430 Geary St
(at Mason St)
If you’re craving good Japanese noodles (ramen) in San Francisco, this is the place to go. I’d heard about it from several Yelp reviews, but procrastinated due to parking aversion (since this is in the Theater District). I finally had an excuse to check it out after a friend hosted a “birthday that’s sort of, but not really, a political fundraiser” for her college resident assistant (RA).
I checked it out with the other L-names (Liz & Leslie). Liz O., intriguingly, had spent some gai-jin time in Japan many years back, and I looked to her tastebuds as the benchmark for this adventure.
Things to note when going to a good ramen shop:
- In practicing core competency, a good ramen shop in SF excels just in ramen. They may have some sushi or tempura on the menu for the tourists, but, really, you should be there for the ramen. No place is going to be able to excel at ramen AND sushi AND tempura.
- Good ramen is comprised of two main factors: the noodles and the broth. That’s why a good ramen shop only focuses on ramen. Because it takes a frickin’ long time to make that broth from scratch. Anyone using a Top Ramen flavor packet is a poseur.
- The noodles should be slightly cooked through…not so much to be chubby or disintegrating in the broth, but not so undercooked that they taste like raw dough, or as if they also came from a Top Ramen flavor packet. (The noodles should not be dried like the Top Ramen noodles!)
- You should have broth options. I forget the 3rd choice, but a soy-sauce based savory broth is one, and another is miso-based.
- They’re rare in San Francisco…more frequent in San Mateo county or even further south.
Here’s the quick highlights and lowlights:
- Our wait was surprisingly short for 3 people at the counter (after 7:30pm on a Friday).
- That breaded chicken with soy broth was delicious
- I actually didn’t get an MSG hangover after — this is a huge shocker, and a key in leaping this place higher in my memory banks.
- Portions were decent. No leftovers for me, but I sadly eyed Leslie’s tofu ramen which she could not finish. Almost half was left! Poor girl…did her best with the chopsticks though she probably preferred a fork. I unfortunately was at a perfect level of stuffing so sadly let her leave her remainders behind.
- Service was fairly quick.
- Clean enough women’s bathroom
- Thumbs up from gai-jin Liz
- Space. It’s a tight narrow space, so you need to be ready to deal with whomever your neighbors might be. We unfortunately sat at the counter next to someone with some body odor. On a warm spring evening, just keeping the restaurant door open was not enough to circulate those odors around.
- Value. If you think that you’re really just eating glorified dough and water, you’re paying too much. It’s not as if there’s an over-abundance of fixings in the ramen. What you are paying for, I suppose are labor costs. It takes some TLC or some more fresh ingredients to tend to a good broth…versus buying industrial-sized MSG-laced flavor packets. So a regular-sized bowl including meat may run you $8-9.
- Not close to my (any?) neighborhood. That is, I selfishly can’t just spontaneously stroll on over here on my way to a friend’s house. A visit to Katana-ya for me will have to be a planned mission (got that Sarah?).
Do you agree on the ramen benchmark? The judging criteria? What other places have you checked out?