As we settle in here for another winter storm, it is most definitely ramen weather —though the same could be said of mid-summer, because this is SF.
With that in mind, and as we face down the home stretch of actual SF winter, SFist wants you to have a definitive list of the best ramen spots in your pocket. This list includes a few of the tried-and-true, quick-service ramen depots that most local fans already know and love, as well as a couple you may be less familiar with unless you're a true tonkatsu aficionado. But we've limited this list by correcting for service issues too — in the world of ramen, a great bowl shouldn't have to come with an extra-long wait or completely impersonal (or outright rude) service.
Also, unlike previous lists, we're going to rank this one.
1. Ramen Yamadaya
This is one of four Yamadayas in California, the grandaddy of which opened in Torrance in 2010 — right as the ramen craze was fully hitting its peak in New York and elsewhere. It took a little longer to make its way to the Bay, but Yamadaya is a shining example in the world of ramen broths, in particular the thickly pork-y tonkotsu that is their signature (though their chicken-and-fish-based shoyu is great too). And prices are reasonable at their second-story Japantown outpost, with most bowls running you $15 before add-ons.
1728 Buchanan Street, upper level
2. Ramen Shop (Oakland)
One of three local spots to land on Thrillist's "24 Best Ramen Shops in America," Ramen Shop is a must on any list that focuses on Bay Area ramen. Open for both brunch and dinner, this Rockridge destination from a couple of Chez Panisse alums serves a seasonally focused menu of ramen, rice dishes, and gorgeous Japanese appetizers. There's typically only two meat ramen options per night (and one veggie), but they rotate constantly — and after not featuring tonkotsu very regularly, it's now on the menu Tuesday to Thursday. Examples include Hokkaido miso ramen with ground pork, and Stemple Creek Ranch shoyu beef ramen made with braised beef shank and smoked brisket.
5812 College Avenue, Oakland
3. Mensho Tokyo
This spot arrived near Union Square straight from Japan a couple years back, specializing in the creamy, chicken-based tori paitan ramen. There is almost always a considerable (if fast-moving) line outside, and in true Tokyo fashion they keep people moving in and out at a brisk place without a lot of chit-chat. The ramen options are all solid, but if you’re chilled to the bone and in the mood for something heartier and meatier, go for the spicy lamb ramen, which is filled with tangy ground lamb and topped with chile oil.
672 Geary Street near Leavenworth
Some of the best ramen in the world can be found at Japanese chains, and this is one of them. Ippudo has over 160 locations around the globe and is partnered with Panda Express. But their swanky, one-year-old Yerba Buena Lane outpost stands out (there's also a location in Berkeley that opened in 2017), and the ramen is to-die-for good, with some of the most perfect noodles in town. The Ippudo brand launched way back in 1985, via Japanese television's "Ramen King" Shigemi Kawahara, and so the company was well positioned when Americans started going ramen mad in the mid/late aughts. Check out the spicy tonkotsu variation called "karaka," or "akamaru modern" version which is topped with house-made umami paste.
18 Yerba Buena Lane
5. Marufuku Ramen
Opened in 2017, Marufuku got some immediate praise from Chris Ying in the Chronicle, who called out the "thin, chewy and slurpable" noodles and paitan and 20-hour tonkotsu broths that were excellent and not too heavy. The place has since gained #1 status from Yelpers, but the only reason it lands at #5 on this list is that I'm a little less refined in my broth palate perhaps, and I like my broths a little richer or bolder flavored. Still, this place is deserving of high praise and repeat visits. Also, there's now a Marufuku in Oakland, too.
Japantown Center, 1581 Webster Street, Ste. 235
Six-year-old Waraku has one truly compelling reason to visit it: the excellent, crave-worthy Spicy Tan-Tan Noodles. Holy shit this is some of the best, beautifully spicy ramen I've ever had, and totally unlike most other ramen I've found in SF. The broth is bright red, tangy, and redolent of porky sriracha, without you having to add any hot sauce of your own, but it won't blow your head off either if you consider your spice tolerance in the "medium" range. The other ramen is pretty good too, as are starters like the ankimo (monkfish liver) and the whole grilled squid. But you need to have the Spicy Tan-Tan Noodles. That is all.
1638 Post Street
7. Coco's Ramen
To get to Coco's on the Mission strip in Bernal Heights, a spot indicated loosely with a paper sign for "ramen," duck inside the more clearly designated Crazy Sushi and hang a left. (The two are separate but symbiotically related businesses.) In a warm red room, made warmer with a little sake and some steaming broth, snag one of a few tables or a seat at the bar and ask for your old friend tonkotsu — though he shoyu and curry-based options are reason to stray. —Caleb Pershan
3319 Mission Street between Virginia Avenue and 29th Street
8. Izakaya Sozai
This longtime hidden gem in the Sunset specializes in more than just ramen (since it's an izakaya), with fried stuff also front and center like agedashi tofu and top-notch chicken wings. But the tonkotsu ramen here is the bomb (and the only ramen available), with add-on options that include both braised pork belly, and fried braised pork belly.
1500 Irving Street at 16th Avenue
Chicago chef Harold Jurado took over the former KenKen Ramen space last year to open his first SF restaurant after relocating here (and after running successful Chitown spots Yusho and Chizakaya). He specializes in three types of ramen: vegetarian shoyu, tonkotsu, and chicken-based spicy tori tantanmen. The latter was SF Weekly's favorite, but I'd point you to the 20-hour tonkotsu that includes Kurobuta pork belly chashu that gets smoked over at 4505 Burgers & BBQ.
3378 18th Street
10. Iza Ramen
Born out of a pop-up at Blowfish Sushi in the Mission, Iza Ramen debuted in the Lower Haight three years ago and quickly became a wintertime and cold weather go-to. The chef is Blowfish sushi chef-partner Ritsuo Tsuchida, and ramen here is traditional in both tonkotsu (pork) and tsukemen (dipping noodles separate from broth) styles, with a rich and well executed broth. Also notable: some generous and juicy chicken karaage, a.k.a. Japanese fried chicken.
237 Fillmore Street at Haight