A while ago, I was contacted by Lighthouse Japanese Magazine, the biggest Japanese magazine in San Diego. They partnered with local businesses to launch UTOPIA, an E-commerce website. They sell discounted gift certificates to a variety of businesses, including restaurants, salons, and fitness facilities. The discount is pretty good, usually 15-20%, and there is no expiration date on the certificates. I received it in just a couple of days, and there are no limitations to the gift certificate usage nor any minimums. Many of the restaurant partners are either on my bookmarked or favorites list, including Koon Thai Kitchen and Wa Dining Okan. They kindly offered me a complimentary certificate of my choice, and I chose one of my SD favorites, Yakyudori Yakitori - usually S and I only go for the ramen, but I thought we could try out the grill items and small dishes.The Takowasa is one of my favorites. Some people squirm at the idea of raw octopus, and even more so when paired with potent wasabi, but I really love this dish. You really have to be a fan of the raw octopus’ chewy texture, I suppose. For me, I love the strong punch of flavor – in Chinese it would be called the perfect “開胃菜” – and prepares my appetite for the rest of the meal. Thin slices of pork, grilled with green onions – two of my favorite things! This was really flavorful, although I wish there were more pieces of green onion. The pork was just slightly charred, giving a light crunch.
Tajima Ramen House is one of those places that S and I frequent, since it opens til pretty late and is quite friendly on the budget. (Also, they offer a 10% student discount for weekday dinner – yay for poor-student perks!) I know that quite a few people actually don’t like Tajima, but we actually think it’s (mostly) pretty good.
There are a few different ramen options: tonkotsu, soy sauce, miso, salt, and curry. You can also choose whether you want fat or thin noodles – I would recommend the thin noodles. Tajima’s noodles aren’t the best, and it’s quite evident in the fat noodles.
I usually get the spicy miso ramen, one of my favorites:
I like that you can order a small-sized bowl of ramen (subtract $1.50 from the base price). Unlike Yakyudori, you still get the soft-boiled egg even if you order a small. I also always add kakuni, or stewed pork belly, to my ramen. It’s an extra $3, but that tender, soy-braised pork is definitely worth it.
When RakiRaki first opened, S and I would visit quite so frequently that we actually got tired of ramen for a while. Haha. But since I read on Kirbie’s Cravings and Pink Candles at Ridgemont High that there were some new offerings, we decided to try it out again.
The first thing we noticed was that there are now more flavors of the tsukemen than regular and spicy – this time there is a tonkotsu-based tsukemen, as well as a spicy miso. I opted for the spicy miso, with the new “flame broiled prime X.O. under belly chasiu.”
I keep forgetting to put up this post from when I visited the Bay Area a while ago. Ramen Halu in San Jose has been my favorite ramen place since I visited for my birthday two years ago. However, because Berkeley is pretty far from San Jose, I didn’t have a chance to go again before I moved to San Diego. I raved about it so much to S that when we visited the Bay Area, we decided to have lunch there so that he could try it out.
It was definitely a warm day for ramen – I didn’t expect that – but there was still quite a wait for Saturday lunch. The place is pretty tiny.
I had a hard time deciding what I wanted. My friend L swears by the tantan-men, but I also like the Halu original, and the fall special pumpkin ramen, and I wanted to try out the tsukemen since it was a hot day. Finally, I settled on the tantan-men.
I’m no ramen expert, but I wanna say that tantan-men is based on the Chinese “dan dan noodles” (擔擔麵). (Incidentally, I wrote about Spicy City’s dan dan noodles in the previous post.) The soup is their signature tonkotsu broth, mixed with their special shoyu sauce, dashi broth, Japanese vinegar, and white sesame paste and chili oil. The meat is ground pork, cooked with a special miso paste, and other toppings were seasoned bamboo (menma), boiled spinach, green onions, wood ear mushrooms, and a square of seaweed. This was quite a heavy and flavorful bowl of ramen, and it really did remind me of dan dan noodles – particularly because of the sesame paste. If you are in the mood for a huge flavor hit, I definitely recommend the tantan-men. It would have been even better if it was a cold winter day.
The Halu ramen is also tonkotsu-based, blended with shoyu sauce and dashi broth, flavored with onion, ginger, and garlic. According to their webpage, the broth is a mix of rich and clear broth, giving it a unique, deep flavor. Toppings included chashu, seasoned bamboo, green onions, boiled spinach, wood ear mushrooms, and seaweed square. S added a soft-boiled egg for $1. I thought this was pretty good flavors and very similar to Yakyudori’s tonkotsu broth. It’s hard to say which one I preferred, the Halu or tantan-men – really would depend on my mood.
Overall, I really enjoyed my meal at Ramen Halu and would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for ramen in the Southbay area. It is on the pricey side for ramen, but I think the toppings are bit different at what you see in most ramen shops (at least in San Diego). Definitely would be a great place for those cold wintry nights that the Bay Area is supposedly having right now.
375 Saratoga Ave, Suite M, San Jose, CA
Hours: Lunch Mon-Fri 11:30am-2pm; Sat-Sun 11:30am-2:30pm. Dinner Sun-Thu 5:30pm-9pm; Fri-Sat 5:30pm-9:30pm. Closed Tuesday dinner.
Finally updating the blog after quite a break. Life has been pretty busy lately with all-sorts-of-this-and-that-and-it-makes-me-tired-everyday, but motivation for blogging has been low. I barely want to be at my computer when I get home, let alone work on photos and write. Haha. Last weekend was quite a nice rest, though, and it’s nice to sit down and write again :)
I mentioned in my post on Yakyudori Yakitori that I have visited RakiRaki, but haven’t gotten around to posting about it yet. When S and I first heard of its opening, I wanted to go immediately. It is located on Convoy St. next to A Cafe (in the plaza with the worst parking lot in the world.. yes, that’s the one), quite a popular spot. I can’t quite remember what used to be here… maybe a Thai restaurant?
When we first visited, RakiRaki was still at its soft opening stage. The menu was pretty simple and featured chicken broth-based shio (salt) ramen. I’m no expert on ramen, but Dennis over at A Radiused Corner has a pretty good explanation of their style. I’m normally a fan of thick and creamy tonkotsu ramen, but I had heard good things about the lighter broth at RakiRaki and wanted to give it a try. I’ve also heard good things about the tsukemen here (a “dipping” ramen – explanation later).
Complimentary alkaline water for every table. Alkaline water supposedly is pH 8.0 and claims to alter your body’s physiology and neutralizes your bloodstream, etc. etc. I’m pretty skeptical about these health benefits. But if they use alkaline water in the ramen broth, it may bring out some different flavors than using pH 7 water. Just a guess.
In addition to ramen there are some appetizers and also sushi rolls. I wasn’t so interested in the rolls but did try the takoyaki (octopus fritters):
These were pretty good, decent amount of octopus on the inside (sometimes it’s 99% batter, and I get cranky because hey, it’s usually not cheap). I’m not sure why the mayo turned out so yellow-ish in the photo.. but it’s mayo, a sweet takoyaki sauce, and bonito flakes. Yum (but a bit pricey)!
But of course, the main star here is the ramen.
They offer the chicken broth-shio ramen in “Original” and “Premium” versions. I had heard from Kirbie that the original tends to be overly salty, so we opted for the Premium. To my surprise, I quite liked the lightness of the chicken broth – and maybe this is blasphemous, but I really thought it reminded me a bit of chicken noodle soup. The noodles were thin, which I like (although I know that not everyone prefers thin noodles). The toppings were pretty scarce: cabbage, a splash of scallions, and 2 slices of pork chashu. This is not the typical chashu that I’m used to and is much leaner. I missed the fatty chashu and found the toppings somewhat unsatisfying.
Now onto the tsukemen!
Tsukemen, as I’ve previously mentioned, is a “dipping” ramen. Basically the noodles and soup are served separately, you dip the noodles in the soup, then
eat slurp it up! The broth is much heavier than the ramen options, since I don’t think you’re supposed to drink it. Anyhow, the broth reminds me a bit of traditional Chinese-style marinade, and it was really good! Plenty of soy sauce, and braised fatty pork chashu. This was definitely our favorite item here, and definitely a great first-time experience with tsukemen. (For really great tsukemen, though, Dennis recommends Tsujita in L.A. – definitely on my list now.)
Anyway, S and I really enjoyed RakiRaki – in fact, we went twice in three days and brought a few of our friends there. In particular, we liked the tsukemen a lot. They are still changing things up every time we visit – for example, they now serve a hard-boiled egg with the ramen (didn’t do that for our first two visits), and are expanding their menu items. We’ll definitely be back for more!
Yakyudori Yakitori (I’ll refer to it as YY) was one of our must-go restaurants, back when I would visit San Diego every two months or so. There weren’t great ramen places in Berkeley, so Yakyudori was really a great treat. After moving here, though, we actually haven’t visited very often – partly because summer quickly set in and I was never in the mood for ramen, but also because I was too busy exploring restaurants that I hadn’t been to before. Anyway, it was chilly enough for ramen a couple of weeks ago, so S and I decided to revisit this old favorite.
YY is an izakaya, which are traditionally Japanese bars for after-work drinking and dining. There is a variety of beers and sake, and food items typically include grilled skewers as tapas to accompany the alcohol. Rice and/or noodle dishes are served to end the night of drinking. However, we go to YY just for the ramen.
I’m not sure when I discovered that I love ramen, but it really has quickly become one of my favorite foods. Comforting yet exciting at the same time. In Berkeley, there weren’t many (ok, any) good ramen shops – the better places were all in the South Bay (my favorite being Ramen Halu). However, in San Diego, there are so many options for all your ramen needs. I’ve visited Tajima, Santouka (in Mitsuwa Marketplace), Yamadaya, and RakiRaki, and of course YY, but there are still so many yet to try.
S’s favorites are the shio (“salt”) ramen and Nagoya ramen, so we ordered one of each. The shio ramen broth is pretty light, as you might tell from the picture. The noodles were cooked to a decent chewiness. I like this because it’s light yet still very flavorful.
I recently learned from S that Nagoya ramen is also referred to as “Taiwan ramen,” since it is reminiscent of Taiwanese-style noodles, served with minced pork, chives, and pickled bamboo shoots. I have not tried Nagoya ramen anywhere else, but I really like this broth. The chives were a bit under-cooked and too fibrous, though – a shame, since I normally love chives. The noodles are slightly thicker than the ones used in the shio ramen. I’m not too picky about noodles, but I did prefer the thicker ones in the Nagoya ramen.
We also decided to share an order of fried chicken. I really loved it – the batter is crispy, and the chicken is tender. I also love the dipping sauce and mayo – perfect accompaniments to perfect fried chicken.
Overall, I was quite happy that we visited YY again. It’s a great option for late-night ramen cravings, and their other menu items are great, too – I’m particularly fond of the takowasa and takoyaki. If you’re a ramen lover and haven’t been here yet, give it a try and let me know what you think!
Yakyudori Yakitori & Ramen
4898 Convoy St, Suite 101, San Diego, CA
Hours: 11:30am-12am daily
I visited Ramen Yamadaya a few weeks ago, after hearing good reviews from other food bloggers. Because of the heat wave(s), I never really felt like eating ramen – but there was one Sunday that was relatively cool, so S and I went with a couple of friends.
The indoor seating area was pretty tiny, so we sat on the patio. I didn’t mind at all since it was a nice evening (and plus, I believe the A/C wasn’t working indoors so it would have been realllly hot.)
According to Dennis, author of A Radiused Corner and my go-to expert on ramen, Yamadaya serves Hakata ramen, which has a thick tonkotsu broth made from boiling pork bones for many hours, and – according to Wikipedia – should have a consistency similar to milk, melted butter, or gravy. Mmm…
There are 4 types of ramen: tonkotsu, tonkotsu shoyu, tonkotsu kotteri, and tonkotsu spicy. You could also upgrade any of them to “Yamadaya Ramen,” which includes two types of chashu (usually there’s just one), menma (Japanese-style dried bamboo shoots), nori, and an extra half of a soft-boiled egg. I chose the Yamadaya Ramen with tonkotsu spicy with medium spiciness level. I found it interesting that if you wanted very hot, there is an extra 25 cent charge… special hot sauce?
I took one sip and fell in love with the broth. It was indeed very creamy, and so rich. Because of the upgrade, I had two types of pork: the traditional chashu pork, and a piece of kakuni pork belly, both of which were very tender and flavorful. The soft-boiled egg was pretty good, although S and I agreed that Yakyudori Yakitori‘s is better. (And for me, nothing beats the soft-boiled egg at Ramen Halu in San Jose.) Also, I believe they only use thin noodles… which are my favorite! Yay.
S chose the famous tonkotsu kotteri, which is the tonkotsu broth with black garlic oil. I took a few sips of the broth, and I’m not sure how I feel about the black garlic. It lends a deep, fermented flavor, which made the broth just a bit too rich for me. My other friends liked it, though.
He also chose to get a “combo” – ramen, gyoza or kara-age, and steamed rice for an extra $3. The kara-age was pretty good, just missing mayo for dipping… :P
SK and I were looking to grab a quick dinner, so we went to YouZen Restaurant in the Von’s plaza on Regents Rd. We had heard good things about their chashu and decided to try it out for ourselves.
The place is pretty small, with dim interior and an outdoor seating area. Our waitress was very friendly as she presented us with menus and water. We took a look and immediately decided upon the spicy tonkotsu and spicy miso ramen – but FYI, the restaurant also offers rice dinner sets, udon, etc.
The tonkotsu broth was very creamy and oily (just from a small taste), and was a bit too rich. The spicy miso actually lacked a strong miso taste, and was mostly just very salty. I was pretty disappointed with both of the broths. However, the chashu in both dishes were really tender, better than a lot of other chashu that I’ve tried. And, of course, the soft-boiled egg can always add a few points to any meal.
The bottom line? It was really just an okay ramen. If you are just having a ridiculous ramen craving but somehow are unable to get to Convoy, you can check this place out. However, I will probably move on to other dinner options in the area.
7728 Regents Rd., San Diego, CA
My friend’s badminton racket strings popped, which meant that we had to go to Southbay and
eat yummy Asian food get the racket re-strung. I have heard a lot about Ramen Halu from S. & co and was really excited to try it… there is really a sad lacking of good ramen in Berkeley.
The restaurant is pretty small; it looked like there were less than 30 seats, total. For a restaurant of such popularity (at least among my friends), it was surprisingly empty – but that might be because we went around 8:30 on a Monday night. Still, the restaurant had a very warm feeling; maybe because of the cute wall decorations:
As for the food, I actually called my friend L.L. to ask him for recommendations. He immediately said the “Tan Tan Men”, which is actually not your typical ramen dish. He also said their namesake Halu ramen. However…
…I saw that there was pumpkin ramen on the menu. I think I have a small obsession with pumpkin. The description for the pumpkin ramen sounded heavenly: pork/seaweed/vegetable broth, with chashu, shimeji mushrooms, corn, fried pumpkin, onion slices, parmesan cheese, parsley, and ‘bats flying around’ (yes, that was what the menu said). I was fully convinced and ordered it right away. My two dining companions ordered the Tan Tan Men and Halu ramen, as recommended.
When the bowl arrived, I finally understood what was meant by ‘bats flying around’ – the seaweed slices were cut into bat shapes! Super cute, and very Halloween-ish. The broth was very thick and bursting with a rich pumpkin flavor. (Side note: you can customize your order with more/less salt, more/less cheese, etc. I asked for less salt since I know how salty ramen broth can be.) All the toppings were nice, but the one that really stood out to me was the soft-boiled egg, with an amazingly silky yolk. Quite honestly, the best soft-boiled egg I’ve ever tasted (no exaggeration).
I really liked the Tan-Tan Men soup – it was spicy, but not overwhelming. Instead of chashu (pork slice), it was made with ground pork. I think this is supposed to be the Japanese version of 擔擔麵, and although it bears very little resemblance to the original Sichuan dish, it was really good.
Ah yes, we ordered an extra plate of toppings..
I think Ramen Halu is probably my favorite ramen spot now. The broth, noodles, and toppings are really the best that I have had so far. It’s just too bad that San Jose is such a far drive from where I live – otherwise, I would definitely be a frequent diner here :)
375-M Saratoga Ave, San Jose, CA
Lunch: Mon-Fri 11:30am-2pm; Sat-Sun 11:30-2:30pm
Dinner: Sun-Thu 5:30-9pm *CLOSED Tue; Fri-Sat 5:30-9:30pm
I was in San Diego for S’s birthday weekend, and we had quite a few food adventures. I went to my ‘must-go’ places (Phil’s, Yakitori Yakyudori, Tacos el Gordo) and visited a few new restaurants. All in all, a very delicious weekend. Here are some recaps of the weekend. (I only took photos at the places I haven’t visited yet.)
El Pescador Fish Market:
My friend C recommended this place to us for lunch. It was more of a fish market than restaurant – there was maybe enough seating for 10-12 people. There were various fish displayed in the glass counters: sea bass, tilapia, salmon, tuna, swordfish… the list goes on. They had whole fish, filets, special sashimi cuts – and everything looked really fresh. I immediately took a liking to this place.
They prepared fish either in a sandwich or salad, and since C. recommended the sandwich, I chose the lemon butter swordfish. I actually don’t remember the type of fish that Sid ordered, but I know that he got Cajun-style. Despite the Cajun-style not very Cajun-y, I loved both sandwiches. I thought the fish was cooked perfectly, not too chewy and not too rubbery, and the seasoning was light but appropriate. Now I know why it was so crowded for lunch! I am looking forward to trying other types of fish (and maybe buying their fresh seafood selection) in the future.
Karl Strauss Brewery Restaurant
For S’s birthday, we celebrated with some friends at Karl Strauss Brewery Restaurant – one of San Diego’s famous local breweries. There are several locations in San Diego, but we went to the one in Sorrento Valley. Finding the restaurant itself is a bit tricky because it is sort of ‘hidden’ behind a row of commercial buildings. We actually walked around the block a bit before hearing a lot of laughter and music, and so following the sound, we found a really quaint wooden building in the midst of a pond/rock garden – which, of course, turned out to be the restaurant. The pond did wonders for the atmosphere of the place – I can imagine that a summer lunch on a patio would be really relaxing and enjoyable.
As for the beer, I ordered a Red Trolley Ale. S decided to try their beer tasting flight (unfortunately I did not take notes on what each of them were. I just know that they go from the darkest – Porters – to lightest – IPAs). I took a sip of all of them and decided that my favorite was the rye IPA. I think S liked the Red Trolley the best? Or perhaps the Amber Lager (KS’ most famous.)
As for the food, S and I decided to try the Big Beer Burger (basted with KS Amber Lager, Red Trolley Ale onlinos, IPA mushrooms, Woodie Goldbrined seasoned bacon, lettuce, tomato, guyere cheese, and fries; $11.95) as well as the Dirty Bird Mac & Cheese (chicken, beer mushrooms, tomatoes; $15.95).
The food was pretty good – very filling, as you can probably imagine. As exciting and beer-filled the burger sounds, though, I would argue that there were so many things going on that nothing really stood out. The meat was juicy, though, which was nice. The Mac & Cheese was a bit more distinct to me – although it was filling, it wasn’t so heavy and rich that I couldn’t eat more than two bites, which was nice. The portions are definitely more than enough for 2 meals (at least for me).
Aside from those culinary adventures, I went to Phil’s BBQ, Tacos el Gordo, Lolita’s (hey, it’s SD – gotta have the Mexican food), and Yakyudori for ramen – but also tried a new appetizer/ small dish, the jellyfish with uni (sea urchin) sauce:
That’s it for my April San Diego adventures. Stay tuned for more! (And always happy to take suggestions for the future!)