Mike Winston’s Best Meals of 2015

Yes, I know this year-end list is beyond belated. Actually, I’m probably over a month late. Normally, I’m not one to make these kinds of excuses, but my life has been pretty hectic lately.

As you may or may not know, I’m getting married in a couple of months, so my time has recently come at an extreme premium and I haven’t been able to commit as much attention as I’d like to this little publication obsession. With that being said, over the next couple of months, I’ll be playing around with post style and formatting a bit in an attempt to find new ways to rapidly pump out awesome food articles with fewer publishing limitations on my end. Please feel free to give me feedback on the new content — I’m planning to review this little experiment in a few months and we can take it from there.

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Find Rich, Porky Tonkotsu Ramen Hidden Deep in Japantown’s Labyrinthine Mall

*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.

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Wacky Japanese Double Date Night at Suzu & Pika Pika in Japantown

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.

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Solid, Rich and Soothing Ramen at Shalala in Mountain View

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!

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Solid Bowls of Ramen & Other Japanese Pub Food near Port Authority at Tabata Ramen

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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.

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Big, Hot, Soothing, Bowls of Noodle Soup at Pho Vi Hoa in Los Altos
Big, Hot, Soothing, Bowls of Noodle Soup at Pho Vi Hoa in Los Altos

Big, Hot, Soothing, Bowls of Noodle Soup at Pho Vi Hoa in Los Altos

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Tucked away on the outskirts of Mountain View, CA you’ll find the lesser-known, tiny town of Los Altos. In this town, situated in a nondescript shopping center on the main highway there’s a restaurant called Pho Vi Hoa that serves phenomenal bowls of pho ’til 10 PM. When rain strikes in Silicon Valley, I’ve found nothing more comforting than a big, steaming bowl of Asian noodle soup and I thank Pho Vi Hoa for providing a great one to me.

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Excellent Fried Chicken and Ramen at Maru Ichi in Mountain View
Excellent Fried Chicken and Ramen at Maru Ichi in Mountain View, CA

Excellent Fried Chicken and Ramen at Maru Ichi in Mountain View

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.

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Seriously Soothing Soba Noodle Soup at Cocoron in Nolita
Seriously Soothing Soba Noodle Soup at Cocoron in Nolita

Seriously Soothing Soba Noodle Soup at Cocoron in Nolita

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Located on a strange, dirty, vacant segment of town somewhere between NoHo, Nolita, and the Bowery you’ll find the bright, orange signage for Cocoron.

Inside, you’ll find some of the cleanest, most comforting food in NY that’ll leave you feeling fresh and healthy after. Inside is a tiny, bustling shop with two-tops, a communal table, and noodle bar seating. Despite the rapid turnover in the shop it’s still quite a nice experience that would be good enough to work as a casual, low-key date night or a cheap eats cold-weather lunch.

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A New Ramen Contender in the West Village at Ramen Ya

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.

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