Underbelly, a CH Projects restaurant, is a fusion-y Japanese ramen shop and bar located in Little Italy. S and I have been there once before, but I forgot to take pictures that time. We recently made another trip when our friend expressed interest in one of their beers made with sake yeast, so we headed over to check it out for late night dinner one day.
I thought that the design of their sign was really neat! The rest of the restaurant, unfortunately, was too dark to photograph, but basically, you grab a menu at the door, order at the counter, and take a seat at the bar or counter. There’s an upstairs seating area, but I’ve never been there – I assume there are tables there?
Unfortunately, the sake-yeast beer wasn’t available that night, so S and friend ordered other stuff from their selection… I know that S got something from Lost Abbey (I believe it was Ten Commandments?), but I can’t remember what was the other drink, haha. Oh well, I was more interested in the ramen anyway…So, something interesting that they do here is not provide any spoons. I remember hearing an explanation once that it’s “how they do it in Japan” – as in, you just pick up the bowl and slurp the soup. I’m sure that happens, but I also am pretty sure that they give you spoons anyway in Japan. Oh well…
As for the ramen itself, the tonkotsu broth was quite hearty, but not as rich as Ramen Yamadaya. It wasn’t overly salty, which is a plus. The toppings were a mix of traditional and novelty, I suppose – the char-siu belly was nice and tender, and I enjoyed the flavor of the kurobuta sausage. The smoked bacon, though, didn’t really fit well with the rest of the toppings and broth. The soft egg was a bit overcooked, but on my previous visit it had a perfect ever-so-slightly-runny yolk, so that seems to be a point of inconsistency. Otherwise, the standard toppings are bean sprouts, ginger, scallions, seaweed, and sesame seeds.We didn’t enjoy this one nearly as much as the Underbelly Ramen – I think the beef cuts just doesn’t go well with pork broth. All the meats were cooked nicely, though, and I thought that the oxtail dumplings were quite interesting and creative.
Last note – Underbelly offers a variety of condiments for your ramen: the standard soy sauce and sesame oil, and also togarashi, or Japanese chili pepper flakes (in the metallic shaker in the photo), and a ghost pepper sauce, in the glass container above. The server warned me that it’d be spicy, but I could handle it just fine. (Okay, a better measure is that S could handle it fine – his tolerance for spicy food is probably closer to the average person.) It added a nice kick to the broth.
Overall, we thought that Underbelly was just okay – not much different from our last visit. I’m still not a huge fan of their ramen, but the restaurant has a fun atmosphere and a good selection of beers on tap – so it probably caters more to beer lovers than ramen fanatics. Underbelly also has a North Park location slated to open soon, with an expanded menu including yakitori, so we’ll be checking that out when it opens.
750 W. Fir St, San Diego, CA 92101
Hours: Daily 11:30AM-12AM