Wondering where to find the best ramen in San Francisco? Keep reading to find out where to go when you are craving a bowl of delicious, slurp-worthy ramen!
If I could eat one thing for the rest of my life, it would be ramen. Few things are as satisfying and comforting to me as slurping down a steaming hot bowl of noodles, especially in this fog-covered city. And so, I’ve slurped my way through MANY bowls of noodles over the years in my ongoing quest to find the best ramen in San Francisco.
To me, there is nothing better to eat on a foggy, chilly evening – and well, San Francisco sure has lots of them (you know what they say – “the coldest winter I’ve ever spent is a summer in San Francisco”).
I’ve had my fair share of ramen all over San Francisco over the years. The last few years has brought over a ramen craze to the city, and because of it, an abundance of new ramen joints have opened up all over town, all with different styles and approaches to it.
But what is ramen?
You may associate ramen with those cheap, MSG filled packets that you subsisted on while in college (or was that only me?). However, it is one of the most popular items in Japanese cuisine, and you will find that it is a complex, hearty dish.
Ramen has its origins in China, and it is said to have made itself over to Japan during the Edo period in the 1800s. It essentially consists of Chinese-style wheat noodles, served in a broth, and a variety of toppings. The style and thickness of the noodle, as well as the style and base of the broth vary widely, usually by region. Which brings me to…
A crash course on the different styles of ramen
Nearly every region in Japan has its own take on ramen. Here is a rundown of the most popular styles:
- Miso: Miso ramen originates from Hokkaido in the north, which is famous for its ramen. Miso ramen traditionally comes topped with corn and sometimes butter, which are also specialties in the region.
- Shio: Shio, or salt-flavored ramen, originates from Hakodate, which is a city in Hokkaido. This is one of the oldest forms of ramen, and usually comes with a chicken or pork base, and usually comes with lots of seaweed.
- Shoyu: Shoyu, or soy sauce ramen, has two varieties. One comes from the Tokyo area, and comes with thinner noodles served in a chicken-based soy sauce broth. The other comes from the Kansai region, in the central part of the main Honshu island, and is pork based.
- Tonkotsu: This is especially popular in San Francisco. Tonkotsu ramen is made by stewing pork bones, giving it a rich, creamy texture. This style of ramen originates in the Hakata area, in the Fukuoka prefecture in the southern island, Kyushu.
- Tori Paitan: Tori paitan literally translates to “white chicken broth.” The texture is similar to tonkotsu in that it is usually rich in creamy, but is created from chicken bones instead. Tori paitan has its origins in the Kyoto area.
The Best Ramen in San Francisco
Iza started as a weekend lunch pop-up at Blowfish Sushi that drew much fanfare, and opened its doors permanently in Lower Haight in late 2015. A second location in SOMA opened shortly thereafter.
Chef Ritsu Tsuchida’s (who was also the executive chef at Blowfish) ramen mainly features a unique take on a tonkotsu base – it is a rich, flavorful mix of pork, chicken, bonito and vegetable broth. The bonito definitely makes the broth here. They also have tsukemen (dipping ramen) and hiyashi chuka (cold ramen) here, which are somewhat rare in the city.
What to Order: Iza Ramen or Iza Tsukemen. It’s hard to find a good bowl of Tsukemen around here, but Iza does it well. I can’t get enough of that broth, and the noodles, which are thick and perfectly al dente, totally soak it up perfectly.
Lower Haight: 237 Fillmore St., San Francisco, CA 94117
SOMA: 1155 Folsom St, San Francisco, CA 94103
Izakaya Sozai is one of the originals, and has consistently been known to have some of the best ramen in San Francisco for years. It has also established itself as one of the best and most authentic izakaya (aka Japanese-style pub), so you are definitely coming here for the ramen AND all the izakaya menu items.
Traditionally, the ramen is served last as an after sake course, and Izakaya Sozai sticks to this practice here. Izaka Sozai is small and always packed – there is always a crowd outside, even right at opening, so be prepared to wait. I promise you, it’s worth it – this is one of my favorite places to eat in the city.
What to order: Well first, you must order some (and by some, I mean a lot) of the izakaya items, since this is one of the best and most authentic izakayas in town. Some favorites are the bacon wrapped mochi, the tuna tataki, and the yakitori. The tonkotsu is the only bowl of ramen on the menu, but is a classic, and has been one of my favorites for years. The broth is rich and perfectly creamy, almost milky. It is simple, but a classic, comforting bowl of ramen. It really is the perfect ending to a delicious milk.
1500 Irving St., San Francisco 94122
There is an abundance of ramen joints in Japantown; this is one of the best, in my opinion. It is also one of the few spots where you don’t have to contend with a giant line out the door – the wait here, if there is one, is usually minimal (unlike many of the other spots that are listed in this post).
It is my top pick when I am craving ramen in Japantown but don’t want to wait in line. Waraku has an extensive menu that features a variety of styles – tonkotsu, shoyu, and a spicy tan-tan Men. They also have ever-changing special bowls of ramen on the menu – the last time I was there, I had a black garlic tonkotsu, which was excellent. There is a garlic press at every table, and this adds an extra punch.
What to order: tonkotsu ramen. The broth is creamy and flavorful, the noodles cooked to the perfect, chewy texture. If you’re a fan of spice, many people swear by the Spicy Tan-Tan Men here – it is said to have the perfect amount of spice, flavorful and doesn’t burn your tongue off.
1638 Post St., San Francisco, CA 94122
Ippudo has long been a popular favorite for ramen in Japan and in New York City for years (they have been around since 1985). In 2017, it made its west coast debut in Berkeley, and opened up a San Francisco location in early 2018.
The San Francisco location is much larger than the one in Berkeley, and has a chic, modern vibe. It also has an expanded menu – there are lots of izakaya offerings here, in addition to the ramen. Ippudo is famous for its tonkotsu broth, which they simmer for 18 hours every day. This is one of the few spots where you can choose the firmness of your noodles (soft to extra firm), which are made in-house to your liking.
Yes, there does tend to be a wait, but you can hang out and get drinks and appetizers at the bar while you wait for your table to be ready.
What to order: The Shiromaru Classic (or with a poached egg). It’s simple so it features that creamy broth so well. If you want a little more of a kick, you can get the Akamaru Modern, which adds miso and garlic paste, for a twist on the broth. Also, you must get the pork buns.
18 Yerba Buena Ln, San Francisco, CA 94103
Make this bowl from @nojoramen your rainy day dinner. #EEEEEATS #InfatuationSF 📸: @basicandhungryeatsA post shared by Infatuation San Francisco (@infatuation_sf) on Mar 13, 2018 at 4:45pm PDT
Nojo Ramen Tavern
Nojo started out as an izakaya that served ramen only on weekends; that ramen was so popular that when the izakaya closed, it found a reincarnation as a spot dedicated to it. Chicken is king at Nojo, which specializes in the chicken paitan style. You can find different takes on this here – classic, soy sauce, spicy tan-tan miso, and even tomato. There is also a veggie version. Even the toppings here are devoted to chicken – the classic chicken paitan comes topped with meatballs, and the soy sauce comes with a braised chicken leg.
What to order: Chicken paitan soy sauce. The braised chicken leg is so tender that the meat falls right off the bone and almost melts in your mouth. It is the perfect complement to the super rich broth.
231 Franklin St, San Francisco, CA 94102
Hinodeya Ramen Bar
Hinodeya is a unique spot because it uses a dashi-based broth that creates a unique flavor that is lighter than your standard ramen broth. Light doesn’t mean boring, though – the broth is still packed with flavor and it is definitely some of the best ramen in San Francisco.
Dashi is often used as a base for many items in Japanese cuisine, so the ramen here is both traditional yet unconventional at the same time. The lighter broth perfectly symbolizes the subtleties of Japanese culture. Another unique aspect of Hinodeya’s ramen is that they also use buckwheat noodles, which is prepared to have a perfect chewy, al dente texture.
What to order: The signature Hinodeya ramen, which features a dashi, bonito, and scallop broth. You can also opt to order the tori paitan, for comparison’s sake – the lighter version is a different spin on it from all the others out there. The bowls here are on the smaller side, so I would recommend ordering an appetizer as well – the karaage is excellent.
1737 Buchanan St., San Francisco, CA 94115
Saiwaii is one of my go-to spots, partially because it is close to where I live. But what keeps me coming back is the spicy garlic broth, which you can get in either miso or tonkotsu versions. The noodles are topped with 2 slices of pork belly, which make it super satisfying.
The Outer Sunset is famous for its fog, wind, and chill, and there is nothing better than slurping a bowl of ramen here to warm you up. You can opt to add a mini donburi to your ramen (I go for the tempura or tekka if I get one). They also serve a variety of izakaya fare, along with sushi.
What to order: Spicy garlic tonkotsu or spicy garlic miso. I am a tonkotsu girl, so I go for that, but the miso is also super popular. You can ask for mild, medium, or hot spice – I am a baby when it comes to spicy food, but the mild has just the right amount of kick to it.
2240 Irving St, San Francisco, CA 94122
Marufuku is the new kid on the block in Japantown, but it has quickly gained popularity with its reputation as having some of the best ramen in San Francisco (if you find yourself on the other side of the bay, they recently opened another outpost in the Temescal neighborhood of Oakland).
Be prepared to wait (for a while) here…but you can leave your name and cell number on the list on the iPad, which will send you a text when your table is ready, so you can go wander around while you wait (definitely check out the Kinokuniya bookstore across the way, or snap some ridiculous photo booth photos at Pika Pika).
Marufuku specializes in Hakata-style ramen, along with tori paitan. You can opt to get either of these bowls as a deluxe version, which comes with upgraded toppings. You can choose your level of spiciness here, and my spice-loving friend says that even the extra spicy version still has flavor and doesn’t burn your tongue off.
What to order: If you can get your hands on it, go for the chicken paitan DX. It is limited to only 15 servings a day. It comes with a soy-braised chicken leg on the side, which is delicious and the perfect complement to the noodles (and yes, it’s a lot of food). Otherwise, either the regular tonkotsu or Chicken Paitan are excellent. Both have a ultra creamy broth which are rich in flavor without being super heavy.
1581 Webster St #235, San Francisco, CA 94115
This is currently takes the cake of being my favorite ramen joint in SF right now. This is the first US outpost of Mensho, which is considered one of the best ramen bars in Japan, and owned by “Ramen Master” Tomoharu Shono.
Even over 4 years after its opening, the ramen is still good as ever, and the hype still strong – expect to wait in line for almost an hour, but the bowl of insanely delicious ramen waiting for you is completely worth it!
Their signature bowl is the tori paitan, but the vegan tan-tan Men, created from blending 7 different kinds of nuts and soy milk, is surprisingly rich and creamy and intensely satisfying. They also have simple, classic shoyu and shio styles, as well as mazemen (brothless ramen), spicy lamb, and a clam ramen.
What to order: Tori paitan. The thick, rich, creamy broth is like no other. The toppings here are unique as well – the duck chashu super tender that it almost melts in your mouth, as well as kale. You can get the classic version, which is my favorite, but it also comes in a spicy or matcha added version as well. The vegan tan-tan men is a close favorite – you won’t believe that it’s vegan (and if you wanted some meat, you can add the chashu on the side).
676 Geary St., San Francisco, CA 94102