Fast Food

Best ramen restaurants in the SF Bay Area

Tonkotsu ramen topped with chashu at Ramen Nagi in Palo Alto.

A proletarian dish with humble street food roots, ramen has nevertheless become an object of devotion for gourmands the world over. While popularized in its instant noodle incarnation, ramen’s true form, as a bowl of slow-cooked broth with fresh noodles, has gained popularity in metro areas as diverse as Shanghai and London, and the Bay Area is full of homegrown shops as well.

On top of that, plenty of Japanese ramen chains have eyed the Bay Area as a prime location for their stateside shops, from Palo Alto’s Ramen Nagi to the Mensho Group’s restaurants in San Francisco, Union City and San Rafael. With the recent openings of outlets for storied chains like Taishoken, and the success of local noodlemaker Iseya Craft Noodle, it doesn’t seem like the ramen boom is stopping anytime soon.

It wasn’t always this easy to find well-made ramen in the Bay Area. One of the restaurants on this list, the ramen-meets-fine dining Noodle in a Haystack, derives its name from its owners’ frustration over not being able to find the same level of quality soup that they were used to eating in Japan. Ramen is about details, like springy, slurpy noodles and freshly cooked toppings that reflect a balance of flavors, and it’s all too easy to skimp on one thing or another. But more competition has heightened collective standards, much to diners’ benefit.

So count yourself among the lucky ones who can casually roll up to a noodle shop for a truly special bowl. Though cloudy, emulsified tonkotsu broth, widely considered to be the “gateway drug” of ramen, is the most popular type, some of these new shops have rounded out the scene with superb alternatives that won’t clog your arteries so much.

Looking for more restaurant recommendations? Check out our guides to the Bay Area’s best sushi, pizza and Japanese restaurants.

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