Tonkotsu Ramen @ Himawari, San Mateo

The 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 from the same chef, and Himawari proves noteworthy in its own right. The restaurant’s ace-in-the-hole is its steamed pork belly, a generous block of tasty pork that’s even more tender than tofu. Steamed pork belly is traditionally a Chinese preparation, so it’s appearance in a bowl of ramen is unique. Best of all, it’s a thoughtful contrast to the braised pork belly (also delicious).

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