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Sep 17, 2010 03:01 PM

Kimchee Ramen and Toroniku Shio Ramen at Santouka in San Jose

Garbed in a salmon colored tee shirt that wouldn’t show chile spatters, it felt like the right day to try the kimchee ramen at Santouka. Two weeks ago I followed up Dave Pitinga’s tip,

Open a year now, the crazy crush of Santouka customers has thinned out with minimal lines these days in the food court.

William ordered the large-size toroniku ramen, $11. He added a sprinkle of red pepper to his bowl. Santouka’s signature broth was delicious, but a bit thicker and fattier, and not as lively or finessed as the example served at the one-time festival. But it was a step-up from my earlier visit to the food court.

Toroniku aka special pork (roasted pig jowl) and the toppings are served on the side. Nice texture on the thick slabs of well-marbled pig, tender enough to bite through easily but with a bit of chewiness. Not as attractive due to some pale blotches and uneven cooking but mighty tasty, appearances aside.

For me, Kimchi ramen, $10, ordered with "firm" noodles. An improvement over Santouka’s usually softish noodles, yet, even when firm to the bite, these noodles lacked elasticity and chewiness. They’re just sort of there and not terribly distinguished.

The addition of tart and spicy fermented cabbage to this bowl elevated Santouka’s broth in my estimation. Zingy and medium-hot, the kimchi broth brings a whole new dimension to the bowl. Instead of being a sorry downgrade from an earlier performance, the kimchi ramen becomes something to be appreciated on its own merits. The half seasoned egg was a tad overcooked with a chalky white, but the slab of pork belly was buttery rich and tender. The overall harmony of the kimchi ramen made it very satisfying.

Based on this showing, Santouka earns the #2 spot in the ramen rankings.

1. Ramen Halu, 375 Saratoga Ave Ste M, San Jose
2. Santouka, 675 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
3. Himawari, 202 2nd Ave, San Mateo
4. Orenchi Ramen, 3540 Homestead Rd, Santa Clara
5. Maru Ichi, 368 Castro St, Mountain View
6. Izakaya Mai, 212 2nd Avenue, San Mateo
7. Ajisen Noodle, 47890 Warm Springs Blvd, Fremont
8. Alexander’s Steakhouse Lounge, 10330 N Wolfe Rd, Cupertino
9. Orson Restaurant Bar + Lounge, 508 4th St, San Francisco
10. Ramen Dojo, 805 South B St, San Mateo
11. Ryowa, 859 Villa St, Mountain View
12. Tanto, 1063 E El Camino Real, Sunnyvale
13. Santa, 1944 South El Camino Real, San Mateo (post-move)
14. Do-Henkotsu House of Tokushima Ramen, 4330 Moorpark Ave, San Jose (closed)
15. Ramen Tenma, 487 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
16. Sumiya, 2634 Homestead Rd, Santa Clara
17. Gen Ramen, 47890 Warm Springs Blvd, Fremont (closed)
18. Hana Japanese Restaurant, 101 Golf Course Dr, Rohnert Park
19. Kyora Japanese Restaurant, 1217 Wildwood Ave, Sunnyvale
20. Izakaya Restaurant, 1335 N 1st St, San Jose
21. BY Grill, 3226 Geary Blvd, San Francisco (closed)
22. Norikonoko, 2556 Telegraph Ave, Berkeley
23. Dohatsuten, 799 San Antonio Rd, Palo Alto
24. Hana, 4320 Moorpark, San Jose
25. Ozumo, 2251 Broadway, Oakland
26. Muracci’s, 244 State St, Los Altos
27. Katanaya, 430 Geary Blvd., San Francisco
28. Tadamasa, 34672 Alvarado Niles Road, Union City
29. Masa's Sushi, 400 San Antonio Road, Mountain View
30. Nombe, 2491 Mission St, San Francisco
31. Gochi, 19980 Homestead Rd, Cupertino
32. Oyaji, 3123 Clement St, San Francisco
33. Halu Restaurant, 312 8th Ave, San Francisco
34. Sanmi, 3226 Geary Blvd, San Francisco
35. Maru Ichi, 530 Barber Lane, Milpitas
36. Hatcho, 1271 Franklin Mall, Santa Clara
37. Kahoo, 4330 Moorpark Ave, San Jose
38. Tomoe, 810 3rd St, San Rafael (closed)
39. Ringer Hut, 1072 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
40. Noodle Theory, 3242 Scott St, San Francisco
41. Watami Shabu Shabu and Ramen, 5344 Geary Blvd, San Francisco (closed)
42. Where’s Buta by Elgin Espiritu and June Lee, Eat Real Festival, Oakland
43. Kumako, 211 E. Jackson Street, San Jose
44. Japanese Restaurant Hoshi, 246 Saratoga Avenue, Santa Clara
45. Ramen Club, 723 California Dr, Burlingame
46. Ryowa, 2068 University Ave, Berkeley (after ownership change)
47. King Won Ton, 1936 Irving St, San Francisco
48. Tazaki Sushi, 3420 Judah St, San Francisco
49. Ramen Rama, 19774 Stevens Creek Blvd, Cupertino (closed)
50. Ogi-San Ramen, 10789 Blaney Ave, Cupertino (closed)
51. Kaimuki Grill, 104 S El Camino Real, San Mateo (closed)
52. Tanto, 1306 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
53. Okazu Ya SF (Noriega), 2445 Noriega St, San Francisco
54. King's Garden Ramen, 39055 Cedar Blvd, Newark (closed)
55. Sushi Bistro, 445 Balboa St, San Francisco
56. Genki Ramen, 3944 Geary Blvd, San Francisco
57. Mitsuwa Hokkaido festival booth, 675 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
58. Lakuni, 325 E 4th Ave, San Mateo
59. 100% Healthy Desserts, 1155 Taraval St., San Francisco
60. Mifune, 1737 Post St, San Francisco
61. H2A Noodle, 42318 Fremont Blvd., Fremont (closed)
62. Iroha, 1728 Buchanan St, San Francisco
63. Miraku Noodles, 2131 N Broadway, Walnut Creek
64. Manpuku, 2977 College Ave, Berkeley
65. Tanpopo, 1740 Buchanan Street, San Francisco
66. Sushi Yoshi, 39261 Cedar Blvd, Newark
67. La Shang Niang Ramen (OEC), 42 Dixon Rd, Milpitas
68. Oidon, 71 E. 4th Avenue, San Mateo
69. Taraval Okazu Ya, 1735 Taraval St., San Francisco
70. Suzu Noodle House, 1581 Webster Street, San Francisco
71. Bushido Izakaya, 156 Castro St, Mountain View
72. Fresh Taste, 2107 El Camino Real, Palo Alto
73. Asuka Ramen, 883 Bush St, San Francisco
74. Sapporo-ya, 1581 Webster St, San Francisco
75. Tokyo Ramen, 678 Barber Lane, Milpitas (closed)
76. Kamakura, 2549 Santa Clara Ave, Alameda
77. Mama-san!, 312 8th Ave, San Francisco (closed)
78. Katana-ya Ramen, 10546 San Pablo Ave, El Cerrito
79. Hotei, 1290 9th Ave, San Francisco
80. Bear's Ramen House, 2521 Durant, Berkeley

675 Saratoga Ave, San Jose, CA

675 Saratoga Ave, San Jose, CA 95129

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  1. I'm surprised not to see Ramen Dojo higher - I've never had a mediocre bowl there.

    Coincidentally, I was at Santouka today as well on my way to Aki Matsuri in Japantown. Also struck by how much the lines have thinned out. I was sore tempted by the kimchee ramen - if I'd seen your review first I might've ordered it - but it's 30 miles for me so I hate to slog down there and not get the #9, large special pork. It's still great.

    Ramen Dojo
    805 S B St, San Mateo, CA 94401

    3 Replies
    1. re: Deeg67

      Not everyone can be #1. :-J

      As noted in my report on Dojo, I was there soon after it opened and I expected the ranking to climb when i get a chance to return.

      Did you notice if Santouka had a cold ramen offering? I forgot to ask when I was there. I'm trying to catch the seasonal specialty.

      675 Saratoga Ave, San Jose, CA 95129

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        I went to Santouka for the Hokkaido Fair Th 9/23 (going on now thru Sun 9/26) and ask the cashier about cold ramen offering. She did say they had it in Aug and mentioned it's offered in the summer.

        I had the Kimchi Ramen + extra bowl of Ikura Rice for $15.23 CASH ONLY. I liked it just ok, will stick to the regular ramen next time. Got a cup of 1/2 milk & 1/2 pear soft ice cream for $3 - it was nice.

        675 Saratoga Ave, San Jose, CA 95129

        1. re: hhc

          Thanks for the info.

          So, you prefer Tadamasa's shoyu over Santouka's kimchi ramen.

          34672 Alvarado Niles Rd, Union City, CA 94587

          675 Saratoga Ave, San Jose, CA 95129

    2. Just had some kimchi ramen today - given that they started offering it as a special and it's still around in early November, maybe it's here to stay? I certainly hope so. At first I was reluctant to stray from my beloved shio, but as it turned out, the kimchi just added a spicy, garlicky accent to the main porky shio flavor. Delicious! Only ding is that the kimchi added to my bowl was cold from the fridge, but then, we were having lunch at 2pm.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Cicely

        I've heard from two chowhounds who tried the kimchi ramen at Santouka in Southern California. Like you, they were each hesitant to sacrifice a chance to taste the shio ramen again, especially where it's done better than up here. But they were both very happy with the choice.

        675 Saratoga Ave, San Jose, CA 95129

      2. i'm surprised that with the things you noted (broth not quite as good as the festival version, chalky egg, and noodles firm, but lacking chew) that you kept Santouka at the same #2 spot as the festival version earned.

        675 Saratoga Ave, San Jose, CA 95129

        1 Reply
        1. re: drewskiSF

          The plain stock that day was not as good as at the festival. But as noted, with the addition of kimchee, a synergy between the stock and fermented spicy cabbage turns the kimchee ramen bowl into an entirely different and better thing.

          A word about the rankings: they're based on the last and best bowl I've eaten at each of these places. They're not a rating of the history or an average of everything tried to come up with an overall for the house. If you order something else on a different day, things could come out much differently. I used to include a link to the reports for each place in the list but it got much too cumbersome to repeat and the recent posts can be found using the search engine.

          To be #2 Santouka needed to be better than the last bowl I ate at # 3 Himawari. The kimchee ramen here achieved that despite its non-perfection.

          I recently received an email from a sharp-eyed 'hound who noted that the new places I'm trying seem to be hitting in the higher numbers and pushing down ramen houses tried earlier on. I was impressed that he noticed this bias. Yes, and it's because with the proliferation of new spots serving ramen, I'm no longer trying to taste them all. My targets are places that seem like they would have a chance of ranking in the top 25. Not all of them achieve that, but I don't have time or interest in bottom-feeding as long as there are potentially good candidates yet to be explored.

          I do go back and try to update, but using Santouka as an example, it can take a while. Recently I went back to Maruichi in Milpitas and found that the cold ramen I ordered was a better bet than the other combinations I'd tried there and its rating went up.

          202 2nd Ave, San Mateo, CA 94401

          Maruichi Restaurant
          530 Barber Ln, Milpitas, CA 95035

          675 Saratoga Ave, San Jose, CA 95129

        2. Since you're such a ramen expert I'm hoping you might be able to tell me if any of the spots in the Bay Area offer a choice of harusame (bean thread noodles) instead of traditional ramen? I just moved here from NY and I'm gluten-intolerant - a couple of my favorite ramen places there have that option, but I'm having trouble finding out if any here do. Thanks much!