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SD Ramen gets an Upgrade (hint - Santouka)

The SD ramen scene is about to get a significant upgrade. Now fans of Santouka can save the trip to Costa Mesa and get a bowl of their ramen when their booth opens inside the Mitsuwa Marketplace. A help-wanted poster announcing the new store was already up in the small eating area, though it did not announce any dates.

It helped to take the sting out of the other poster, the one which announced that Asameshi ran out of ramen. I confirmed with the folks at Kayaba, who said that Asameshi would not be serving Monday and Kayaba will return to their regular menu. So the Mitsuwa Ramen Festival 2008 is now a thing of the past.

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  1. What are the alternatives till it opens? I didn't make it down there on Friday, and thank you for your post saving me another wasted trip tomorrow (Monday).

    1 Reply
    1. re: Leucadian

      Well the ramen pickings are pretty slim in San Diego, but for now Tajima's house style, their tonkotsu, is the one to go for.

      -----
      Tajima Japanese Restaurant
      4681 Convoy St, San Diego, CA 92111

    2. YESSSSSSS! Now I don't have to stop by the Costa Mesa Mitsuwa on the way home from my daughter's dentist appointment to get my ramen fix. Thanks for the heads up.

      1. Fantastic news! Thanks for the heads-up.

        1. According to Santouka's website, www.santouka.co.jp, they'll be opening up 3 stores in the U.S. by the end of 2008: San Diego, Seattle, and New York... Unfortunately still no dates announced that I could see.

          2 Replies
          1. re: cgfan

            I saw the help-wanted ad also in a free paper. It said "OPEN in March", but I don't know the exact date.

            1. re: cgfan

              That's great news.....I had heard that Santouka was going to open even before Kayaba did. It had been so long I thought it would never happen.

            2. Any updates on Gunco Ramen down there in Chula Vista? I passed by today.

              1 Reply
              1. re: kare_raisu

                I was at Mitsuwa today and it's not there yet..........

              2. On my visit to Mitsuwa today I saw a new sign announcing a Friday, 4/18 open date for the new Santouka.

                Time to mark your calendars now!

                1 Reply
                1. re: cgfan

                  My brother told me he'd seen the sign yesterday. Yeah, yeah, yeah! Thanks for getting the word around, cgfan!

                2. I just went to Santouka today. I must say, I had been really looking forward to this.

                  I had the Large Chashu Ramen. The diference between the regulard Shio ramen and the Chashu ramen, as their menu separates, is that the Chashu has 5 pieces of the Chashu pork, as opposed to the only 2 pieces of pork in the regular Shio ramen.

                  All in all, it was fine. Nice to have it in San Diego, but I don't think I'll be hurrying back anytime soon. I know that San Diego's own Tajima has long been described as "not being as good as the Ramen joints in OC and LA", but I found myself happily surprised that Santouka wasn't as good as I've heard it would be.

                  I found Santouka's broth almost too oily and rich. The flavor was fine, but it wasn't all that different from your average Shio or Tonkotsu broth. It wasn't like Tajima is serving frozen sirloin, and Santouka is serving fresh Filet Mignon, to put it another way. The difference is neglible at best, in my opinion.
                  All in all, I was expecting to be blown away, and I wasn't at all. Not to say that Santouka isn't good. It is, but I think it's definitely overhyped.

                  To which, throw in Santouka's pretty hefty prices ($10 for a large bowl of ramen?!?), the fact that it's in a crowded food court serving up cafeteria style, and I think it becomes even less "special".

                  Anyway, that's my 2 cents. I'll be sticking to the Tajima ramen with Stewed Pork. Cheaper and bigger bowls, made in an actual restaurant with nice ambience, and with the option to have a beer or sake with your ramen, not to mention the excellent sides, apps, and salads they have. Oh yeah, and that divine sesame ice cream and some green tea for after the meal.

                  18 Replies
                  1. re: cookieshoes

                    I'll second your being underwhelmed by Santouka. Hubby and I had lunch there a couple of months ago and were very disappointed. Granted we didn't order any ramen (at the time I didn't make the connection between where we were eating and the place being discussed on this board), but what we did have was awful, about as close as you could get to being a Japanese version of McDonald's. Both of us are half Japanese and grew up eating home cooked food made by moms from the old country; our palates are very attuned to short cuts of the chemical variety, many of which were represented at that lunch. I can't speak to their ramen, but if it's anything like the offerings we sampled I won't be trying it. Another red flag, for me, is the complete lack of Japanese clientele. Santouka is in the largest Japanese grocery store in San Diego, yet every time I go to Mistuwa -- which is frequently -- I never see any Japanese people in the restaurant. I'll stick with Tajima and Sakura.

                    1. re: SDgirl

                      A couple of months ago? Santouka hasn't even been open for a month. I believe you're thinking of Kayaba. Kayaba is basically a Soba-Udon-Tonkatsu place, and doesn't serve ramen.

                      1. re: KirkK

                        In that case, I'll shall give it another try. I love ramen, and if Santouka is as good as everyone is saying, I'll be a happy camper. I'll report back. Cheers!

                    2. re: cookieshoes

                      I ate at Santouka over the weekend as well (albeit at the Costa Mesa location) for the first time and would have to agree with your assessment when compared to Tajima. I had the chasiu ramen as well and the difference between the two bowls was not that significant plus I prefer the stewed pork that Tajima offers over the chasiu. Like you mentioned, considering the ambience and price I think I'll stick with Tajima as well. Plus they make great tuna tataki.

                      One thing that I am confused about is that at Santouka the "shoyu" broth seems to be more like a Tonkotsu broth (cloudy with strong meat flavor) similar to Tajima than the shoyu broth served at Chopstix (clear). Is the broth at Santouka more like a combination of the two styles or are there different variations on the Shoyu broth?

                      1. re: mliew

                        Let's see if I can remember what i learned in Rameniac school.

                        Santouka is Northern style ramen...Asahikawa style, if I recall:

                        http://www.rameniac.com/ramen_styles/...

                        This means a pork bone (tonkotsu-style) base, but also according to Rameniac includes shellfish as an additional flavoring item. Because of the cold climate the shiro also has a nice amount of oil.

                        I've enjoyed Santouka's Costa Mesa and Torrance locations. My experience at the San Diego location...is one of lack of experience of the staff. The broth was barely lukewarm, add to that a good amount of oil in the broth, and you get the picture. A greasy broth. When served steaming hot like it should be, the nice richness and depth of flavor comes through. Also, I usually enjoy the noodles at Santouka, in fact it is my favorite thing about Santouka's ramen. It is usually nice and springy. The bowl I had at Santouka in San Diego, had severely undercooked noodles, and because the broth was not hot, the noodles had no chance of every attaining the texture I desired. Since ramen shops are not built over-night, I'm going to wait a few months to see if Santouka can get their act together.

                        1. re: KirkK

                          Went to Santouka for lunch today and have only one thing to say: hallelujah! Best ramen I've had in and out of Japan. After airing my normal confusion to everyone by posting about Kabaya (as KirkK pointed out), hubby and I made it our mission to set the record straight. He ordered the shoyu and I had the shio. Here are our impressions (actually just mine as hubby dove in and only came up for air long enough to say "good" before diving back in). I was very taken with both broths. The shio (tonkotsu) was rich, deep, complex, and porky, with just the right amont of salt. To some palates it might be too rich, but I'm a fan of pork fat so it made me happy. As mliew noted above, in appearance the shoyu broth was almost as cloudy as the tonkotsu, but the flavor was entirely different. The soy sauce gave its broth a more pronounced meatiness and more umami, while the salt of the shio broth seemed to deepen its complexity and enhance its porkiness. Something else that thrilled me was the "skin" which formed on the surface of my shio broth when I put it aside to try hubby's bowl. That skin is a hallmark of a truly rich and complex stock which has been simmered for hours. I know, I do it at home all the time. I have never seen that happen in a restaurant. The cha shu sported a generous proportion of fat, was very moist, and not overly salty -- the best I've had in a restaurant. The noodles were perfectly done, had a nice bit of tooth to them and, KirkK will be happy to know, retained their springiness in the steaming hot broth all the way to the end. I know what you're saying about the noodles attaining the perfect texture after being in hot broth for a few minutes -- I like that also. Even the space Santouka is in isn't a detractor -- it's very similar to the salary man noodle shops in Japan (the salary man I was with spotted a couple of salary man homies). All in all an excellent and gratifying experience, the only negative being we ordered regular sizes. Next time, we'll go for the large.

                          1. re: SDgirl

                            On another note, does anyone know what brand of noodles Santouka uses?

                            While I was in line I could see a girl behind the counter getting them out of a large plastic package, and arranging them in equal-sized clumps. They looked like the typical fresh/factory noodles that Mitsuwa sells in the cold cases, with the flour/powdery look on them.

                            Which, by the way, probably suggests that Santouka doesn't make any of it's main ingredients "from scratch", unlike other ramen shops I've read about on Rameniac's excellent site. Which probably isn't surprising given that they have relatively short operating hours, and the fact that the place is staffed almost entirely with teenagers. The guys working in the kitchen also looked really young, and seemed to just be doing "assembly-line" style plating. Again, it is in a food court, after all.

                            There's nothing wrong with that, of course. But, given the raves that Japanese and non-Japanese have given Santouka, I wonder that it isn't a similar flavor-identification thing going on, like that which Americans have for things like McDonald's french fries and other of those mass-produced but soooo-delicious comfort foods?

                            I really have to get up to OC and LA and check out Daikokuya and Shin Sen Gumi soon.

                            1. re: cookieshoes

                              I guess it matters how you would define "from scratch." With ramen, the stock is the main point, not the noodles, so any ramen shop worth its salt would give priority attention to its soup. Neither Santouka's short operating hours nor the age of its staff preclude long-cooked stocks. In fact, the operating hours could be short in order to allow for making said stocks. As for the noodles they use, even in Japan it is rare for noodle shops to make their own noodles right on the premises where "assembly line plating" is the norm. Places like Santouka are meant to line 'em up, serve 'em up, and shoo them out, just like our fast food, but with a product whose quality American fast food can't even approach. They aren't trying for three Michelins, but that doesn't mean they don't turn out a high-quality product. And you'd be surprised at how good Japanese food courts can be. Most of their offerings are better than you would find in many American restaurants. Are Santouka's products made from scratch? Again, it depends on what you mean. Are Santouka's products top-notch? Absolutely. I stand by my original opinion that, even when compared to the places I've eaten at in Japan, Santouka's ramen is some of the best I've had.

                              1. re: SDgirl

                                it's good to hear that you had a good bowl there, I was a bit worried by the people who had their ramen and said that it was not so good.

                                Do you happen to know what time they close?

                                1. re: jessicah

                                  I think they close at 7:30. I went back today for lunch and ate alone at the counter, which I've never done, but that's how much I like this place. I felt a little weird eating out by myself, but the ramen helped me get over that. Yummy!

                                  1. re: SDgirl

                                    Nothing wrong with eating ramen alone! It just means your dedicated! I gotta go down to SD soon and spend the weekend eating ramen. What's your fav place other than this new Santouka?

                                    1. re: Keizo

                                      Nothing like good food to get you out of your comfort zone. The only other places I know of that serve ramen in the same vicinity as Santouka are Tajima and Chopsticks. Tajima is pretty good, close to Santouka in taste, and I think they have a late night ramen fest every Thursday. They also serve okonomiyaki, which I love. Chopsticks is okay, it will do in a pinch, but I prefer Santouka or Tajima. I'm not sure if you can find ramen anywhere else in SD -- I'm only familiar with the Convoy St. area -- but perhaps some other ramen hounds could help with that. Cheers and happy slurping!

                                      1. re: Keizo

                                        They serve ramen at Teri Cafe and it's pretty decent

                                        http://www.tericafe.com/

                                        Also Ichiro's down the street serves ramen. The miso broth was good but the rest was only mediocre. http://www.ichirossushi.com/

                                        This Korean restaurant next to Tapioca Express sells Japanese food and if I can remember correctly they also sell ramen although I've never tried it.

                            2. re: KirkK

                              I, too, am noticing some startup fumbles at the new Santouka branch, though I have every confidence that they do already offer the best bowl in San Diego. Since their opening I've nitpicked over a consistently "nurui" (lukewarm) broth, which for me is a non-starter. The heat from the soup does so much to animate the flavors and aromas in the bowl, where otherwise great ingredients tend to "shut down", much like unenthusiastic actors in a stage play.

                              (However my notion of a hot bowl of soup is in the Japanese sense, which is indeed much hotter than what Americans would tend to consider hot. I recall during Mitsuwa's ramen festival hearing from Anglo colleagues the frequent complaint of the soup being too hot, while I thought it to be just right or perhaps a bit lukewarm...)

                              Most of the times the noodles seemed to have little of the liveliness/springiness that I expect in their noodles, though being spot on in the taste department. As I prefer a "katamen" style, at times I thought the noodles to actually be on the overcooked side.

                              In my recent, roughly 5th visit, to the new Santouka, I think I had what must be yet my best bowl yet. The pork, as always, was just sublime, The broth was also at its best, and this time I actually asked for a hotter broth, to which they happily indulged me.

                              I honestly think that I shouldn't have to ask for a hot bowl of broth, as that should be the standard at a ramen-ya. But if that is all that is keeping me from enjoying my next bowl of Santouka's ramen, then so be it. I'll ask for it everytime, and I may even test them to see if they would entertain a request for "katamen" as well.

                              Since their opening I have been longing to do an updated comparison with Tajima's house tonkotsu ramen, but Santouka's wonderful offering has me perpetually postponing any Tajima return visit. But I already know what my answer would be - Santouka has the clearly superior bowl.

                              1. re: cgfan

                                Cgfan, I loved reading your post and was glad to have picked up a couple of things I never knew, such as the Japanese liking a much hotter broth and that Santouka's noodles aren't as chewy as they could be. Oh, I'm drooling. I think I have a preference for a cooler soup only because my taste sense seems to work better at lower temperatures. As for the noodle texture, like you I also prefer a good bit of chewiness, but I didn't realize that they could be even chewier. As did/do most Japanese Americans, I grew up snacking on instant Sapporo ramen, and I used to love cooking the noodles only until the block fell apart and achieved a texture just a tad softer than crunchy. Yum! I, too, am wanting to do a Tajima/Santouka comparison, but I want to to do it back to back on the same day so as to keep the clearest impressions. I'm justifying this shameless gluttony by calling it research, but I think the only one I'm fooling is myself.

                                1. re: SDgirl

                                  SDgirl, thank you for your words, but my post may have been a bit misleading re. the noodles, so perhaps I should clarify a bit too.

                                  To me a good ramen noodle should be very lively, or springy, which to me is different from being soft or hard, undercooked or overcooked. Of course being soft or overcooked makes it more difficult for the noodles to display whatever inherent springiness they have, in much the same manner that the colors of a room gets lost when the lights are turned down too low. The colors are still there in the darkened room, as is the springiness in the noodles - it's just harder to find. So in my mind they are still separate matters.

                                  I do believe that some ramen shops actually massage the ball of noodles by hand before dropping them into the pot, which is supposed to help in attaining this springiness. I imagine that it might have something to do with activating the gluten, but I don't know for sure.

                                  So in most of my bowls at Santouka I had the sense that they were a bit overcooked to my liking, leaving them a bit on the soft side, which is why I'll try asking for "katamen" on my next visit.

                                  As a separate matter was their springiness, which while not necessarily lacking it and still being superior to that of Tajima's rather lackluster noodles, left me hoping for better.

                                  Being JA myself I also grew up on the pasty white bricks of instant ramen for convenience, though we would also use the parboiled "nama men" packs as well. As far as "dried instant" goes the "Myojo Chuka Zanmai" brand is the only one I would now consider if I had to - good chew and taste for what it is, and never fried like the other products.

                                  And I like your idea of a Tajima/Santouka back-to-back visit!

                                  With tea cups raised high,

                                  "To Research!"

                                  1. re: cgfan

                                    Yea! It's always nice to encounter a fellow glutton -- I mean, researcher. You're scientific method is more refined than mine and you clearly have a better eye for detail. Perhaps I just need to engage in more research and then I'll have that same discriminatory ability. Yeah, that's it, I need to do more research so I can become a more productive member of Chowhound -- it will be my service to the community. I wonder if I could get a tax write-off? "To Research!"

                                2. re: cgfan

                                  Yeah you're absolutely right about the heat of the broth. My wife agreed and an interesting thing she said is this is also true with Starbucks - in Japan the coffee is consistently hotter too. Think McDonald's. I don't think Santouka has much choice here, but maybe they could just offer an explicit choice on temperature since to some people it matters. My wife cares (I don't), but she enjoyed the ramen regardless.

                                  I'll post the rest of my thoughts in response to the OP.

                          2. I'm unfamiliar with ramen, beyond the $1.00 for 5 packets grocery store staple.

                            The discussion so far leads me to think that Santouka is not a place for a vegetarian. Are there any stock that are non-meat or, at least, sea food based? Or does every stock begin with pork, chicken, or beef?

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: notjustastomach

                              Ramen is always pork based. All other Japanese soup noodle dishes (udon, soba, somen) use a fish and seaweed stock called dashi. Sakura makes the best dashi I've had in San Diego and their udon is very, very good. If you are vegetarian stay away from ramen and go for udon.

                            2. By pure coincidence we ate at the Santouka ramen in Costa Mesa today and stumbled on this thread. I can say having eaten both the SD and CM branches several times that they're comparable which is good. It's worth having if you like ramen, and worth trying out otherwise. I like Tajima as well and they're both different. Santouka has good broth, good pork, and I like their salmon rice - I'd have to admit it's better but I do like the texture of Tajima ramen. As a general rule in ramen, I personally prefer Shio (salt) flavor first, then Miso, then Shoyu (soy sauce).

                              I split a larger ramen with my wife since we both had earlier snacks. I also added a salmon egg over rice which I'd recommend - both branches. It's consistently fresher than what you'd find at Mitsuwa itself, though not Kaito level - which is more than good enough for me. I've had this a couple of times at each place to compare, and this is now my goto place for salmon egg. After writing this, my wife commented that Santouka marinates the salmon egg with a kind of broth - I didn't know this was possible and never thought about it, but she's usually right about these things. She says Kaito probably does the same, so I'll ask next time I'm there.

                              The only difference between the two branches is that when I asked for a second bowl for us to share, at the SD branch they gave us a real bowl to my pleasant surprise, while in CM they gave us a small styrofoam bowl. Now that I think of it, the boiled egg came in a styrofoam cup at CM too. And the SD branch uses real spoons (Chinese/Japanese ladle style), while CM uses plastic spoons. I didn't mind all the styrofoam that much, but the spoons is just a practical matter. You can literally get 10x more soup in a Chinese style spoon than in their generic plastic spoon. So it makes it harder to get at the soup. When I first ate at the SD Santouka I was surprised they gave real spoons and assumed all my CM memories were with real ones too until today. So ironically I'm now spoiled by the SD branch. =)

                              I noticed their turnaround time is a bit faster now than when they started, though there's definitely still a wait. I assume it's like Inn and Out where they cook the noodles to order. It's not the most wholesome meal any more than ordering dessert would be good for your health, but it can be real satisfying if you haven't had something rich in a while.

                              By the way, outside of the Costa Mesa Mitsuwa today a man was selling sweet yams. They were awesome and exactly how they're supposed to be - cooked for hours and partially caramelized. It was $2 for us (depends on size) which is surprising, because I kid you not the going rate in Japan these days is 1500 yen (about $13). In Japan 10 years ago it used to be 500 yen (about $4.50) but due to the economics of yam selling (an interesting topic of its own), it's become a niche market of 1500 yen for a taste of nostalgia. I've seen them sell yams at other Mitsuwa but can't vouch for the same quality - any confirmations would be appreciated. Some Chinese places sell this same thing - this was one of the few "healthy" things I liked as a kid.

                              If any of you go to Japan, I'd recommend a Fukuoka chain called Ichiran - they've recently opened in Tokyo and is usually 100% packed except off hours. You buy a ramen ticket at the machine and sit down at an open seat - might be confusing at first but I managed and so can you. =) They have an English menu if you ask for it - trust me at first they'll be like "are you really not Japanese?" because there's actually a curtain so neither customer or server can see each other except for each other's hands. But then sure enough they'll give you an English menu guaranteed. And by menu, I mean a menu which describes exactly how you want the one type of ramen they'll be serving you (how strong of a broth, how firm of a noodle, onion white or onion green, etc..). Every person I've taken there so far including Japanese switched to it as their favorite. Their ramen is Hakata style which is a deep rich pork broth known as tonkotsu ramen with thin round noodles. Other than a few side dishes you can only order one thing there - tonkotsu ramen. It's the most unhealthy and satisfying type of ramen you'll find in Japan. But I don't eat ramen for my health any more than I eat steak, so when I do order it I expect it to taste right at any cost. =)

                              1. Regarding the temperature of the broth, had a bowl today and the broth was pretty darn hot. Noodles were definitely on the undercooked side which was perfect with the temperature of the broth. They maintained their texture through the entire large bowl. And I can't get enough of the pork...easily the best tasting I've ever had in a bowl of ramen. After a recent trip up to Daikokuya, I prefer their "rich" style broth and noodles, but thank goodness for Santouka in SD.

                                13 Replies
                                1. re: daimyo

                                  I was there today as well. And I was there last week and the week before and . . . It's become an addiction. They must put something in their stock, which is about as rich as I can imagine. What's the stock like at Daikokuya? Ditto your thoughts on the chashu -- a bowl of shio chashu men at Santouka sets me up for the entire day. But, alas, the effect only lasts a day, after which I have to go back, week after week after . . .

                                  1. re: SDgirl

                                    Its a tonkotsu broth which can be ordered kotteri style. On their menu its says it has something to do with back fat being added. I can't remember specifically. But we could tell the difference just by looking at the broth. My girlfriend had the normal style which was great. It had the smooth milky look that you'd expect. With the kotteri you could see the fat particles almost coagulating in the broth. I half expected the broth to have texture because of the fat dropplets. With regard to the flavor, the pork flavor was very pronounced. Definitely more so that the Santouka broth. I suppose it could depend on the batch, but my particular bowl was extremely rich as far as pork flavor.

                                    Its funny that you say that it only lasts a day. I was with my mom at Daikokuya and she's been craving it ever since. I've pointed her to Santouka and Tajima, but she's craving Daiko. They definitely have a strong following. We tried to eat lunch there, but it was hot and it was about an hour late at about 1:30pm on a Saturday. We went back at 9pm that night and didn't get in until 10:45pm!

                                    1. re: daimyo

                                      Pork fat rules! It's practically a staple in Okinawa, whose people are among the longest-lived on the planet. Santouka has an item called "toroniku" which I've been thinking about trying. The pork is served on a separate plate and appears to have more fat than the regular chashu. I know in Japanese the word "toro" denotes fatty, so perhaps this item is similar to the kotteri style at Daikokuya. Your description of that dish makes my mouth water! By the way, where is Daiko?

                                      1. re: daimyo

                                        Pork fat rules! It's practically a staple on Okinawa, whose people are among the longest-lived on the planet. Santouka has an item called "toroniku" which I've been thinking about trying. The pork is served on a separate plate and appears to have more fat than the regular chashu. I know in Japanese the word "toro" denotes fatty, so perhaps this item is similar to the kotteri style at Daikokuya. Your description of that dish makes my mouth water! By the way, where is Daiko?

                                        1. re: SDgirl

                                          Daikokuya is right in Little Tokyo on First St. Its almost directly across from the main little shopping center there. Basically a little hole in the wall with a line out the door!

                                          1. re: SDgirl

                                            I forgot to mention. If you do get up there, try an order of their gyoza. There pretty tasty and somewhat unique in their shape. That is if you can see them under the mountain of green onion their served under!

                                            1. re: daimyo

                                              Thanks, daimyo. We're taking a road trip up to San Fran the first week of August and will be plotting our eating strategy soon. We'll try to hit Daikokuya either going up or coming back. I love a well made gyoza.

                                              1. re: SDgirl

                                                If you're going up to the Bay Area, if you can why not try two very good ramen houses in the Peninsula Area:

                                                Maru Ichi in San Mateo - they make their own noodles, and are famous for their Kuro Ramen (Black Ramen) - http://www.flickr.com/photos/akatayam...

                                                And of course there's the new Santa Ramen, in the same plaza as the new Nijiya Market in San Mateo on el Camino Real - http://www.flickr.com/photos/akatayam...

                                                The last time I was there I concluded that they now have some of the tastiest noodles around.

                                                1. re: SDgirl

                                                  Although not up to par yet with its downtown parent, the new Daikokuya in Costa Mesa (Marukai) is less crowded and a lot closer to SD. But do go to the downtown location at least once if you've never been.

                                                  1. re: Keizo

                                                    Thanks, guys, for your suggestions -- I'll add them to our trip list. CG, what is black ramen?

                                                    1. re: SDgirl

                                                      This very unlikely looking and sounding dish is made of browned garlic and its oil. Honestly I had second thoughts when ordering this, but it is their specialty and my brother backed me up with his recommendation.

                                                      When I think of cooking garlic I cannot think of even reaching anywhere near this color and still achieve an edible result. But sure enough it works, and indeed works quite well.

                                                      Though I've only had it once, I can still remember clearly thinking that it's a nice change of pace in a very interesting style. The soup wears a very effective culinary disguise, looking much like a miniature crude oil spill in your bowl. Perhaps because of that guise it threw me off to the point where to this day I still cannot pinpoint just how it tasted, other than that I want to have it again.

                                                      1. re: cgfan

                                                        That has to be one of the most intriguing descriptions I've ever read. I actually has me wondering if I'd like to try something that resembles a crude oil spill ;-). I love garlic, and the combination of pork and garlic is one of the best in the world, but I share your skepticism that garlic which is too brown can't be good. But, what the heck, the world of food is fraught with danger and no foodie worth the title can get by without taking risks. Seems like a trip to Maru Ichi is in order, especially if they make their own noodles. If we do go, I'll report back.

                                                        1. re: SDgirl

                                                          That really was the surprise of their bowl. The looks are very deceiving, and everything about it is likely to trigger any Foodie's "flight or fight" response. But hold on, stay put, and start working the bowl, as it is, indeed, a very good bowl. I just wish I had left with more specific taste memories...

                                      2. As an update...I had posted some thoughts before about being underwhelmed by Santouka. I've since changed my perspective quite a bit. I've been really enjoying the ramen there lately. I'm still a big fan of Tajima, but it is definitely worth pointing out the convenience of being able to get the variety of both restaurants (as well as the less gourmet bowls at Chopstix or Gunco in Chula Vista).

                                        Now that it's getting "cold" around here, it's definitely nice to be able to pop in when in the area and have a quick bowl. As opposed to the more formal restaurant vibe of Tajima, which is definitely better to go to with company. I've been several times to Santouka since it's opened, and it's definitely all about the large bowl of Salt broth with the extra Chashu.

                                        For those curious about the hours, Santouka is open everyday from 11:00AM-7:30PM

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: cookieshoes

                                          Yeah I have to say for ramen I go to Santouka the most because of the convenience and the fact that there's not much better in San Diego. Their onion, pork, and salmon roe bowls aren't bad at all though having tried them several times some days are better than others. It's not particularly gourmet but for cheaper eats I consider it like Inn and Out as a better alternative to typical fast food.

                                          I've recently heard about Gunco in Chula Vista and want to try it out. For anyone willing to drive further out, Daikokuya in Los Angeles Little Tokyo is a good place for serious ramen. I've been recommended Shinsengumi but I can't ever get in. =) Again good is all relative, I thought Daikokuya was well worth a 30 minute detour for example.

                                        2. Wow, just stumbled on this place. Hadn't been to Matsuwa in quite some time. Decided to run some rounds and went by a few Oriental style markets. Had lunch here and was blown away. I have NEVER had a ramen that was this good.

                                          I ordered the Salt Ramen, Shio I believe??? #4.

                                          Now I want to know how to make this stuff myself!!