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WHERE TO FIND THE BEST RAMEN IN SAN DIEGO – A GUIDE TO SAN DIEGO RAMEN SHOPS
Gone are those college years of Cup ‘O Noodles and Maruchan Instant noodle. These days we are enjoying a more sophisticated kind of ramen, if you can call slurping noodles from a bowl sophisticated (works for me). Today’s ramen consists of fresh made noodles, broth simmered for hours upon hours, seasoned soft boiled eggs, pork belly, among many other tasty ingredients. The ramen scene in San Diego has exploded in the past few years. It used to be dominated by favorites such as Tajima and Ramen Yamadaya, but now it feels as though there is a new spot opening every weekend. Just since I have finished my research (read: ate tons of hot, delicious ramen and took pictures), there have been a couple new spots that have opened. I’ll make updates to this post if I find one worthy of a mention here.
Enough talking, you guys came here to get a list of the best ramen in San Diego. Well here it is, in no particular order. If you don’t see what you like here, give me a suggestion, I’ll go check it out!
1. Tajima Ramen
Tajima has been considered one of the top ramen shops in San Diego since their opening in 2001, with 7 locations now. One of my favorite things about Tajima (well, besides the delicious soup) is the option to select thick or thin noodles. Tonkotsu broth (Tajima’s claim to fame) is traditionally served with thinner noodles, but man am I a sucker for those thick, chewy noodles. Also, the fried garlic served in the Tajima ramen (tonkotsu) is amazing. The pork chashu is crisped on the outside and perfectly melt-in-your-mouth tender, as is the pork belly. They also make what I believe to be the best chicken ramen in San Diego, with a deliciously sweet flavor in a creamy chicken broth. The spicy sesame ramen (tantan – a Chinese influenced style of ramen) is also deliciously spicy and meaty. When I’m feeling spunky, I order the spicy sesame.
On top of serving a great bowl of ramen, if you are here after 5:30 PM, they serve some awesome yakitori, which is always a good time! Stay tuned, we’ll be hunting down the best spots for yakitori in San Diego soon! But today, we are talking ramen. There is an option to order a small size ramen here, which is great if you’re planning on partaking in the yakitori goodness as well. The seasoned eggs do not disappoint, nor do the perfectly cooked noodles. Served with a light, but incredibly flavorful broth, the Shio ramen is perfect, not overly salty or fatty. The sweetness of the corn and bamboo shoots are a perfect complement to the savory broth. The tonkotsu and miso broths are also quite good, rich and packed full of umami flavor.
A somewhat trendy spot smack dab in the middle of Hillcrest, this ramen shop/bar serves up a trendier version of the beloved soup. The tonkotsu broth is lighter than some of the other ramen shops, however, still packed a good bit of flavor. The special tonkotsu ramen came with a chicken yakitori skewer, pork belly, black garlic oil, half a seasoned egg, enoki mushroom, corn, and a pork dumpling. Tender, meaty, and cooked to perfection, there was a very generous serving of pork belly! The spicy seafood ramen is also a must try. The broth is deep and flavorful, with just the right amount of spice and a touch of Korean flavor.
SO. MANY. OPTIONS. Serving both ramen and tsukemen (we’ll discuss tsukemen in a different post), the menu here is absolutely overwhelming. There are so many different tasty options it is nearly impossible to choose. The tonkotsu broth here is thick, the soy sauce pickled eggs packed with flavor, and the noodles thick and chewy. The black garlic oil in the black edition Hakata tonkotsu is absolutely amazing. The pork chashu is melt in your mouth tender and the bamboo shoots have just the right amount of sweet. There is something for everyone here from your traditional tonkotsu ramen, to oxtail, spicy miso and curry ramen, as well as a vegetarian option.
5. Izakaya Ouan
If you come here, you MUST order the uni ramen. Strike that. You MUST come here and order the uni ramen. No “ifs” about it. It is literally one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Served with a delicious helping of uni, salmon roe, mushrooms and thin, perfectly cooked noodles, I just could not get enough of this stuff. The regular size is quite small, so if you’re hungry you better order the large. Pork based tonkotsu, the broth is thick and creamy, heavy with that delicious uni flavor. The piggy ramen and black garlic oil ramen are wonderful, and as an Izakaya, they also serve some pretty tasty small plates. Try the beef tongue, it’s awesome.
6. Beshok Ramen
A newer, trendy spot in downtown San Diego, this is not your typical authentic Japanese ramen bar. They pride themselves on their selection of sake, which doesn’t really interest me, but it is certainly popular with the downtown crowd. The seasoned eggs here are outstanding, and the black tonkotsu ramen had a nice charred flavor to it. However, the leeks were a little on the tough side so I recommend asking for those on the side. The tonkotsu ramen broth was lighter than some others, but had nice flavor. The miso ramen here is one of the best I’ve had, and the boyfriends absolute favorite. Oh and the tantan ramen? It’s sweet, spicy, and absolutely wonderful.
One of my favs…I don’t care what the reviewers say (Yelp, why only 3.5 stars?). Yeah, the service is spotty, but the ramen is worth it. This place serves the best kotteri (tonkotsu) broth with black garlic oil. Served with the traditional thinner noodles, super fresh bamboo shoots and absolutely amazing seasoned soft boiled eggs, this amazingly umami broth will keep you coming back again and again. If tonkotsu is not your thing, they also serve great Shio and Shoyu ramen, made with a chicken and fish broth.
Most ramen here is tonkotsu based, however they do also serve curry, miso, vegetarian, chicken and shio ramen. However, they are known for the tonkotsu, and they offer a wide variety of different bowls such as the Notorious GGG (3 kinds of garlic), basic pork rib chashu, Carnivores Dream and their classic Nishiki ramen. The short rib ramen was excellent, with delicious broth and perfectly cooked thin homemade noodles. The flavor was great, but the short ribs were slightly tough. The black bomb ramen was also delicious, with a thick tasty tonkotsu broth and delicious black garlic oil, however, the pork was also slightly tough. I love the addition of corn as it adds a nice sweet component to the dish, and the slow egg was one of the best we have had. They used to charge $2 for a slow egg, but they now come free with your ramen so that’s a plus!
9. Izakaya Masa
A Japanese tapas spot known for their delicious ramen, we ordered the Hakata (tonkotsu) and the Shio. The Hakata was deliciously rich, and topped off with crunchy garlic chips. The Shio (salt) ramen was tonkotsu based with a deliciously savory salt flavor. The addition of the corn and the bamboo shoots added a delightfully sweet flavor to the ramen (have I already talked about how much I like this?). All in all, they serve a pretty delicious bowl of ramen. Only serving 3 kinds, Shoyu (soy sauce), Hakata (tonkotsu) and Shio (salt) ramen, all tonkotsu based, this place has really got broth making down pat. Also, the Yellowtail Kama and Monkfish liver are both perfection to start with while you wait for your steaming bowl of goodness.
Definitely a bar atmosphere. BUT, they do serve ramen, albeit not your tradition ramen, and it’s pretty tasty. They serve a ramen called the belly of the beast which includes whole soft boiled seasoned eggs, oxtail dumplings, smoked brisket and hoisin glazed short ribs served in a tonkotsu broth. While not traditional, the ramen is pretty tasty, although I typically add extra soy sauce and chili powder. They have soy sauce, sesame oil, ghost pepper sauce and ground chili on the table to use in your ramen, which is not typical for ramen shops. The Underbelly ramen is also quite good, with bacon, pork belly and shredded pork. Heavy on the meats, this place is great for those meat lovers, but they do also serve a couple vegetarian/vegan options.
Famous for their salt (Shio) ramen, which had a very nice flavor, deep and intense, creamy and not overly salty. Cooked to perfection, the noodles were thin, yellow hued, and curly. However, the pork chashu served was a little on the tough side and seemed to lack a bit of flavor. The Miso ramen was also good, with a mildly sweet and intensely flavorful broth, but the same problem with the pork chashu. Don’t get me wrong, I would definitely come back here, I just wouldn’t order the pork chashu again. The broth here was pretty damn close to perfection.
12. Menya Ultra
Menya opened it’s first location outside of Japan in San Diego just a couple months ago. They currently serve 3 types of ramen; tonkotsu, tan tan men and miso, with more options to come in the future. Cooked over extremely high heat to extract the delicious umami flavor (no MSG is used in this broth), the tonkotsu broth here is the best I have ever had. Rich, buttery and full of pork flavor, with mild smoky undertones, reminiscent of bacon. Cooked to perfection, the noodles are freshly made with special wheat flour imported from Hokkaido. Served with chili oil, spicy sesame, Chinese style fried pork cutlet, seasoned ground pork and their perfectly seasoned eggs, the broth for the tan tan men was also absolutely amazing, as were the seasoned eggs. My opinion…this is the best ramen in San Diego. Be prepared to wait, there seems to always be a line.
13. Hachi Ramen
We were pretty excited to see this place pop up in Banker’s Hill. First off, this is not your traditional Japanese Ramen shop; it is definitely fusion. But that certainly did not detract from its appeal. The seafood ramen and the duck ramen were absolutely amazing. The seafood ramen included calamari, shrimp and scallops in a tarragon brown butter broth. I could have just drank a bowl of the broth with its buttery goodness. Served with a thick chicken soy broth with foie gras oil and yuzu pepper, the duck ramen was deliciously rich and comforting. It was the most tender, delicious, melt in your mouth duck slices I have ever had, as well as perfectly thick, chewy noodles.
Nestled between a Pho restaurant and an ever changing storefront, this restaurant had some of the most reasonably priced ramen, especially for downtown (less than $9 for a bowl). The Shoyu ramen here, while quite tasty, had flavors remnant of the old college day packaged ramen. The broth had a little more depth, but the flavor profile wasn’t all that different. Now, I’m not saying this as a bad thing, the ramen was very good. The noodles were thin and curly, and the pork was nice, fatty and tender (just how I like it).
15. Ototo Sushi
I love the noodles here; thick, chewy and springy, just how I like them. The spicy red tonkotsu ramen has good flavor, but the tonkotsu broth itself lacked the depth that some of the other places had. However, if you’re in the area picking up some pastries at 85 degrees, its a pretty decent bowl of ramen.
16. Blvd. Noodles
A new spot in the heart of downtown La Mesa, this place is the perfect additional to the trendy downtown area of La Mesa. I ordered the Mesa bowl, which is a beef based broth, rich and incredibly flavorful. Served with a healthy helping of shredded beef, delicious seasoned eggs, enoki mushrooms and a good amount of pickled ginger, this was definitely an interesting bowl of ramen. The good kind of interesting, not the bad. However, the noodles were just slightly overcooked. All in all, a good spot for ramen if you’re close to La Mesa and don’t feel like making the trek up to Kearney Mesa. And that beef broth is drinkably good. Just sayin.
17. Tokyo Ramen
A new spot in the heart of Hillcrest, this place has some interesting options. The pork rib ramen was served with two ribs in a tonkotsu broth. They used a spicy rub on the ribs that was delicious, unfortunately they did not have a ton of meat. But I mean come on, you’re ordering soup, not ribs. Cooked slightly al dente, the noodles were also good, however, the tonkotsu broth here is much, much lighter than at other places. The taste was good, it just lacked the depth that I typically look for in a tonkotsu broth. However, if you’re looking for a lighter broth, this is your place. Seasoned to perfection, the eggs were absolutely perfect, warm and creamy. They also offer oxtail ramen, miso, vegetarian, and tonkotsu ramen with black garlic oil.
Whew, that’s a lot of ramen! But every time we sat down to a nice steaming hot bowl of thick broth, chewy noodles and those oh-so-good seasoned eggs, it feels like all is right with the world. Now I know everyone is wondering where my favorite spots are (sure…I’m sure everyone is bursting with curiosity….). So who do I think has the best ramen in San Diego?
- Menya – The perfect bowl of ramen. There was absolutely nothing I would change about this ramen. The noodles were perfection, the eggs were delicious, and the broth was like nothing I had ever had before.
- Ramen Yamadaya – The thick and creamy tonkotsu broth here keeps bringing me back. Heart pounding, rich and absolutely worth every minute of the after effects.
- Izakaya Ouan – One word: uni ramen (ok, 2 words). Delicious, delicious seared uni served in a thick, creamy, tonkotsu style broth. That’s all I have to say about that.
- Tajima – A San Diego classic, the delicious melt-in-your-mouth seared pork chashu and thick chewy noodles keep me coming back here.
- Yakitori Yakyudori – It’s the Shoyu broth here; perfectly light and flavorful, tender pork and sweet corn.
Where do you think the best ramen in San Diego is? What do you look for in a good bowl of ramen? What do you think of the ramen scene in San Diego? Do you agree with the list above? Are there any places you would add to the list?
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