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.
- Dish: Pork Cheek Ramen w/ Spicy Garlic Pork broth
- Price: $9.75
- Extras: Hardboiled egg $1.00