Bay Area Ramen: Six Lunch Options in San Francisco & Berkeley


Tonkotsu Garlic Ramen, with Pork Belly @ Miki Restaurant, San Francisco.

Ramen is terribly misunderstood by most Americans, and it’s not really our fault. For the majority of us, myself included, our introduction to ramen occurred via the Asian aisle of our local chain supermarket. Those ubiquitous packets of Nissin Top Ramen, embraced by college students everywhere, have comprised the complete ramen experience for most Americans. What a shame. A brick of dried noodles, accompanied by a silver packet of MSG-fueled seasonings. But the infamous 19¢ dinner, always located on very the bottom shelf at the market, far below the soy sauce and the canned water chestnuts, is all that’s ever been available to most of us (and if you consumed as much Top Ramen as I did in college, you may still even remember which “flavor” corresponds with each colored packet). Who would’ve ever known that ramen, [… read more …]

Movie Review: “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” Directed by David Gelb

For those moviegoers who are hopelessly food-obsessed, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” will no doubt leave some viewers yearning for a bit more, but maybe that’s to be expected. After all, with more than 75 years of experience in the kitchen, 85-year-old sushi master Jiro Ono has developed a wealth of culinary knowledge that probably exceeds that of anyone before him, and arguably exceeds that of anyone in the present day. With so much culinary expertise at the core of the film, those who cook for a living, or even those who qualify as serious home gourmets, will certainly become fixated by the ingredients and techniques in “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” (these are the same viewers, no doubt, who will instantly recognize Joël Robuchon during the film’s opening sequence).

If you’re at all like me, you’ll spend much of the movie wishing that there was more explanation from the [… read more …]

Afternoon Sichuan Session @ Spices Restaurant, Foster City

Ma Po Tofu

“Kiss of Fire” Orange Beef.

I drove 70 miles on Wednesday for Ramen Dojo’s Garlic Pork Ramen, a dish that I first reviewed here almost a year and a half ago. Although I don’t begrudge the distance, in some ways, my trip to San Mateo was a failed mission; ostensibly, I was hoping to snap a better picture than I did last time, although ultimately, that just wasn’t going to happen (despite my best efforts, I achieved the exact same results, more or less). Not to make excuses, but with its heavily-tinted front windows and sparse track lighting, Ramen Dojo offers very little in the way of illumination. I guess I had sort of forgotten. Anyhow, the restaurant’s signature Garlic Pork Ramen remains outstanding, which is the important thing. So, rather than repeat the past with another ramen run-down (and yet another lousy picture), I decided to eat [… read more …]

The Tonkatsu Sandwich @ Nojo Restaurant, San Francisco

Tonkastu Sandwich

The Tonkastu Sandwich. Although I always chuckle at crustless bread, this is one serious sandwich. The pork cutlet is perfectly crispy, with great balance provided by an Asian-style slaw and spicy ponzu mayo. One of the good ones.

Nojo has been on my radar for quite some time now, ever since I was hipped to this restaurant by my good buddy Dirk, a former chef-colleague who now lives and works in San Francisco. The menu at Nojo certainly looked intriguing, and ever since Dirk had mentioned this place to me, the restaurant had definitely been garnering some great buzz online. Still, the trouble with dinner-only restaurants, at least for me, is that great food pictures are nearly impossible to obtain, especially during the wintertime, when daylight is so fleeting. Personally, I can’t even bring myself to run a cell phone pic on these pages, and certainly not any [… read more …]

Photo Purge: Scenes from the California Bay Area and Beyond

Gateway Market, Emeryville: Adorned with a fantastic mural alongside its parking lot, the Gateway Market is tough to miss on San Pablo Blvd. The artwork has a definite graffiti vibe, but the details are fantastic. Luckily, it hasn't been tagged over. The "W" in Gateway is pictured above (each letter has its own theme). Click on the photo to reveal all of the great flourishes.

Most of these pictures have never appeared on this site, although a couple did appear a few years ago, long before I sharpened my photo-editing skills. Many readers have emailed me about my approach to photography, and I must confess, my only real secret is to simply seek the best lighting possible. Truthfully, I’ve never had any formal photography training, but I did develop an eye for proper lighting while I was working (briefly, almost 15 years ago) as a grip in Los [… read more …]

Six Pics: Some Bay Area Food for Thought

The Bear Burger @ Jodie's Diner, Albany Village. I think that's the name of this burger. Jodie's has dozens of off-menu items to choose from, and this burger is one of them. Regardless of its proper name, it's the cheeseburger at Jodie's that comes with a fried egg, and it can definitely compete with the Bay Area's best.

I just finished up Mother’s Day lunch and dinner service, which makes for a long but rewarding weekend in the kitchen. Before that, I found a few good things to eat, and they’re pictured here for your perusal.

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The Bear Burger @ Jodie's Diner. Like any good burger, the Bear Burger warrants several napkins. Also, it's one of those burgers that's too risky to put down once you've picked it up, since you may only get one chance to gather all the parts at [… read more …]

Ramen @ Norikonoko, Berkeley


Chasu Ramen with Gyoza @ Norikonoko, Berkeley.

Without a doubt, Norikonoko features more mom-and-pop charm than any other ramen house that I’ve visited in the Bay Area. But to be fair, the restaurant isn’t really a ramen house per se — Norikonoko just happens to offer ramen on its menu. The question then, does Norikonoko’s ramen compete with the amazing versions that I’ve enjoyed at such South Bay specialty spots as Ramen Halu or Ramen Dojo? Well, no, it’s simply not on the same level as those two stalwarts. However, Norikonoko’s ramen does remain satisfying in its own right, and I’d say that it’s nearly equal to its Berkeley counterpart on University Avenue, Ryowa. More than that, the ramen at Norikonoko certainly proves tasty enough to warrant further exploration of the menu: I had the opportunity to see quite a few dishes as they left the restaurant’s tiny, [… read more …]

The Ramen @ Ramen Halu, San Jose


Ramen Halu: Making pho look quaint in comparison.

After a complete three-year absence from professional cooking, I’ve decided to return to the kitchen in just two short weeks. That’s right. I’ll soon be cooking dinner service full-time at one of the Michelin-star restaurants here in the Napa Valley. Personally, I can’t wait to get back behind the stove again, though I really don’t expect this news to have any direct effect on this blog. We’ll just have to see what happens. As it is, my self-appointed mission to suss out the most interesting comfort foods in the Bay Area remains a compelling challenge, and my passion for wine won’t diminish just because I’ve decided to leave the wine business. But enough about me.

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A really good friend of mine is slated to open a new ramen house in Brooklyn very soon, so I’d [… read more …]

Review: “The Fortune Cookie Chronicles” by Jennifer 8. Lee

What most Americans would recognize as “Chinese food” is far more likely to be Chinese-American, than anything truly Chinese. That said, it may seem surprising that there’s no chop suey or General Tso’s chicken in China, at least not as we know them. The staunch food-snob might label these Americanized dishes as a bastardization of the original form, although I feel that “bastardization” is much too strong of a term. Okay, if the food is served from a steam-table, then it probably is a bastardization. But whether it’s a buffet set-up or not, mom-and-pop Chinese restaurants outnumber McDonald’s franchises by two to one in this country, and for me, Chinese-American cookery falls under the jurisdiction of “comfort food,” rendering the notion of “authenticity” a totally moot point (the craving for “authenticity” is cerebral, while the craving for “comfort” is much more primal — the primal craving will always win [… read more …]

Fried Chicken Ramen @ Katana-ya, San Francisco

Mmmmm, mmmmm, good.

Mmmmm, mmmmm, good.

I’ve been slurping a lot of pho this winter, even though it hasn’t been that cold here in the Bay Area. My most recent excursion, which brought me to Mangosteen in the Tenderloin, marked the end of my recent pho dac biet bender. Mangosteen’s pho proved to be one of the richest versions of the lot, very flavorful, with a layer of grease droplets, most about the size of a dime, that lingered like lip balm. Although I did enjoy this version, this soup made me feel as though enough was enough, and that I should probably gear up for some ramen in February.

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For me, the San Francisco ramen discussion begins at Katana-ya, which makes a terrific bowl of soup. Their fried chicken ramen is both unique and delicious, and I usually order this house [… read more …]