The Definitive Guide to San Francisco’s Best Ramen
The ultimate cold-weather meal.
If there’s one good thing to come out of that which we are so sick of talking about, it’s that we can now get most of our restaurant meals via takeout and/or delivery, so we don’t have to wait in a long line for a piping hot and oh-so comforting bowl of noodles in a rich and layered broth. And while ramen is an SF staple year-round, now that there’s a distinct chill in the air, our craving for this Japanese soup has only increased. The good news is that SF has fantastic ramen shops all over the city, many of which offer indoor and outdoor dining, takeout, and delivery. Here are the ones we’re ordering from right now, again and again:
This popular Tokyo ramen bar known for its rich, creamy broths often has lines out the door, but it’s always worth the wait. The menu has something that will please every ramen preference—it’s most popular bowl, tori paitan, contains a cloudy chicken broth made from chicken bones and fat and is topped with pork chashu; or opt for “Blaze,” a spicier version of that same dish with chili pork chashu, fried chili carrots, Szechuan pepper, and Mensho OG chili sauce; or a “Garlic Knock Out” version with black garlic oil and three kinds of black garlic There’s also spicy lamb miso, matcha ramen, and a bunch of vegan options.
How to enjoy: Walk-ins only.
Mensho Tokyo’s second ramen shop opened inside of the Twitter building in December and is focused on miso broths and takeout. There are currently just a couple of ramens on the menu, all made with thick al dente noodles, including an extra rich and creamy miso ramen and a spicy curry miso ramen, both of which can be customized with your level of spiciness, chashu (roasted pork, roasted chicken, spiced ground lamb, shoyu dashi shiitake, A5 premium Miyazaki Kuroge Wagyu), and toppings like asparagus, Brussels sprouts, fried garlic, and more. All of the ramens come in special takeout containers (though there is some seating at the restaurant), and you let them know if you’ll be slurping within or after 15 minutes. You’ll get the noodles in a separate container if it’s after.
How to enjoy: Walk-ins only.
This world-renowned ramen restaurant is consistently full of people looking to tuck into the famous tonkotsu ramen known for its smooth and silky pork-based stock. But now, if you prefer to avoid the possibility of a wait or not eat indoors, you can indulge in takeout or delivery. The menu is simple—there are three kinds of tonkotsu ramen: the "Shiromaru classic" with dashi, pork belly chashu, sesame kikurage mushrooms, menma, pickled ginger, and scallions; the "Akamaru modern" topped with miso paste; and a spicy version with an added kick. The chicken karaage (marinated hand-battered fried chicken) is also a must, and, when dining in, so are the top-tier sake and Tori whisky highballs.
How to enjoy: Walk-ins only for dine-in. Call 415-348-1202 for takeout or order delivery from UberEats and other delivery apps.
Kaiju Cooks is a charming ramen spot between the Inner and Outer Richmond that consistently serves up delicious noodles. There are several options to choose from, including a signature spicy Kobe beef, as well as a tom-yum-inspired seafood soup with a coconut-lime broth. Traditional? No. Excellent? Yes. It’s the younger sibling of Kaiju Eats in Laurel Heights, which also boasts a similar menu of creative ramens, along with a tried-and-true tonkotsu one.
How to enjoy: Walk in only. Order online for pickup or get delivery from UberEats and other delivery apps.
We’re not going to pick an objective best of the handful of excellent Japantown ramen shops (that'd be impossible), but if you held a poll among diners with that question, we’re betting that this stalwart would win. The signature Hakata-style tonkotsu is deeply flavored and elegant in texture and, like all of the ramens, can be totally customized, including the spice level. To go next level at Marufuku, catch one of the 15 servings per day of the spectacular chicken paitan “DX” with magnificently vibrant white chicken broth and a grilled chicken leg for good measure. Usually, you’d have to be one of the firsts at the door, but now, if you don’t want to dine at the restaurant, you just have to be one of the firsts to place your order via an app.
How to enjoy: Walk-ins only. Order online for pickup or get delivery from Uber Eats or other delivery apps.
The city’s many ramen aficionados appreciate a somewhat-unknown ramen place that doesn’t have lines down the block thanks to a bunch of influencers. This Korean tapas restaurant that happens to serve a formidable ramen is one of them. It’s easy to totally skip over the ramen section in lieu of beef short ribs or a spicy pork plate, but don’t make that mistake. The pork kuro with housemade black garlic oil and the tonkotsu with ground sesame seeds are probably the elite pair of the group. Actually, why not get beef short ribs and ramen? After all, it’s the little things that bring us joy these days, and both of those dishes definitely will.
How to order: Make a reservation by calling 415-221-5353, order takeout online or get it delivered by Caviar or other delivery apps.
After the beloved Ken-Ken Ramen closed a few years ago, we all wondered if its replacement could fill its big shoes. The answer, thanks to Ramenwell’s chef/owner Harold Jurado, is a resounding yes. He has the magic touch with assertive, beautifully constructed bowls of ramen, focusing on just a few versions (20-hour tonkotsu, a spicy garlic pork, a shoyu mushroom-based “Mushroom Lover,” and its vegan counterpart). Want to make your ramen at home? Ramenwell also has a couple of ramen kits broken down and ready to be made in your kitchen, as well as a slightly odd marriage, but one we hope stands the test of time, of a couple of Hawaiian plates, like a house-smoked kalua pork.
How to enjoy: Make a reservation on Tock for indoor or outdoor dining or order online for pickup or delivery.
Right at the edge of the Outer Mission and Bernal Heights, Coco’s is the kind of petite, wood-paneled neighborhood charmer with really good ramen that we all wish we had steps from our home. There are six kinds of broth to choose from, most of which are slow-cooked with a pork and chicken stock base. Plus, there’s a seafood ramen and a way-above-average vegan one too that’s even good for meat-eaters looking for something a little lighter. Coco’s is probably the least flashy or hyped of the ramen restaurants on this list. And that's good. They let the bowls do the talking.
How to order: Make a reservation online, order online for takeout, or get it delivered using delivery apps.
Every other restaurant opening in town these days calls itself an izakaya, but Sozai was an original years ago. There are just a few ramens on the menu—the most popular is the tonkotsu, but the chicken tsukemen (egg noodle with chicken meatballs, kaiware, egg, and veggies) is also an excellent option. Before the Mensho’s and Ippudo’s of San Francisco, the latter was the city’s most talked-about ramen. It still is one of the best, being a tad less fatty-rich than its tonkotsu peers, which invites adding braised pork belly and an egg as a garnish to fully round it out. Ask for uncooked noodles if you plan to enjoy your ramen a little later.
How to enjoy: Walk in or call or text 415-371-9721 to make a reservation for indoor or outdoor dining or to place your takeout order.
Before Orenchi Beyond opened in 2015, procuring a bowl of this popular ramen involved a one-hour drive to Santa Clara, followed by a two- to three-hour wait at its older sister outpost Orenchi. Now, you can get it every day with just a quick jaunt to the northern end of Valencia. Orenchi Beyond truly is tonkotsu perfection, somehow porkier than all the other bowls on this list. Unless you’re going for the vegan curry tantan ramen, there’s just one decision here: shio (salt) or shoyu (soy sauce). Be sure to order some spicy chicken karaage to get the fun started.
How to enjoy: Walk-ins only for indoor and outdoor dining or call 415-527-6577 or order online for pickup.
Hinodeya Ramen Bar
Many San Francisco ramen fans learned about dashi broths from this ramen shop’s specialty: fish stock-based broths singing with an almost uni meets caviar-umami seafaring profile. It’s simultaneously nuanced and thrilling, clearly meticulously produced, and the perfect pairing with whole-wheat noodles and chashu pork. Everybody is so focused on the house scallop dashi ramen that it’s easy to overlook the also excellent “zen ramen” (a vegan ramen bowl with a white soy sauce broth), inspired by traditional shoujin temple techniques, and tori paitan (chicken and pork dashi broth), both of which are excellent options, especially if you’re eating at home since scallops don’t always travel well.
How to enjoy: Walk-ins only or call 415-216-5011 for takeout orders or get it delivered by UberEats or other delivery apps.
Tsukemen is dipping ramen that involves two bowls: one with an intensely meaty broth and pork slices, and the other with thicker noodles to dip into the broth. Iza’s stands out thanks to ume shiso plum chicken, slow-cooked barbecue pork, and a marinated egg plus all of the usual toppings like bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, and toasted crispy seaweed. But, Iza’s namesake ramen, which only comes in one bowl containing a fascinating mixed broth made of all of the best ramen broth worlds (tonkotsu, chicken, bonito, and vegetable), is also pretty great. Guess you’ll just have to try both.
How to enjoy: Walk-ins only. Order takeout and delivery from UberEats or other delivery apps.
Nojo Ramen Tavern
Previously a loveable independent izakaya with a particularly outstanding chicken ramen, Nojo was purchased a few years ago by a giant Japanese restaurant corporation and became their first US restaurant with the same name. Don’t hold that against them, though, because the four ramens on the menu are consistently phenomenal. Whether you opt for a soy version with slow-braised whole chicken leg, tantan spicy miso with ground chicken, or even the veggie miso, every bowl is an absolute winner.
How to enjoy: Walk-ins only for indoor and outdoor dining. You can also walk up to order takeout or get it delivered by Uber Eats or other delivery apps.
The Spice Jar
One of the finest ramen spots is also a terrific place for pho, laksa, and fried rice. This could probably explain how the ramen can get lost in the shuffle when discussing “best ramen” in the city. The Spice Jar has four noteworthy ramen options: spicy sesame miso with ground chicken, tonkotsu-shoyu with braised pork belly and spinach, vegetarian sesame miso, and squid ink seafood. They’re all a bit on the restrained side without much in the way of elaborate accents (save for the squid ink seafood which comes with clams, shrimp, and calamari in a squid ink broth), but there’s no shortage of flavor in any of the broths, especially if you punch a bowl up with a $1 spice shot. Feeling crazy? Go for a double.
How to enjoy: Walk-ins only. Order online for pickup or delivery via Caviar.
21 Taste House
For quite possibly the most interesting ramen variation in SF, head towards the Balboa Park BART station. Just a few blocks away is this laidback ramen favorite featuring a fascinating signature curveball: traditional pork-based ramen with a hefty dose of lobster in the broth. It’s nothing like lobster bisque if that’s what you’re thinking; rather, it’s a wonderfully balanced surf and turf marriage that hums with pork-centric umami and lobster-infused sea brine. For good measure, the lobster “house specialty” ramens come topped with a deep-fried soft-shell crab, which turns out to be the greatest soup garnish ever (forget about those oyster crackers in clam chowder). But if that's a little too adventurous for you, 21 Taste House offers more traditional ramen styles as well.
How to enjoy: Walk-ins only. Order delivery or pickup with delivery apps.
Daisy Barringer is an SF-based writer whose life was changed forever after her first slurp of ramen at a restaurant in Japantown when she was eight years old. Follow her on Instagram @daisysf to see what else she’s eating during COVID (hint: It’s pretty much everything).