Fast Food

Menya Shono, a casual place for great ramen – Marin Independent Journal

Merriam-Webster defines restaurant as “a public establishment where meals are served to paying customers for consumption on the premises.”

Of course, around the world there are many variations of styles of service from ordering and picking up at the window to places with a pre-fixe menu with no menu at all to view.

During the past couple of years, many restaurants have abandoned printed menus in favor of the QR code of contactless ordering. There are many positive points of the QR system such as no printed menu to get grubby and germy, easy changes can be made to the menu and the restaurant gets an instant inventory. Some restaurants use this system but when it comes time to order, a staff member is at the table to receive the order and answer questions. Other places like Menya Shono in San Rafael have the system streamlined on the QR code straight from order to payment. There are options along the way online to make adjustments to your order. But there is no interaction with the staff except when the food is delivered to the table. When asked, the server was quick to bring us fresh napkins and bowls so we could share our orders.

If you prefer your food to come in courses, it’s necessary to order that way. So I should have asked for our appetizers first and then placed the rest of the order. But I didn’t and everything came to the table at once. Our table was a bit cluttered.

Crispy Enoki Chips ($6) are more golden shreds than chips, but offered lots of nice crunch. We squeezed lemon over them. I deferred to my friend and didn’t order the spicy style, but next time I will. They were fun to eat but could have used more flavor. She agreed.

The Corn Wings ($6) featured six toothsome Brentwood corn wings stacked on a plate. It had intense corn flavors and was definitely finger food. The Pork Chashu Rice Bowl ($5.50) is more than an appetizer — it’s a small meal. The well-seasoned and slowly braised pork belly cubes seeped some of their garlic–ginger cooking liquid into the rice. The dish was topped with scallions, squiggles of red bell pepper and sesame seeds. It’s wonderfully flavorful and more satisfying than its size would indicate.

The ramen noodle soups are definitely umami bombs. Kombu and katsuobushi are components of the soup. Both add umami, one of the five basic tastes, described as savoriness. The soups are made of two broths — a rich tonkotsu pork bone broth and a vegan option. Noodles are freshly prepared from flour ground in-house on a stone mill.

A traditional ramen dish is the Shoyu Ramen ($17). The thin wheat noodles swirl in the umami, rich, light caramel broth with bright orange, halves of jammy eggs, mustard greens, slices of rich pork belly and a couple of slices of fried burdock root. There is a pleasant sweetness in this broth.

A spicier ramen is the G.K.O. Ramen ($17.50), which we ordered with the addition of six slices of delicious duck chashu ($6.50). The house-made curly noodles share space in the garlic- and chili-infused dark brown, tori paitan chicken broth with a bundle of greens, scallions, fried red ginger, sesame seeds and fried burdock. It seems inadequate to call tori paitan a broth or stock. The time-consuming making of this super-rich stock needs a more substantial name.

A handsome, deep, black bowl of Vegan Tantanmen ($18) was the table favorite. Curly wheat noodles in a deliciously complex, creamy sesame broth topped with crumbled soy meat and smoked nuts was garnished with cilantro, chives, enoki chashu and pickled ginger.

There is an extensive beverage list with sakes, beers and non-alcoholic drinks. The Dassai 39 sake ($9.50), overflowing its glass into the little box it sat in, tasted fresh with floral and citrus notes. The Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA ($8) really does taste a bit like grapefruit and was an excellent choice with the food.

Tokyo-based chef and ramen master Tomoharu Shono, owner and operator of the acclaimed chain of Japanese ramen bars Menya Shono, is behind the restaurant, his third in the United States, along with Fairfax native Abram Plaut. It’s a welcome addition to Marin.

Ann Walker is a freelance food writer. Email her with suggestions, comments and questions at

Menya Shono

Address: 908 Fourth St., San Rafael

Phone: 415-295-7112


Cuisine: Japanese ramen bar

Noise level: Comfortable

Liquor selection: Beer, sake

Vegan dishes: Yes

Dog friendly: Yes

Parking: Street

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 8:30 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays; 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 8:30 p.m. weekends; closed Tuesdays

Prices: $2 to $21

Reservations: Yes

Summary: Casual ramen bar in a modern industrial setting

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