*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.
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.
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.