Santa Ramen: Stewed Pork Belly Miso Ramen

In the ongoing quest to eat all the ramen there is we often return to our favorite spots. Being privileged enough to work in the San Mateo area we have an awesome selection of quality places serving Ramen. My favorite of these is Santa Ramen just south of the Hwy 92/El Camino Real intersection. Both Gio and I have reviewed dishes from here before and LOVED them but neither of us had tried the dish they are most famous for, the Stewed Pork Belly ramen. When ordering the dish you have 4 broths to choose from which include soy sauce, miso, tonkotsu, and garlic tonkotsu. Each broth comes with a specific topping that compliments the broth flavors.

I choose to go with the Miso broth, extra spicy. Toppings for the dish as chosen are pork belly, chashu, bean sprouts, baby spinach, 1/2 an egg, roasted seaweed, and the miso specific sweet corn. The bowl arrived shortly after ordering, which for how busy they were was a nice surprise, and looked fantastic. The toppings were all neatly placed in the bowl so that you could see everything. The contrasting color of the bright green spinach with the red spicy broth was really nice. The chashu was cut perfectly and the pork belly glistened right front and center.

As with every ramen I eat the first taste was a nice slurp of the broth. The broth has rich and heavy with a perfect amount of spice. The nuttiness of the miso stood front and center and was exactly what I would want from a miso broth. So far this has been one of the best miso broths I have had here in the states (more coming on that in a later review/write up).

The pork belly was some of the best I have ever had and was perfectly cut with just the right amount of fat to meat. Stewed then either braised or grilled (hard to tell) it had a sweet porky flavor that complimented the spicy miso wonderfully. I wish there was more as I goobled the one piece up really quick. The chashu (which we have mentioned before) was fantastic and a nice juxtapose to the sweeter fatty pork belly. Salty and roasted it had a fantastic grilled flavor to it.

The noodles were nicely cooked with just the right amount of firmness to them. Portion size was also just right. As for the other toppings everything was spot on. Fresh and crunchy the veggies added a nice flavor range to the other heavy stand outs.

Again I can’t rave enough about Santa Ramen and the dishes they offer. Between the 2 of us we have sampled pretty much everything they make and will be going back again and again. Just make sure you get there early as the line grows quite long by the time noon hits.

– Matt

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  • Dish: Stewed Pork Belly Miso Ramen
  • Price: $10.75
  • Extras: None
  • Rating: rating_5
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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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Himawari: Miso Butter Corn Ramen

One of my new favorite ramen places, Himawari is located on 2nd Ave. in downtown San Mateo. Having been here a few times before I already knew they make a great bowl of ramen. For this lunch outing last Friday I wanted something a little different since I’ve been doing a lot of the same “spicy” ramen lately. I choose to go with a classic dish from the Hokkaido/Sapporo region, Miso Butter Corn.

After a brief wait (They are always quite quick with your order) my lunch arrived and it looked great right from the start. The toppings all colorful and fresh, with the standard “chunk” of butter slowly melting and adding a rich creamy texture to the broth. Included with the order is a very generous portion of sweet crunchy corn, bamboo, green onions, chashu, and bean sprouts. For an extra I added a seasoned boiled egg to the order.

The broth was good, but a bit on the lighter side for a miso. It had great flavor with a good hint of salt, but the telltale “nutty” tones that accompany a nice heavy miso broth was missing. This isn’t bad a thing, but it was a bit disappointing. I think having the heavier miso base would have made this ramen spectacular. Once the butter was completely melted and worked into the broth it had wonderful creamy almost thick feeling that complemented the corn really well.

The other toppings were fresh and tasted great, however the chashu was a little overcooked and almost dry this time around. This hasn’t been typical of my previous visits, however combined with the lighter miso broth wasn’t as good as the other offerings I have had at Himawari. The seasoned boiled egg was a stand out though as it was perfectly boiled with a custardy yellow center and just the right amount of seasoning. Easily my favorite part of the lunch.

Overall I wouldn’t say it was a bad bowl of ramen by any means. In fact it’s still quite a bit better then a lot of places out there serving the dish. I was more so just a bit disappointed with this one due to the previous experiences being pretty much spot on. I am going to give this one a 3 out of 5 for now, and may try it again to see if either the broth or the chashu improves.

-Matt

  • Dish: Miso Butter Corn Ramen
  • Price: $9.50
  • Extras: Seasoned Egg: $1.00
  • Rating: rating_3

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