Men-Oh: Spicy Tonkotsu Ramen

Our long standing favorite place in the Bay Area, Men Oh, needed a follow up test after visiting so many other venues in the area. So I packed up the munchkin on a Saturday afternoon, picked up a good friend of ours, and headed into San Francisco for lunch. The only place in the area that is actually from Japan, Men Oh originates from Tokushima on the island of Shikoku. Operating 12 restaurants all over Japan, Men Oh opened up two venues in the Bay Area. One in San Francisco on Geary Blvd. and 15th Ave. and another in Union City. (They recently opened a new store in L.A. I am told)

Men Oh’s specialty is Tonkotsu ramen, which if you can’t tell yet, is easily my favorite type. My dish of choice is the Spicy Tonkotsu Ramen, extra spicy of course. Men Ohs version of the dish comes with chashu, a seasoned boiled egg, menma (bamboo shoots), chives, karamoyashi (spicy bean sprout), nikumiso, and cayenne pepper strings.

My concern was that, with all the ramen we have been eating since starting up the blog, our favorite wasn’t going to hold up anymore. The bowl arrived at the table and I was instantly reminded why I love Men Oh. The dish was colorful, neatly arranged, and came in a very nicely designed white porcelain bowl. The toppings were all fresh and very orderly placed so that each little bit could be seen. I had added corn and extra nikumiso to my order and they made sure that you could tell they were present.

First taste of the broth was fantastic, just as I had remembered. Thick, heavy, and rich with pork fat, the broth carries all of the flavors and notes of a great tonkotsu broth. The noodles perfectly cooked complemented the broth exactly as they should, carrying the sticky fatty parts that dotted the surface of the broth.

Toppings were spot on and tasted fantastic. The stand out from Men Oh in my opinion is the seasoned boiled egg and the nikumiso. The egg is perfectly cooked and seasoned with a golden custardy center. The nikumiso is somewhat unique to Men Oh (I haven’t seen it very often at other places) and is a ground pork marinated in a delicious miso sauce. The result is a salty and very robust flavor that adds wonderful notes to the broth and other toppings. I can’t get enough which is why I always order extra.

After finishing my lunch, I mentioned to my friend who had joined me that I was worried it wouldn’t hold up. I have been eating some fantastic ramen lately and I had my doubts. My doubts and fears had vanished and I was extremely pleased with my lunch. Still #1 in my book, and my favorite ramen yet. It will be hard to dethrone this one honestly. (Side note, I have eaten at both the SF and Union City locations and there is little to no difference between the quality. So feel free to visit either.)

Also, beyond the ramen, Men Oh offers a fantastic Takoyaki appetizer that is on par with what I have had in Osaka.

– Matt

  • Dish: Spicy Tonkotsu Ramen (Extra Spicy)
  • Price: $9.50
  • Extras: Sweet Corn $.75, extra Nikumiso $1.00
  • Rating: rating_5

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Himawari: Tan Tan Men Deluxe

One of my absolute favorite dishes from our time spent in Japan, Tan Tan Men, is a somewhat rare dish to find here in the states. Himawari in San Mateo offers a rendition of the dish, the Japanese version of Dan Dan noodles, that is pretty much spot on to what I have enjoyed in Tokyo.

In my experience (I may be incorrect) Tan Tan Men is often started with a pork, or tonkotsu, base and then sesame paste is added to the broth to mimic the peanut flavoring in the Dan Dan noodles. A heavy dose of chili oil and garlic is added and then the usual assortment of toppings.

Himawari’s bowl features ground pork, chashu, stewed pork belly, green onions, bean sprouts, a seasoned boiled egg, and a nice healthy clump of cilantro. As an extra, I choose to add my favorite, sweet corn. The stand out to me of this dish was the broth. A rich, heavy, and very spicy example of the sesame broth I have come to love, the broth was fantastic. The sesame added a wonderful heavy nutty flavor that complemented the buttery fatty flavors of the pork.

The toppings were all fresh and flavorful with the stewed pork belly really standing out. Fatty and rich, but moist and tender with no chewiness or dryness to be found. The veggies, especially the cilantro, added a nice counter to the flavor and spice of the broth.

Overall the dish was a fantastic example of a Tan Tan Men style ramen and satisfied my craving. No real complaints at all, only reason I am giving it a 4 out of 5 is because it can’t quite sit side by side with the best I have had. It’s also slightly on the expensive side at $13.00.

– Matt

  • Dish: Tan Tan Men Deluxe
  • Price: $13.00
  • Extras: Sweet Corn $1.00
  • Rating: rating_4

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Santa Ramen: Spicy Garlic Pork Cheek Ramen

After my first few weeks working at PlayStation it became apparent that there was a decent amount of quality ramen shops in the area. One that always came up was Santa Ramen. Located off El Camino and 92 in San Mateo, this mainstay has been around for quite a while. Owned by the same family that owns Ramen Dojo, just up the road in downtown San Mateo, Santa come highly recommended from all the usual suspects. The key to Santa is you have to arrive right at opening time, 11:30. If you come any later expect to wait at least 30 minutes or more for a table.

To make things somewhat easier, Santa only offers 3 different ramen and 4 broth choices. You pick your broth, then pick 1 of the 3 dishes. For my first visit I decided to go with one of the more popular combinations and picked the Pork Cheek Ramen with Spicy Garlic Pork broth. Of course I had to order it Extra Spicy. The dish consists of stewed pork cheek, chashu, fried onion w/chili oil, cabbage, green onions, bean sprouts, kikurage mushrooms, shredded chili pepper, and seaweed. Since I picked the Garlic Pork broth the dish also comes with 2 quail eggs which I omitted since I am not a fan of them. Instead I opted for the boiled egg.

Once the bowl arrived the first thing I noticed was the near perfect arrangement of all the toppings. The pork cheek and chashu were neatly arranged to one side, will the veggies and fried onion were neatly stacked in the middle. The broth had a deep reddish/dark hue and the scent of chili and garlic was very apparent.

Since everyone raves about the broth, I gave that a go first. It was rich and heavy, with a fantastic blend of garlic and the abundant pork flavors. The fact that I asked for extra spicy was also immediately registered by the burning tingle on my lips and tongue. Not a lot of places actually serve “extra spicy” when it’s ordered I find. This was a nice change and ultimately resulted in a nice bit of sweat after I finished eating.

The noodles were perfectly cooked and had a fantastic subtle flavor that really complemented the broth. Also worth noting was the portion of noodles. It was quite a bit larger then I am actually used to and was really a pleasant surprise.

The veggies and other toppings were all fresh and as to be expected. The stand out here however was the stewed pork cheek and the chashu. Both were exquisitley done and superbly flavored. The pork cheek melted in my mouth as I peeled bits of it apart with my chopsticks. Honestly one of the best pieces of pork I think I have eaten. The chashu was also very well done with just enough fat to add a rich buttery accent to the meat.

The only qualm I have with my entire experience at Santa was the eggs. They prefer the boiled quail eggs, which to be honest, I am not a fan of. They tend to be rubbery and carry little flavor. So I asked to remove those and added an extra boiled egg instead. Thinking it would be a nice seasoned boiled egg that is common with ramen dishes, I was surprised to find a regular hardboiled egg in my bowl. I know its a minor thing, but it really is my only complaint with this ramen dish. Everything else was damn near perfect.

So if you are ever in the San Mateo area I highly recommend you make an effort to visit Santa and give their ramen a try.

– Matt

  • Dish: Pork Cheek Ramen w/ Spicy Garlic Pork broth
  • Price: $9.75
  • Extras: Hardboiled egg $1.00
  • Rating: rating_5

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