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Mar 3, 2010 01:42 PM

Stewed Pork Shoyu Ramen @ Santa Japanese Restaurant in San Mateo

In September I kicked off the advent of the cool weather soup and noodles season with a visit to Santa Ramen in San Mateo. It relocated a couple years ago to larger, newer digs in a shopping center. The original had ranked a solid #2 or #3 through the years I’ve been assessing ramen in the Bay Area. This was my first time to the new location and I managed to slide in the door before the “closed” sign flipped over at 2pm.

Since shoyu has been my favorite stock here, I ordered that to let Santa put its best foot forward. The stewed pork was still available (sometimes sells out fast) so I supplemented with that. Lastly, I asked for the noodles to be cooked “firm”, as texture has been the downfall in the past.

My bowl was notably less satisfying than earlier renditions, starting from the messy presentation to the too-soft noodles. The stewed pork was cold in the middle, dried out, and on one end, was too tough to chew. The part I’m saddest about is the taste of the shoyu stock. Once my favorite shoyu around, the flavor was not nearly as complex and it lacked the precision that I’d liked so much here.

Stewed pork shoyu ramen photo:

Santa drops down from #3 to #9 in the rankings. It’s still in the top 10, but based on this single revisit not as good as it has been in the past.

1. Ramen Halu, 375 Saratoga Ave Ste M, San Jose
2. Santouka @ Mitsuwa Hokkaido Festival, 675 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
3. Himawari, 202 2nd Ave, San Mateo
4. Maru Ichi, 368 Castro St, Mountain View
5. Izakaya Mai, 212 2nd Avenue, San Mateo
6. Ajisen Noodle, 47890 Warm Springs Blvd, Fremont
7. Ryowa, 859 Villa St, Mountain View
8. Tanto, 1063 E El Camino Real, Sunnyvale
9. Santa, 1944 South El Camino Real, San Mateo (post-move)
10. Do-Henkotsu House of Tokushima Ramen, 4330 Moorpark Ave, San Jose (closed)
11. Sumiya, 2634 Homestead Rd, Santa Clara
12.Gen Ramen, 47890 Warm Springs Blvd, Fremont (closed)
13.Hana Japanese Restaurant, 101 Golf Course Dr, Rohnert Park
14.Izakaya Restaurant, 1335 N 1st St, San Jose
15.BY Grill, 3226 Geary Blvd, San Francisco (closed
)16.Norikonoko, 2556 Telegraph Ave, Berkeley
17.Hana, 4320 Moorpark, San Jose
18.Dohatsuten, 799 San Antonio Rd, Palo Alto
19.Katanaya, 430 Geary Blvd., San Francisco
20.Masa's Sushi, 400 San Antonio Road, Mountain View
21.Gochi, 19980 Homestead Rd, Cupertino
22.Oyaji, 3123 Clement St, San Francisco
23.Halu Restaurant, 312 8th Ave, San Francisco
24.Sanmi, 3226 Geary Blvd, San Francisco
25.Maru Ichi, 530 Barber Lane, Milpitas
26.Hatcho, 1271 Franklin Mall, Santa Clara
27.Kahoo, 4330 Moorpark Ave, San Jose
28.Tomoe, 810 3rd St, San Rafael (closed)
29.Ringer Hut, 1072 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
30.Noodle Theory, 3242 Scott St, San Francisco
31.Watami Shabu Shabu and Ramen, 5344 Geary Blvd, San Francisco (closed)
32.Where’s Buta by Elgin Espiritu and June Lee, Eat Real Festival, Oakland
33.Kumako, 211 E. Jackson Street, San Jose
34.Japanese Restaurant Hoshi, 246 Saratoga Avenue, Santa Clara
35.Ramen Club, 723 California Dr, Burlingame
36.Ryowa, 2068 University Ave, Berkeley (after ownership change)
37.King Won Ton, 1936 Irving St, San Francisco
38.Tazaki Sushi, 3420 Judah St, San Francisco
39.Ramen Rama, 19774 Stevens Creek Blvd, Cupertino (closed)
40.Ogi-San Ramen, 10789 Blaney Ave, Cupertino (closed)
41.Kaimuki Grill, 104 S El Camino Real, San Mateo
42.Tanto, 1306 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
43.Okazu Ya SF (Noriega), 2445 Noriega St, San Francisco
44.King's Garden Ramen, 39055 Cedar Blvd, Newark (closed)
45.Sushi Bistro, 445 Balboa St, San Francisco
46.Genki Ramen, 3944 Geary Blvd, San Francisco
47.Mitsuwa Hokkaido festival booth, 675 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
48.Lakuni, 325 E 4th Ave, San Mateo
49.100% Healthy Desserts, 1155 Taraval St., San Francisco
50.Mifune, 1737 Post St, San Francisco
51.H2A Noodle, 42318 Fremont Blvd., Fremont (closed)
52.Iroha, 1728 Buchanan St, San Francisco
53.Miraku Noodles, 2131 N Broadway, Walnut Creek
54.Manpuku, 2977 College Ave, Berkeley
55.Tanpopo, 1740 Buchanan Street, San Francisco
56.Sushi Yoshi, 39261 Cedar Blvd, Newark
57.La Shang Niang Ramen (OEC), 42 Dixon Rd, Milpitas
58.Oidon, 71 E. 4th Avenue, San Mateo
59.Taraval Okazu Ya, 1735 Taraval St., San Francisco
60.Suzu Noodle House, 1581 Webster Street, San Francisco
61.Fresh Taste, 2107 El Camino Real, Palo Alto
62.Asuka Ramen, 883 Bush St, San Francisco
63.Sapporo-ya, 1581 Webster St, San Francisco
64.Tokyo Ramen, 678 Barber Lane, Milpitas (closed)
65.Kamakura, 2549 Santa Clara Ave, Alameda
66.Mama-san!, 312 8th Ave, San Francisco (closed)
67.Katana-ya Ramen, 10546 San Pablo Ave, El Cerrito
68.Hotei, 1290 9th Ave, San Francisco
69.Bear's Ramen House, 2521 Durant, Berkeley

Santa Ramen Japanese Restaurant
1944 South El Camino Real, San Mateo, CA

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  1. Melanie - I'd recommend two more to try and would be curious to see where they land on your list. Great list by the way, I'll have to try your top 10! Try out 1) Izakaya Sozai (tonkotsu ramen and you can add pork belly), and 2) Kappou Gomi - not exactly the same because you have order a salmon + veggie hot pot or sea bream hot pot and and can add ramen after (incl. porkbelly)..

    5 Replies
    1. re: jlfoodie

      Thank you, I definitely want to give those a try. I loved my one dinner at KG, and we vowed to return for the ramen some time.

      Since you seem to be in SF, a few others that haven't been reported on yet are Shirohige ramen truck, Orson or Nombe. I hope someone will answer this posting.

      Nombe's ramen?

      Orson will start serving weekend brunch and ramen will be on the menu. Sous chef Elgin Espiritu came in at #32 for his Where's Buta ramen at the street food festival. Problem was the mushy, pre-cooked noodles, but presumably that will be better in a sit down environment.

      You're likely to get to those newcomers faster than I will, so please do report back.

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        Shirohige is on hiatus, according to their Twitter feed. They are working on getting a new truck together.

        1. re: bigwheel042

          I missed Shirohige's very brief trial period in Dec and Jan. Have you tried the ramen?

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            Nope, I was planning on it but missed them also. Reports sounded tempting!

        2. re: Melanie Wong

          I never got to try the ramen truck although I had a friend who enjoyed it and another friend who didn't. Perhaps I will try out Nombe and Orson soon - thanks for the rec!

      2. Wow. None in Menlo Park or Redwood City. Truely a ramen black hole, or not on your flight path?

        6 Replies
        1. re: bbulkow

          Clearly MP and RC are on my flight path for other eats. If you insist, Little Mad Fish in RC has ramen on the menu, but places like this tend to be dreadful, so it's not a priority for me. Please report back if you try it.

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            Melanie, what are your favorites at Himawari? I've tried it several times and I confess, never found a bowl that really impressed me. I live in Burlingame so the decline of Santa has been a real blow for me. I find Santouka and Halu to be the best in the area, by far, but thirty miles is a long way to drive for ramen if I can find something comparable 4 miles away.

            1. re: Deeg67

              So you've found Santa to have fallen off too? Oh, I heard a rumor, yet unconfirmed, that Santa might be opening a second location.

              For me, Himawari is about the shio (salt-flavored) stock, lighter in weight but intense in flavor. I love the clam ramen and the one with the crab meat. Here's my photo of the asari shio ramen.

              If you favor a heavier style, then you might try the spicy miso stock at Izakaya Mai a couple doors down.

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                The tonkotsu at Santa was my old standby - if I were a smoker I'd have lit one up after eating it. Umami incarnate. But I think it's a shell of what it was since the move. If they open a second spot I'll check it out, but without much hope. So yes, I do prefer a heavier style - but I find Santouka's #9 (shio with pork jowl "deconstructed") to be a nice medium, and very nearly the equal of the old Santa tonkotsu in terms of overall quality. Halu is reliably great across the board - no one choice stands out for me as the equal of the above, but uniformly excellent.

                My favorite at Mai is actually the chanpon ramen - Japanese mish-mash soup. It's very good - not great, but very good. I've tried the clam at Himawari, the butter corn, the shio... Nothing really stands out. I'll have to go back and try the clam again. I'm also hearing great things about the tonkotsu at Izakaya Sozai in the city, so I'll have to check that out.

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  i love the clam ramen at himawari - it's the only thing i ever order.

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    Melanie, can you order the noodles firm at Himawari? I didn't care for the softish noodles, but the soft boiled egg was perfect.

            2. Well, I tried the tonkotsu ramen at Izakaya Sozai tonight, and it really is all that. Right there with pre-move Santa - rich, creamy and savory without being too heavy. Al dente noodles, runny egg, and while the pork belly wasn't the best I've had it was just fine.

              I really like the place - nice modern vibe, and the chef is a very nice young Japanese chap happy to engage you if you sit at the counter. I'll definitely be back.

              1. Went for the first time to the new location a couple of weeks ago.

                The tonkotsu broth was nice. Creamy & porky, but the stewed pork was like you described. Cold, dry, and tough. Not worth the $4.50. The $1 add-on egg was also over-boiled with a greying chalky yolk. Also cold. The chashu was another disappointment. Tender, but bland, irridescent, and cool.