13 Essential Ramen Shops in San Diego to Warm You Up This Winter
From traditional tonkotsu to inventive takes on this Japanese comfort food staple.
Let’s be real: We love ramen 365 days a year, but there’s something about a bowl of chewy noodles in slow-cooked, umami-rich broth that tastes even better when it’s chilly out. (To clarify, we mean 65 degrees.) Lucky for us, San Diego now has an abundance of chef-centric ramen restaurants tailored to your palate. Whether you’re craving a bowl of traditional tonkotsu or a slightly more creative take on this beloved Japanese comfort food staple, we’ve got you covered. Check out these 13 slurp-worthy spots that’ll warm you up from the inside out.
Award-winning chef and San Diego native Phillip Esteban boasts a highly impressive resume—including a stint as the Research & Development Chef at CH Projects (the team behind Craft & Commerce, Born & Raised, and other SD standouts). With his own local hospitality brand Open Gym, he’s now helming this sensational ramen spot, which has outposts at both Liberty Public Market and Market on 8th food halls. Leveraging recipes that Esteban’s been developing over the years, Weapon Ramen serves up two options: a rich, pork-based tonkotsu with succulent chashu slices, and a plant-based, soy-mushroom version that’s a delightful interplay of textures with crunchy wood ear mushrooms and tender tofu. For an extra $2.50, you can even add a decadent koji butter bomb—in flavors like corn yuzu, miso honey, and fermented black garlic.
How to order: Pickup via Toast.
The Holding Company
This three-story restaurant/bar/music venue in the heart of Ocean Beach doesn’t specialize in ramen, but the two options on the menu are extraordinary enough to earn a spot on this list. The first is ramen noodles bathed in orange curry broth with chicken, tofu, potatoes, carrots, and a soft-boiled egg, topped with fried garlic and Thai basil. The second is birria ramen—a unique flavor mash-up of the spicy-sweet-sour-savory Mexican stew with the quintessential Japanese noodle dish. Loaded with tender, fall-apart chunks of meat swimming in a deep, flavorful broth, The Holding Company’s take is like umami on steroids. Bonus: The restaurant’s ocean views are spectacular, so enjoy your noods as you watch the sun go down.
How to order: Call 619-341-5898 for reservations or to order takeout.
Underbelly’s recently remodeled Little Italy location is a dead giveaway for an enterprise by CH Projects, the San Diego group known for its dazzling, design-driven spaces. The neon-charged aesthetic is indeed mind-blowing—a futuristic-yet-retro cyberpunk vision of Tokyo in the year 2089—but it’s the mouthwatering ramen and drinks that will keep you coming back. (By the way, Underbelly’s other outpost in North Park has an equally stylish, steampunk-inspired vibe.) Bowls are a mix of traditional styles and slightly more out-of-the-box flavors; the Underbelly Ramen has a Filipino twist with adobo pulled pork, and Belly of the Beast is loaded with hoisin-glazed short rib and oxtail dumplings. Meanwhile, the cocktail menu is a laundry list of inventive concoctions incorporating Japanese ingredients—from the gin- and sake-based Sakura Falls with coconut cream to a tequila drink called Fuji-San with ginger, Fuji apple, and wasabi salt.
How to order: Walk in or pickup via Toast.
BESHOCK comes from the Japanese word bi-shoku, or gastronomy, defined as “the practice or art of choosing, cooking, and eating good food.” Executive chef Yoshiaki Tsuji simmers a 10-hour tonkotsu stock of pork and chicken bones, local vegetables, and traditional seasonings as a base for most bowls, but there’s also chicken, miso, or soy-based ramen, and a creamy, veggie-laden vegan broth that’s rich with sesame and spicy oil. Enhance your ramen experience by registering for their virtual sake events you can experience in the comfort of your own home.
How to order: Walk in or pickup and delivery via Toast.
You won’t find a better deal than at Izakaya Masa, where their basic ramen bowls come in at a measly $11. Broth choices are minimal: just tonkotsu or shoyu, so there’s nothing to hide the simple, clean flavors of the noodles and traditional add-ins. There’s also a superb selection of hot and cold small plates, sushi, cut rolls, sashimi, rice bowls, and donburi to round out your meal.
How to order: Walk in or call 619-542-1354 for takeout.
Hokkaido Ramen Santouka
Hokkaido Ramen Santouka is located inside the Mitsuwa Market, but don’t let the food court atmosphere stop you. The original restaurant was founded by Hitoshi Hatanaka in Asahikawa, Japan, a city famous for recording the coldest temperature in Japanese history (-41 degrees Celsius, in 1902), so one can assume it knows its way around a bowl of piping hot broth. If you’re new to ramen, a good start is the Tokusen Toroniku: plain broth and noodles served in a signature blue bowl, with garnishes and succulent slices of pork cheeks on the side, ready to be dipped and devoured.
How to order: Walk in or call 858-974-1101 for takeout.
Noodles made in-house daily are what make the difference at Nishiki Ramen, the wildly popular Japanese chain’s first foray into the US market. You can’t go wrong with Smoke Bomb Black: with roasted black garlic sauce, tender pork belly chashu, and a perfect, velvety “slow egg.” Vegetarians and vegans will appreciate the hearty, warmth-inducing mushroom broth option, and vegan noodles are available for a slight up-charge. For an at-home ramen experience that you can enjoy literally at any time, consider one of four ramen kits starting at $14.95 that includes broth, pork belly chashu (or Impossible chicken karaage), and Nishiki’s housemade noodles.
How to order: Walk in or order takeout and delivery via their website.
The secret to RakiRaki Ramen and Tsukemen’s award-winning bowls, according to executive chef and owner Junya Watanabe, is putting passion into every detail of the dish, from the alkalized water (which is used to make both their tender/chewy noodles and exceptionally delicious broths) to the flame-blistered, aburi-style toppings. Cozy up to the Rikimaru Oxtail Ramen—double-thick noodles in rich chicken broth with a bowl of fall-off-the-bone oxtail and ponzu dipping sauce served on the side—or Setagaya 27 premium curry broth topped with cabbage, corn, and garlic chips. Vegans are in luck too: RakiRaki’s completely plant-based offshoot, which is called The Yasai, has locations in Kearny Mesa and Little Italy.
How to order: Walk in or check the website for takeout and delivery options based on location.
Chef/owner Sam Morikizono continues to expand his Tajima empire throughout San Diego and into Tijuana, proving that Japanese comfort food has universal appeal. The restaurant’s famous tonkotsu soup is a chicken- and pork-based broth that simmers for 12 hours, resulting in a rich, creamy soup you’ll find yourself craving on chilly days. Some of SD’s most creative ramen combos can be found on Tajima’s menu—like the carnitas bowl (shredded meat swimming in a spicy chicken-and-pork broth with egg noodles, cilantro, diced onion, and lime) and truffle ribeye bowl (an umami-loaded mix of tender beef, truffle oil, roasted cherry tomatoes, and bok choy in pork broth).
How to order:Check the website for takeout and delivery options.
Chewy, springy noodles are the star of master ramen chef and owner Takashi Endo’s luscious tonkotsu, miso, and tantanmen bowls. While a central factory in Japan provides over 100,000 servings of noodles each month to his Japanese locations, here at his US shops the noodles are handmade in-house daily using only flour imported from Hokkaido, lye water, and salt, with no artificial colors or preservatives. Their distinctly wheaty aroma and flavor are perfectly paired with your choice of broths and toppings from the blessedly short menu. Since the pandemic, the restaurant has occasionally released a limited number of meal kits for pickup or delivery—which typically include their famous noodles (uncooked), broth, and toppings so you can whip up mouthwatering ramen from the comfort of your home.
How to order: Check the website for takeout and delivery options.
Ajisen Ramen brings the fast-casual concept to its 700+ international locations. The huge menu includes gyoza, baby octopus, fried oysters, chicken karaage, and more, as well as udon and rice bowls, sushi, salads, and desserts like mochi and green tea tiramisu. The thin Kumamoto-style ramen is made in-house daily—it's meant to be eaten right after it’s served, the better to enjoy the traditional chewiness of the noodles. Ward off a cold with spicy sesame tantanmen ramen—a new, stylistic interpretation of Sichuan dan dan noodles—or go for the gold standard Ajisen Best Combo, topped with premium pork slices, barbecue pork, and tender pork ribs.
How to order: Pickup and delivery online.
Yakyudori Yakitori & Ramen
Simple and straightforward, the broths at Yakyudori coat the well-cooked noodles with a mild, savory/sweet richness that lingers on your tongue. Several versions are available—including shio, shoyu, spicy miso, and tonkotsu—all of which are crowned with tasty toppings, like perfectly soft-boiled eggs, bamboo shoots, and kikurage mushrooms. Ranging from $9.50 to $13.50, each satisfying, slurp-worthy bowl is more than reasonably priced. Bonus reason to visit: in the frustratingly parking-challenged Convoy Street area, Yakyudori’s expansive lot almost always has enough spots to accommodate its clientele.
How to order: Walk-ins for dine-in, call 858-268-2888 for pickup, or order online.
HiroNori Craft Ramen
This popular SoCal chain of craft ramen shops started their original shop in Irvine, but Hillcrest is lucky to have its own. Their limited menu specializes in tonkotsu, shoyu, and vegan ramen, with handmade noodles made from imported flour gracing each bowl. While the traditionally prepared 24-hour pork bone broth makes their tonkotsu a standout on the menu, omnivores should give HiroNori’s vegan version a try. The broth incorporates five different types of miso, creating a creamy full spectrum of flavor highlighted with sesame and chili oil. All bowls come with an option to go the thick or thin route when it comes to the noodles.
How to order: Walk in or check the website for takeout and delivery options.
Mary Beth Abate is a San Diego-based freelance writer by way of Chicago, Cleveland, and Baltimore. Her hobbies include yoga, pickling and fermenting various vegetables and beverages, reading cookbooks and traveling through Mexico. Keep up with her experiments @MaryBeth_Abate.
Darlene Horn is a contributor for Thrillist.