The Katsu Curry @ Muracci’s Japanese Curry, Berkeley


The Katsu Curry @ Muracci’s: Panko-crusted pork cutlet, steamed rice, plenty of curry sauce, and of course, a sunny side egg added on.

When I used to live in West Los Angeles, I learned to take full advantage of the wonderful Japanese eateries that dotted Sawtelle Boulevard. Since I’ve left Southern California, the scene along Sawtelle only seems to have improved over the last 10 years, with some killer ramen shops now in the mix. I wish Tsujita and Daikokuya had been there during my post-collegiate years.

Back in the late 1990s, my favorite restaurants included Hide Sushi and Hurry Curry of Tokyo, the latter of which offered a terrific pork cutlet that became a weekly staple throughout my early 20s. I was thrilled to find something similar when I discovered Muracci’s in San Francisco several years back. The only problem was that Muracci’s was deep in the Financial District, which is probably [… read more …]

Tonkotsu Ramen @ Tadamasa, Union City


Tonkotsu Ramen @ Tadamasa, Union City.

I could be wrong, but I believe that my visit to Tamadasa last week might’ve been the first time that I’ve ever set foot in Union City. To be honest, the entire Hayward-Fremont area of the East Bay remains kind of a blind spot for me. As many times as I’ve made the drive from Napa to San Jose, the 680 whisks me past Hayward and Fremont before it bends westward and drops me into Milpitas.

My reason for stopping through Union City was to taste the ramen at Tadamasa, which proved delicious, with its relatively light, very clean-tasting tonkotsu broth. Tadamasa offers a Sapporo-style ramen, which is typically heavy on the vegetables, though I still ordered chasu (roasted pork) with mine. I also noticed a miso-coconut broth on the menu, which I’m tempted to try on my [… read more …]

Tonkotsu Ramen @ Himawari, San Mateo


The Tonkotsu Ramen @ Himawari, San Mateo.

I’ll just cut to the chase. San Mateo boasts a quartet of reputable ramen shops: Ramen Dojo, Santa Ramen, Ramen Parlor, and Himawari. These are the four noodle joints that dominate the San Mateo landscape. Three of these restaurants (all but Himawari) are owned by the same chef, Kazunori Kobayashi, who launched his mini-empire with Santa back before ramen was a thing (the original Santa location was where Ramen Dojo is now).

In some ways, Kobayashi is what Thomas Keller is to Yountville, though that might be a stretch. I guess it all depends on how much you obsess over ramen. I enjoy it quite a bit, myself.

With Kobayashi quietly dominating the ramen landscape in San Mateo, Himawari is kind of the independent option in town, which is absolutely welcome. Even under the best circumstances, you don’t want all of your ramen [… read more …]

Tonkotsu Ramen @ Kansui, San Jose


Tonkotsu Ramen @ Kansui San Jose.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m always intrigued by restaurants that play hard to get. I have a strange fascination with any place that has the gumption to open during odd inconvenient hours. Likewise, I have a fondness for any chef who forbids substitutions. Surly behavior doesn’t faze me one bit (I work in a kitchen, after all), and I admire the Soup Nazi routine if it’s warranted. To me, these are all positive and confident signs, and they communicate almost everything I need to know about a restaurant – namely, that the food is good and that the chef has a clear vision. Customers be damned, if they don’t get it.

Kansui caught my attention about a month ago when I was researching South Bay ramen, and I noticed the restaurant offered abbreviated hours (Tuesday through Saturday, from 11:30am to 1:30pm). [… read more …]

Eight Los Angeles Food Photos


Tonkotsu Ramen @ Daikokuya, West Los Angeles. This bowl of ramen contends for the best bowl of ramen that I’ve ever tasted. I still have a strong allegiance to Ramen Dojo in San Mateo, but Daikokuya is equally sublime, if not a bit more simple. The perfectly-cooked egg reveals a keen attention to detail, and the broth is amazingly good. I ate ramen almost every day when I was in Los Angeles, but this bowl (my first of the trip) really resonated with me, and it continues to do so.

I’ve finally uploaded my photos from my trip to Los Angeles earlier this month. It’s a little strange to go back to a place where I once lived for about 10 years, now that it’s also been about 10 years since I’ve lived there. Though the city’s main infrastructure remains familiar, the details have become a [… read more …]

Ritsu Tonkotsu Ramen @ Izakaya Sozai, San Francisco Sunset District


Ritsu Tonkotsu Ramen @ Izakaya Sozai, Sunset District, San Francisco. Adds-ons include deep-fried pork belly and garlic chips.

Of all the restaurants in the Bay Area, my biggest nemeses are those that are (a) located in San Francisco, (b) open for dinner only, and (c) busy. Each of these circumstances can make my life difficult: San Francisco, with its one-way streets and no left turns, can be a real hassle to navigate; dinner hours, with their inherent lack of sunlight, are typically terrible for food photography; and busy restaurants, with their limited seating options, are just challenging in general. Izakaya Sozai actually falls into all three of these categories, which is why I had postponed this entry until recently.

As with many great meals, snapping a decent shot of Izakaya Sozai’s Ritsu Tonkotsu Ramen required both planning and patience. At the very least, I knew that I needed [… read more …]

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 …]

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 …]

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 …]

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 …]