San Francisco

The Definitive Guide to San Francisco's Best Ramen

The ultimate cold-weather meal.

Ippudo US
Ippudo US
Ippudo US

If there’s one good thing to come out of 2020, it’s that since we’re now getting all of our restaurant meals via takeout and delivery, we don’t have to wait in a long line for a piping hot and oh-so comforting bowl of noodles in a rich and layered broth. And while ramen is an SF staple year-round, now that there’s a distinct chill in the air, our craving for this Japanese staple has only increased. The good news is that SF has fantastic ramen shops all over the city, many of which are still open and offering takeout and delivery (and some in-restaurant dining when allowed). Here are the ones we’re ordering from right now again and again:

Courtesy of Ippudo US
Courtesy of Ippudo US
Courtesy of Ippudo US

Ippudo 

SoMa
This world-renowned ramen restaurant is usually packed with people (and more lining up down the block) looking to tuck into the famous tonkotsu ramen known for its smooth and silky pork-based stock. But now, you can pick up your order with no wait or wait for it to get delivered. The menu is simple-there are three kinds of tonkotsu ramen: the “Shiromaru classic” with dashi, pork belly chashu, sesame kikurage mushrooms, menma, pickled ginger and scallions; the “akamaru modern” topped with miso paste; and a spicy version with an added kick. The chicken karaage (marinated hand-battered fried chicken) is also a must, and, when dining in restaurants reopens, so are the top-tier sake and Tori whiskey highballs.
How to order: Call 415-348-1202 for takeout or order from Grubhub or UberEats

 

Courtesy of The Ramen Bar SF
Courtesy of The Ramen Bar SF
Courtesy of The Ramen Bar SF

Ramen Bar 

Financial District
With an empire that stretches from Jackson Hole to Dubai, and includes business partners like Ayesha Curry and Marc Benioff, it’s easy to get swept up thinking about the sheer grandeur of the MINA Group and forget that Michael Mina’s San Francisco restaurants are what started it all. Perhaps the most humble of the San Francisco offerings is this collaboration with Chef Ken Tominaga, a Toykoy native, where, in normal times, 9-to-5ers pop in during lunch for bowls of ginger-chicken or Hokkaido-style pork ramen, but where in non-normal times you can get it for takeout or delivery.
How to order: Ramen Bar delivers six miles from 101 California Street, and also accepts delivery orders up to two weeks in advance outside of that area if you call 415-535-0184 or email glee@pabuizakaya.com. Orders are also available for pickup.

 

Kaiju Cooks/Kaiju Eats 

Inner Richmond/Laurel Heights
Once you’re tired of the fancy ramen spots (or at least need a change), it’s time to hit up Kaiju Cooks, a charming spot right between the Inner and Outer Richmond. There are several options, including a signature spicy Kobe beef, as well as a tom-yum inspired seafood one with a coconut-lime broth. Traditional? No. Excellent? Yes. It’s the younger sibling of Kaiju Eats in Laurel Heights, which also boasts a similar menu of creative ramens, along with a tried-and-true tonkotsu one.
How to order: Order online for pickup or get delivery from Postmates, Uber Eats or DoorDash

 

Courtesy of Marufuku Ramen
Courtesy of Marufuku Ramen
Courtesy of Marufuku Ramen

Marufuku Ramen 

Japantown
We’re not going to pick an objective best of the handful of excellent Japantown ramen shops (that’d be impossible), but if you held a poll among diners with that question, we’re betting that this stalwart would win. The signature Hakata-style tonkotsu is deeply flavored and elegant in texture and, like all of the ramens, can be totally customized, including the spice level. To go next level at Marufuku, catch one of the 15 servings per day of the spectacular chicken paitan “DX” with magnificently vibrant white chicken broth and a grilled chicken leg for good measure. Usually, you’d have to be one of the firsts at the door. Now you just have to be the one of the firsts on your computer.
How to order: Order online for pickup or get delivery from Grubhub, Uber Eats, or DoorDash.

Jijime 

Outer Richmond
The city’s many ramen aficionados appreciate a somewhat-unknown ramen place that doesn’t have lines down the block thanks to a bunch of “influencers.” This Korean tapas restaurant that happens to serve a formidable ramen is one of them. It’s easy to totally skip over the ramen section in lieu of beef short ribs or a spicy pork plate, but don’t make that mistake. The pork kuro with housemade black garlic oil and the tonkotsu with ground sesame seeds are probably the elite pair of the group. Actually, why not get beef short ribs and a ramen? After all, it’s the little things that bring us joy these days and those definitely both will.
How to order: Order takeout online or get it delivered by Grubhub, DoorDash, Postmates, Caviar, or Uber Eats

Courtesy of Ramenwell
Courtesy of Ramenwell
Courtesy of Ramenwell

Ramenwell

Mission
After the beloved Ken-Ken Ramen closed a few years ago, we all wondered if its replacement could fill its big shoes. The answer, thanks to Ramenwell’s chef/owner Harold Jurado, is a resounding yes. He has the magic touch with assertive, beautifully constructed bowls of ramen, focusing on just a few versions (20-hour tonkotsu, a spicy garlic pork, a shoyu mushroom-based “Mushroom Lover” and its vegan counterpart). Want to make your ramen at home? Ramenwell also has a couple of ramen kits broken down and ready to be made in your kitchen, as well as slightly odd marriage, but one we hope stands the test of time, of a couple of Hawaiian plates, like a house-smoked kalua pork.
How to order: Order online for pickup or delivery.

Coco’s 

Outer Mission
Right at the edge of the Outer Mission and Bernal Heights, Coco’s is the kind of petite, wood-paneled neighborhood charmer that we all wish we had steps from our door. Of course, for a while anyway, a restaurant’s charm is unimportant. All that matters is that the food is good. And at Coco’s, it is. There are six kinds of broth to choose from, most which are slow-cooked with a pork and chicken stock base. Plus, there’s a seafood ramen and a way-above-average vegan one too that’s even good for meat eaters looking for something a little lighter. Coco’s is probably the least flashy or hyped of the ramen restaurants on this list. And that’s good. They let the bowls do the talking.
How to order: Order online for takeout or get it delivered by Uber Eats, Grubhub, or DoorDash

Photo by Corbett Lee
Photo by Corbett Lee
Photo by Corbett Lee

Izakaya Sozai

Inner Sunset
Every other restaurant opening in town these days calls itself an “izakaya” but Sozai was an original years ago. Usually there is only one ramen on the menu-the ritsu tonkotsu ramen-unless there’s a special in which case you’d hope the chicken tsukemen (egg noodle with chicken meatball, kaiware, egg) was on that chalkboard menu, but during COVID times you can get the tsukemen any time you want, or from 5 pm to 8 pm, Tuesday through Saturday, annyway. Before the Mensho’s and Ippudo’s of San Francisco, this was the city’s most talked-about ramen. It still is one of the best, being a tad less fatty-rich than its tonkotsu peers, which invites adding braised pork belly and an egg as a garnish to fully round it out.
How to order: Call or text 415-371-9721 to place your order

Courtesy of Orenchi Beyond
Courtesy of Orenchi Beyond
Courtesy of Orenchi Beyond

Orenchi Beyond

Duboce Triangle/Mission
In the olden days (pre-2015 opening of Orenchi Beyond), procuring a bowl of this popular ramen involved a one hour drive to Santa Clara, followed by a two to three hour wait for the best ramen in the Bay Area at older sister Orenchi, with another hour drive back to SF. Now, you can get it every day with just a quick jaunt to the northern end of Valencia. Orenchi Beyond truly is tonkotsu perfection, somehow porkier than all the other bowls on this list. Unless you’re going for the vegan curry tan-tan ramen, there’s just one decision here: “regular” (shio) or “beyond” (shoyu). Be sure to order some spicy chicken karaage to get the fun started. 
How to order: Order online for pickup

Courtesy of Hinodeya Ramen SF
Courtesy of Hinodeya Ramen SF
Courtesy of Hinodeya Ramen SF

Hinodeya

Japantown 
Many San Francisco ramen fans learned about dashi broths from this ramen shop’s specialty: fish stock-based broths singing with an almost uni meets caviar-umami seafaring profile. It’s simultaneously nuanced and thrilling, clearly meticulously produced, and the perfect pairing with whole-wheat noodles and chashu pork. Everybody is so focused on the house scallop dashi ramen that it’s easy to overlook the also excellent “zen ramen” (a vegan ramen bowl with a white soy sauce broth), inspired by traditional shoujin temple techniques, and tori paitan (chicken and pork dashi broth), both of which are excellent options, especially since scallops don’t always travel well.
How to order: Call 415-216-5011 for takeout orders or get it delivered by Uber Eats, Grubhub, or Postmates

Courtesy of Iza Ramen
Courtesy of Iza Ramen
Courtesy of Iza Ramen

Iza Ramen

Lower Haight
Tsukemen is dipping ramen that involves two bowls: one with an intensely meaty broth and pork slices, and the other with thicker noodles to dip into the broth, which frankly, we’re almost convinced might be the route every ramen should take. But, Iza’s namesake ramen, which only comes in one bowl containing a fascinating mixed broth made of all of the best ramen broth worlds (tonkotsu, chicken, bonito, AND vegetable) is also pretty great. Guess you’ll just have to try both.
How to order: Order online or call 415-926-8173 for takeout, or get delivery from Uber Eats or Doordash

Courtesy of Nojo Ramen Tavern
Courtesy of Nojo Ramen Tavern
Courtesy of Nojo Ramen Tavern

Nojo Ramen Tavern

Hayes Valley
Previously a loveable independent izakaya with a particularly outstanding chicken ramen, Nojo was purchased a few years ago by a giant Japanese restaurant corporation and became their first US restaurant, with the same name. Don’t hold that against it though because the four ramens on the menu are consistently phenomenal. Whether you opt for a soy version with slow-braised whole chicken leg or tan-tan spicy miso with ground chicken, or even the veggie miso, every bowl is an absolute winner.
How to order: Walk-up to order takeout or get it delivered by Doordash, Grubhub, or Uber Eats

 

Courtesy of THE SPICE JAR
Courtesy of THE SPICE JAR
Courtesy of THE SPICE JAR

The Spice Jar

Mission
One of the finest ramen spots is also a terrific place for pho, laksa, and fried rice. This could probably explain how the ramen can get lost in the shuffle when discussing “best ramen” in the city. If you’re determined to stick with the former (which is a great choice), there are four options: spicy sesame miso with ground chicken, tonkotsu-shoyu with braised pork belly and spinach, vegetarian sesame miso, and squid ink seafood. They’re all a bit on the restrained side without much in the way of elaborate accents (save for the squid ink seafood which comes with clams, shrimp, and calamari in a squid ink broth), but there’s no shortage of flavor in either broth, especially if you punch a bowl up with a $1 spice shot. Feeling crazy? Go for a double.
How to order: Order for delivery or pickup Caviar

21 Taste House 

Ingleside 
For quite possibly the most interesting ramen variation in SF, head towards the Balboa Park BART station. Just a few blocks away is this laidback ramen favorite featuring a fascinating signature curveball for delighted ramen bowls: traditional pork-based ramen with a hefty dose of lobster in the broth. It’s nothing like lobster bisque if that’s what you’re thinking; rather, it’s a wonderfully balanced surf and turf marriage that hums with pork-centric umami and lobster-infused sea brine. For good measure, the lobster “house specialty” ramens come topped with a deep-fried soft-shell crab, which turns out is the greatest soup garnish ever (forget about those oyster crackers in clam chowder). But if that’s a little too adventurous for you, 21 Taste House offers more traditional ramen styles as well.
How to order: Order delivery or pickup from Postmates or DoorDash.Sign up here for our daily San Francisco email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun SF has to offer.

Trevor Felch is Zagat’s SF Bay Area editor. He probably shouldn’t check his sodium levels after researching this article. Follow him on Twitter @TrevorFelch.

Daisy Barringer is an SF-based writer whose life was changed forever after her first slurp of ramen at a restaurant in Japantown when she was eight years old. Follow her on Instagram @daisysf to see what else she’s eating during COVID (hint: It’s pretty much everything).

San Francisco

Where to Eat in SF's Chinatown, According to Local Experts

Just in time for Lunar New Year.

Photo by Brian John Godfrey
Photo by Brian John Godfrey

Last February, when there were only a handful of COVID cases in the United States, throngs of people stopped going to San Francisco’s Chinatown out of an unfounded fear that the neighborhood was more likely to have people with the virus. Business for bars and restaurants almost immediately dropped 50 to 70%. Unfortunately, despite our Chinatown being the oldest in North America and an important part of Chinese culture in the city since it was established in 1848, the tourists stopped going there. And then so did locals outside of the neighborhood. And soon, the bars and restaurants were mostly empty and the owners uncertain of how they could survive.

Joceyln Tsaih, an artist who made her way to Oakland by way of Taiwan and Shanghai, saw what was happening to SF’s Chinatown and other Chinatowns in the Bay Area and decided she needed to do something about it. In March of 2020, she created Save Our Chinatowns, an initiative to support Chinatown communities in the Bay Area through art, conversation, and shared love of food.

Courtesy of Joceyln Tsaih Instagram
Courtesy of Joceyln Tsaih Instagram

“I created it as a direct response to the COVID-related racism that was impacting Chinatown businesses in a negative way. I wanted to use my platform as an artist to create a way for people to support them.” Save Our Chinatowns originally launched as a GoFundMe fundraiser (eventually raising over $40,000), and soon, a few more women joined Tsaih’s grassroots efforts to create art and culture-focused initiatives to benefit their beloved Chinatowns.

Because here’s the thing. While Tsaih and the rest of her team believe San Francisco’s Chinatown is an important part of the city’s cultural makeup, it’s more than just that. It’s also personal. “I’m not originally from the Bay Area,” Tsaih explains. “I grew up in Shanghai, China, so Chinatowns across the US have served as a slice of home from me. Being in a Chinatown environment makes me feel immediately like I’m closer to home even though my family is in Shanghai and Taiwan and I’m very far from them.”

“I feel like in Chinese culture and in Chinatown, everything is largely centered around food. That is a big part of how we come together as families and the community and I want people to experience that,” she adds. Not sure where to start? Tsaih recommends the famous Dragon Gate. “That area has been kind of tailored to tourists. It’s very flashy and fun and an eye-opening way to start your journey.” (And it makes for a great Instagram photo as well.)

Want to know where to go from there? We asked the women behind Save Our Chinatowns about their favorite spots and what makes them their go-tos. After all, who better to get recommendations from than people who are using their free time to help save the neighborhood? Here are their picks:

Photo by Christine Calara
Photo by Christine Calara
Photo by Christine Calara

Kam Po Kitchen

“Kam Po Kitchen is an old-school Hong Kong style eatery that I adore. The staff has a no-nonsense attitude and service ethos that is actually kind of endearing and somehow comforting. It’s a spot that is beloved by locals as well. The roast duck over rice is my personal go-to, but everything I’ve had there has been delicious. As an added bonus, the portion sizes are huge!” Maya Kulkarni, a Berkeley-based artist and designer who is “very inspired by how food can shape identity.”
How to order: Call 415-982-3516.

Photo by Telstar Logistics
Photo by Telstar Logistics
Photo by Telstar Logistics

Sam Wo

“Sam Wo is a classic SF staple since it opened in 1907. Its casual, no-frills community has always been my favorite to go to late at night when the lines weren’t stupid long. Nothing beats ending your night out more than orders of BBQ pork rice noodle rolls and waiters forgetting to give you water after asking multiple times. Feels familiar and like home.” – Linh-Yen Hoang, a Vietnamese-American artist and designer whose work is “informed by her identity and experiences, both ordinary and nuanced.”
How to order: Use UberEats for delivery.

Lucky Creation 

“Lucky Creation is paradise for vegans. Everything is plant based and affordable, with a wide range of fake meats. The seasoning is subtle but complex, as opposed to in-your-face flavors of more tourist-oriented spots. You can’t go wrong ordering anything with bean curd.” Megumi Tanaka, an interdisciplinary designer, artist, developer, and expert on obscure information.
How to order: Call 415-989-0818.

Photo by Gary Soup
Photo by Gary Soup
Photo by Gary Soup

R&G Lounge

“When I think of R&G Lounge, I think of sitting at the round tables with family for special occasions. I also think of their signature salt and pepper crab and other Cantonese banquet style dishes. It’s a whole experience we’ve certainly taken for granted in the past.” Daphne Wu, an Oakland-based freelance web designer who is passionate about community building through food, drinks, and storytelling.
How to order: Use Caviar for delivery.

Lai Hong Lounge

“You can’t go wrong with Lai Hong Lounge if you’re looking for dim sum. All my favorite dim sum dishes are great here and even their egg tarts are the classic dim sum ones that can be hard to find nowadays! If you’re feeling fun you should order the custard buns because they come in the shape of little pigs.” – Jocelyn Tsaih
How to order: Use GrubHubPostmates, or UberEats for delivery.

Photo by Jennifer Woodard Maderazo
Photo by Jennifer Woodard Maderazo
Photo by Jennifer Woodard Maderazo

Golden Gate Bakery and Dragon Papa

“I’m obsessed with egg tarts, so when I’m in Chinatown, I always try to see if Golden Gate Bakery is open (their hours are very unpredictable), and if not, sometimes I’ll get a snack called Dragon Beard Candy. It kind of looks like floss, which is why they named it Dragon Beard, but it’s a sweet pastry. I like getting a box of that candy from there.” Jocelyn Tsaih, an Oakland artist by way of Taiwan and Shanghai, interested in utilizing art as a tool to amplify voices, raise awareness, and give back to communities. Her work is a reflection on human connection and identity.
How to order: Golden Gate Bakery is temporarily closed. Call 415-539-7728 for Dragon Papa.

Want to help save the Bay Area’s local Chinatowns? There’s a list of things you can do on the Save Our Chinatowns homepage, and right now, you can donate money and get a digital copy of their limited-edition zine for the Lunar New Year, titled “Have You Eaten Yet?” that includes recipes from Oakland Chinatown businesses.

Daisy Barringer is an SF-based writer who was lucky enough to grow up going to the famous Chinese New Year Parade most years. She’ll miss it this year. Gung hay fat choy! 

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