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Best Japanese Noodles in S.F.

  • m

We're coming to S.F. and my teenager daughter is a Japan/manga freak who wants good udon and soba and ramen which we can't get where we live. Any recs?

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  1. I'm sure that there will be lots of recs. I'll assume that you're willing to drive for good noodles.

    Udon: Sanuki Udon in Japantown.

    Soba: Soba at Sanuki is alright, but I would like to hear a specialty soba recommendation. BTW, I order my soba cold (zaru soba); ten zaru soba includes tempura. I like the soba at Saizo in Sunnyvale.

    Ramen: Orenchi Ramen in Santa Clara. Santouka in Santa Clara (in a large Japanese food store). Shalala in Mtn. View. In SF, Saiwaii Ramen on Irving St. does a pretty good version. Tanpopo in Japantown outdoor mall is also alright. But, south bay options are better.

    The above assumes you want something more Japanese in style. If you want something a bit more toward fusion, there are other options including O Chame in Berkeley (although it's been a few years since my last visit).

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    O Chame
    1830 4th St, Berkeley, CA 94710

    Saizo
    592 E El Camino Real, Sunnyvale, CA 94087

    Sanuki Udon
    22 Peace Plz, San Francisco, CA 94115

    Orenchi Ramen
    3540 Homestead Rd, Santa Clara, CA 95051

    Saiwaii Ramen
    2240 Irving St, San Francisco, CA 94122

    Santouka
    675 Saratoga Ave, San Jose, CA 95129

    Shalala
    698 W Dana St, Mountain View, CA 94041

    1. A convenient and good option is Ajisen Ramen, in the basement food court (the side closer to 5th street) of the Westfield Mall on Market street.

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      Ajisen Ramen
      Westfield San Francisco Centre, 865 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94103

      1. Katana-Ya is good.

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        Katana-Ya
        430 Geary St, San Francisco, CA 94102

        1. The best Ramen places in the SF Bay Area are actually in South Bay/Peninsula:

          Himawari in San Mateo
          Orenchi Ramen in Santa Clara, which has a very rich and flavorful tonkotsu broth. They also do other noodle dishes such as Tsukemen (ramen dipping noodes).

          Ramen Halu in San Jose. They do a bunch of seasonal specials, and offer the largest variety of ramune (Japanese soft drink with a marble at the top gimmick) I've seen at a ramen place.

          Ramen Tenma in San Jose: I had the Okinawan Soba at Ramen Tenma (San Jose), which was very good, but it will not be what your daughter is expecting.

          Ramen Kahoo in San Jose, next to Mitsuwa and Kinokuniya Bookstore -- a little hard to find due to the construction/remodelling of that shopping plaza. Also, a bit noisy due to the construction during the daytime. Santouka, located inside the Mitsuwa also serves wonderful ramen, but the atmosphere -- inside a supermarket, and now with the noise of construction leaves much to be desired. Both Mitsuwa and Kinokuniya would be worth a look for your daughter. Pocky and Ramune can be purchased at Mitsuwa.

          Those are the choices that I would choose from for Ramen; all of them have sufficient atmosphere and tasty ramen, and remind me of the ramen shops I used to visit in Japan.

          I have had good udon at En (Santa Clara) and Sumika (Los Altos).

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          Sumika
          236 Central Plz, Los Altos, CA 94022

          Ramen Halu
          375 Saratoga Ave, San Jose, CA 95129

          Himawari
          202 2nd Ave, San Mateo, CA 94401

          Mitsuwa
          675 Saratoga Ave, San Jose, CA

          Orenchi Ramen
          3540 Homestead Rd, Santa Clara, CA 95051

          Ramen Tenma
          487 Saratoga Ave, San Jose, CA 95129

          Santouka
          675 Saratoga Ave, San Jose, CA 95129

          1 Reply
          1. re: mhuang

            Katana-ya in SF may not be as great as the noodle places on the Peninsula, but it's good.

            Mitsuwa (big Japanese supermarket) is amazing, though for someone who can't even get ramen at home, Nijiya, Super Mira, and Uoki in SF's Japantown would be exciting. You should also check out Soko Hardware.

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            Nijiya Market
            1737 Post St, San Francisco, CA 94115

            Sakai K Uoki Co
            1656 Post St, San Francisco, CA 94115

            Mitsuwa
            675 Saratoga Ave, San Jose, CA

            Super Mira
            1790 Sutter St, San Francisco, CA

            Soko Hardware
            1698 Post St, San Francisco, CA

          2. If she's a manga freak, you should worry less about the caliber of noodles and go over to Japantown where there are lots of great stores for pens, paper, backpacks, graphic novels, t-shirts, etc.

            Food markets are fine, but the bookstores like Kinokuniya and some of the newer/younger stores on Post are more fun for a teenager. There are also two Japanese dollar stores to stock up on (often Chinese-manufactured) rice presses, expired Pocky, and bento boxes.

            Suzu has decent ramen. I like the udon and soba at Mifune, especially the cold noodles with dipping sauce, but it's not in the same class as the places on mhuang's list. Also see what's playing at the Viz Cinema in the bottom of New People.

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            Suzu
            1825 Post St, San Francisco, CA

            1 Reply
            1. re: Windy

              I totally agree with Windy on that. I would also guess that manga fans would be much more interested in ramen than other noodles like udon or buckwheat soba.

            2. Suzu has pretty good ramen perfectly combed. For good udon/soba, there is Maki upstairs @ a price premium.

              24 Replies
              1. re: rotiprata

                Oh, don't worry. She already has Japantown scoped out.

                Thanks for the recs. Not sure I'll drive all the way to the south bay for noodles. I'm not that indulgent a parent.

                1. re: MarkC

                  I am sure the noodles in the Japantown area will be good enough.

                  1. re: Tripeler

                    Especially if you also get some mochi and chocolate fish.

                    1. re: Windy

                      And let the daughter run wild in the Kinokuniya Bookstore, which is awash in all kinds of manga.

                      1. re: Tripeler

                        Agreed...staying within Japantown is the safest bet.

                        There's also taiyaki at May's coffee shop, although it would be tricky trying to get them to make one to order after certain times. Last Sunday I spotted a chocolate version, and of course there's always the red bean filling inside which sometimes can be watery.

                        Soba at Sanuki restaurant is not in house made, only the udon is. Udon there is not bad, but it isn't the same as the late Tombo in San Mateo (Kansai style hand made udon I think?)...better than nothing.

                        1. re: K K

                          Who do you think has the best hand made udon nowadays?

                          1. re: lrealml

                            Going off of pure texture alone, I think most of the places I've been to which serve udon in the Bay Area are using frozen noodles, so please share if you've found someplace using fresh handmade noodles.

                            1. re: mhuang

                              As has been mentioned, Sanuki Udon in Japantown SF advertises "handmade noodles". Although I'm not expert, I have no reason to believe that they are not freshly made. And, they name their restaurant after a region famous for it's udon.

                              I did recently try the zaru soba there as well. They are quite upfront about the fact that the soba is not made in-house. I enjoyed it as a change of pace from udon there (and it was probably better than at most other current local SF places). Although, I should point out that the ten zaru soba contained only a couple of tempura shrimp and nothing else (many other places include some vegetables as well).

                              -----
                              Sanuki Udon
                              22 Peace Plz, San Francisco, CA 94115

                              1. re: jman1

                                "Who do you think has the best hand made udon nowadays?"

                                Sanuki's udon is a far cry from what I would deem excellent, worth driving from the Peninsula/South Bay into town for. Again, better than nothing, but there isn't any place that is better. At this point it becomes more of a search for the best package, who puts in tastier ingredients, a good broth etc. You could however get something slightly tastier with Inawa udon (places that serve it) but they are not fresh made (frozen maybe?) or dry packets. Maki might have Inawa udon? Also the great South Bay izakaya's and perhaps even Sumika. Of course 8 to 10 hours away south in Torrance/Gardena are of Southern California, there are a few choices of hand made soba and udon, check the LA boards.

                                Some years ago a friend told me that Minako will make fresh udon with advanced order, not sure if they still will.

                                Soba? Pretty much a lost cause.

                                I should try the curry udon at Sanuki next time.

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                                Sumika
                                236 Central Plz, Los Altos, CA 94022

                                1. re: K K

                                  I've never had fresh udon at Minako. Yoko has all kinds of tricks up her sleeve, but if you're going to do a special order there, I recommend chasu ramen.

                                  1. re: K K

                                    I completely defer to others with regard to high quality noodles. However, living in SF, I've experienced so much poor quality Udon or Soba in the past decade that I'm happy to find anything decent. Seems that a lot of the places that sprung up didn't get the basic flavor or texture components right.

                                    I too suspect that sumika would do a good job, but I haven't yet been able to bring myself to order anything other than a chicken donburi when given the opportunity to visit for lunch.

                                    Closer to home, I might try Ju Ku at lunchtime for udon as well.

                                    1. re: jman1

                                      For me going to izakaya, I would skip any noodle dish unless the broth is spectacular, and even then I'd rather have some grilled or stewed fish dish, hotpot, and of course skewers. This would also apply to Sumika which excels during dinner. Should you ever make it there, the yakitori is excellent, and pretty much everything they do is well executed. Best grilled ayu shioyaki (although at $11 a piece) to date in town, but delicious as hell especially grilled over imported Japanese charcoal/binchotan.

                                      Guess I'll save my udon restaurant cravings for SoCal or a trip to TW or JPN. The frozen packets will have to do at home, or the "organic" fresh udon at Costco.

                                      -----
                                      Sumika
                                      236 Central Plz, Los Altos, CA 94022

                                      1. re: K K

                                        Thanks for the rec; I'll try the ayu. My comment was that JuKu like Sumika puts forth a limited lunchtime menu that's mostly donburi and udon (could be that Sumika now offers some other items at lunch). I've not yet ordered the udon, but do order the donburi at lunch (especially good at Sumika). I think that we're in general agreement, but wanted to be sure.

                                        -----
                                        Sumika
                                        236 Central Plz, Los Altos, CA 94022

                                    2. re: K K

                                      That is what I figured... apparently there is a hole in the market... It is a shame considering all the other good Japanese food around here.

                                      I will have to try the udon at Sanuki .

                                      Then since I'm far more like to to find myself in NYC than LA, maybe I can get some there on my next trip.

                                      I wonder how hard it is to make udon noodles myself.

                          2. re: Windy

                            Is the mochi and chocolate fish one dish? Would you please describe and where can we try it?

                            1. re: oez

                              No, two dishes. (But maybe someone will make a chocolate mochi fish...)

                              May's Coffee Shop inside the mall has the chocolate fish. They're like small pressed waffles. You can also get red bean paste filling.

                              Rarely made to order these days; they reheated mine in a toaster last weekend.

                              Lots of options for mochi, but the classic is Benkyodo, which closes early:
                              http://www.benkyodocompany.com/

                              -----
                              May's Coffee Shop
                              1737 Post St Ste 395, San Francisco, CA 94115

                              Benkyodo
                              1747 Buchanan St, San Francisco, CA

                              1. re: Windy

                                Taiyaki best live at Sweet Breams in San Mateo. Always made to order and so, so good. I like the vanilla and red bean fillings best, and the matcha when it's the weekly special.

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                                Sweet Breams
                                220 2nd Avenue, San Mateo, CA

                                1. re: artemis

                                  thanks. will look for an excuse to stop by next time I'm near there

                                  1. re: artemis

                                    It is worth noting that size-wise, May's is the only place in town that does a full version of the taiyaki (big). Sweet Breams does the mini kind (chibi-taiyaki), which are bite sized. Their chibi taiyaki electric machines are imported from Japan (owners are Chinese). Due to the small size, the chibi taiyaki's tend to get soft very quickly (even with the filings inside). But still very tasty, with their new rotating "flavor of the week" having mixed results. It is also debatable whether a hand held chibi or regular taiyaki iron (if it were made) grilled over charcoal would produce a better product (much like old style Hong Kong eggettes from a pushcart vendor) vs electric, but that's another topic of discussion.

                                    -----
                                    Sweet Breams
                                    220 2nd Avenue, San Mateo, CA

                                    1. re: K K

                                      True, Sweet Breams taiyaki are chibi, but I actually prefer that to the full size taiyaki I had in Japan because I like the filling:batter ratio better. The chibi get soft if you don't open your school of chibi box right away because the hot chibi steam. I always open my box up right away to let the steam out to maintain crispness. They also heat up great in a toaster oven the next day.

                                      I've been going to Sweet Breams since it opened a few years ago. I'm not sure if Tara is ethnically Chinese-American, but she has spent a lot of time in Japan. I agree that some of the flavors of the week are weird, but some of the weird ones are good (chicken and waffles!). This week is Coffee-Caramel, which I haven't tried. My favorite remains the vanilla though.

                                      -----
                                      Sweet Breams
                                      220 2nd Avenue, San Mateo, CA

                                      1. re: artemis

                                        Yeah I think the sisters last name is Wong. Nothing wrong with that...there are lots of Japanophiles in Taiwan and Hong Kong who go to Japan and learn whatever they need to for opening up their own business to great levels of success.

                                        They also have soft serve ice cream topped with chibi taiyaki, but I'm not sure if I will want that together.

                                        1. re: K K

                                          Perhaps not so true anymore, but a couple of decades ago it seemed that a number of the good hole in the wall Japanese restaurants in the south bay where run by people from Taiwan who had grown up under Japanese occupation. I suspect that generation has reached retirement by now.

                                          1. re: K K

                                            It's actually a fantastic combo, especially with green tea soft serve. I love the cool creamy slightly bitter soft serve with the hot crispy, sweet chibi.

                            2. re: MarkC

                              San Mateo is a good mid-point location (that I don't happen to visit enough for noodles). Another poster mentioned one place there. I'll add two more, Santa Ramen (others seem to like this place more than me) and Ramen Dojo (a current mid-Peninsula favorite that I have neglected to try yet).

                              There are many good Japanese restaurants in San Mateo (many izakayas and some sushi). I would suspect that you might find good soba or udon in the area, but I don't know where.

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

                          3. If the kid is into manga...there's the new Viz Cinema, Viz Cafe and the New People Centre (mall) besides the Japantown Center. If I were you, I'd hide your wallet.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: ML8000

                              She's saving up her allowance.

                              1. re: MarkC

                                Sticking to the theme of something that a young teen may like (and that is not in Israel), you might consider a visit to a Hong Kong style dessert cafe. Nothing to do with Japan, but it is a cultural phenomenon.

                                Something like Creations Dessert Cafe / Hui Lau Shan. There is a big snack menu with an emphasis on fruit based desserts.

                                http://creationsdessert.com/

                                SF location is on Geary near 16th Ave in the Richmond district.

                                1. re: jman1

                                  There's a Japanese version of one of those places in Japantown, Belly Good.

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                                  Belly Good Cafe & Crepes
                                  1737 Post St, San Francisco, CA 94115