The Definitive Guide to San Francisco’s Best Ramen
The ultimate cold-weather meal.
If there’s one good thing to come out of 2020, it’s that since we’re now getting all of our restaurant meals via takeout and delivery, 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 staple has only increased. The good news is that SF has fantastic ramen shops all over the city, many of which are still open and offering takeout and delivery (and some in-restaurant dining when allowed). Here are the ones we’re ordering from right now again and again:
This world-renowned ramen restaurant is usually packed with people (and more lining up down the block) looking to tuck into the famous tonkotsu ramen known for its smooth and silky pork-based stock. But now, you can pick up your order with no wait or wait for it to get delivered. 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 restaurants reopens, so are the top-tier sake and Tori whiskey highballs.
How to order: Call 415-348-1202 for takeout or order from Grubhub or UberEats.
With an empire that stretches from Jackson Hole to Dubai, and includes business partners like Ayesha Curry and Marc Benioff, it’s easy to get swept up thinking about the sheer grandeur of the MINA Group and forget that Michael Mina’s San Francisco restaurants are what started it all. Perhaps the most humble of the San Francisco offerings is this collaboration with Chef Ken Tominaga, a Toykoy native, where, in normal times, 9-to-5ers pop in during lunch for bowls of ginger-chicken or Hokkaido-style pork ramen, but where in non-normal times you can get it for takeout or delivery.
How to order: Ramen Bar delivers six miles from 101 California Street, and also accepts delivery orders up to two weeks in advance outside of that area if you call 415-535-0184 or email email@example.com. Orders are also available for pickup.
Once you’re tired of the fancy ramen spots (or at least need a change), it’s time to hit up Kaiju Cooks, a charming spot right between the Inner and Outer Richmond. There are several options, including a signature spicy Kobe beef, as well as a tom-yum inspired seafood one 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 order: Order online for pickup or get delivery from Postmates, Uber Eats or DoorDash
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. Now you just have to be the one of the firsts on your computer.
How to order: Order online for pickup or get delivery from Grubhub, Uber Eats, or DoorDash.
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 a ramen? After all, it’s the little things that bring us joy these days and those definitely both will.
How to order: Order takeout online or get it delivered by Grubhub, DoorDash, Postmates, Caviar, or Uber Eats.
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 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 order: 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 that we all wish we had steps from our door. Of course, for a while anyway, a restaurant’s charm is unimportant. All that matters is that the food is good. And at Coco’s, it is. There are six kinds of broth to choose from, most 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: Order online for takeout or get it delivered by Uber Eats, Grubhub, or DoorDash.
Every other restaurant opening in town these days calls itself an “izakaya” but Sozai was an original years ago. Usually there is only one ramen on the menu—the ritsu tonkotsu ramen—unless there’s a special in which case you’d hope the chicken tsukemen (egg noodle with chicken meatball, kaiware, egg) was on that chalkboard menu, but during COVID times you can get the tsukemen any time you want, or from 5 pm to 8 pm, Tuesday through Saturday, annyway. Before the Mensho’s and Ippudo’s of San Francisco, this 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.
How to order: Call or text 415-371-9721 to place your order
In the olden days (pre-2015 opening of Orenchi Beyond), procuring a bowl of this popular ramen involved a one hour drive to Santa Clara, followed by a two to three hour wait for the best ramen in the Bay Area at older sister Orenchi, with another hour drive back to SF. 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 tan-tan ramen, there’s just one decision here: “regular” (shio) or “beyond” (shoyu). Be sure to order some spicy chicken karaage to get the fun started.
How to order: Order online for pickup
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 since scallops don’t always travel well.
How to order: Call 415-216-5011 for takeout orders or get it delivered by Uber Eats, Grubhub, or Postmates.
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, which frankly, we’re almost convinced might be the route every ramen should take. 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 order: Order online or call 415-926-8173 for takeout, or get delivery from Uber Eats or Doordash
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 it though because the four ramens on the menu are consistently phenomenal. Whether you opt for a soy version with slow-braised whole chicken leg or tan-tan spicy miso with ground chicken, or even the veggie miso, every bowl is an absolute winner.
How to order: Walk-up to order takeout or get it delivered by Doordash, Grubhub, or Uber Eats
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. If you’re determined to stick with the former (which is a great choice), there are four 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 either broth, especially if you punch a bowl up with a $1 spice shot. Feeling crazy? Go for a double.
How to order: Order for delivery or pickup Caviar
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 for delighted ramen bowls: 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 is 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 order: Order delivery or pickup from Postmates or DoorDash.
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