucked away behind Penn Station and Port Authority. It remains one of the seediest corners of the city even after the much publicized Giuliani and Bloomberg crackdowns on the lesser loved aspects of NYC. It's not often that I find myself in that god-forsaken corner of town, but since I was there, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to check out the ramen and other Japanese pub food at the nearby Tabata Ramen outpost.
By this point I think I've proven that I'm passionate about ramen. My time in NYC has given me plenty of opportunities to learn what I love and what makes a great bowl. So now that I'm spending most of my time in Silicon Valley, there's no reason not to hunt for that perfect bowl out here as well. Since I'm working in Sunnyvale and Mountain View is a short eight minute drive from the office, that always seems like an obvious and easy choice for a post-work meal. Feeling a bit ill and in need of a great bowl of curative soup, I decided to find a good ramen joint in town. After a bit of research, I decided on a shop called Maru Ichi which sounded like it would serve exactly what I needed.
For some reason, the East Village has like 30 ramen joints and the West Village has almost none. With that being said, when a new place opens up in the neighborhood, I get excited. One day, while walking up West 4th Street I noticed the spot that had once housed a nice sushi restaurant had closed and reopened as a ramen shop called Ramen Ya. I knew I'd have to check it out to see how it ranked within the competitive NYC ramen landscape.
Now that the weather is cooling off and Winter Is Coming, I find myself craving a huge, bowl of steaming hot noodle soup. As a lover of all Asian foods, more often than not, when I want soup I go for one of the many Asian varieties. Whether it's hand-pulled, knife cut, needle noodles, ramen, pho, soba, udon, wonton, or something else there's a huge variety of flavors and textures you can have when it comes to Asian noodles soups. The following is a list of the places I'd go if it's feeling dreary outside and I'm in the mood for a comforting bowl of Asian noodle soup.