I have just returned from six days in San Francisco for work. Each year, in the first week of December, my company hosts a week-long retreat for all employees. It's an amazing chance to explore the city, which happens to have some of the best food in the country.
On this trip I returned to some of my old favorites like Bread and Cocoa for their black forest hot chocolate (made with raspberry syrup!) and Cowgirl Creamery's Milk Bar at the Ferry Building for grilled cheese and tomato soup. I also tried a few new places, including Sushirrito (sushi + burrito), Caffe Bianco (an excellent lunch spot in the Financial District) and Presidio Social Club for weekend brunch. Of all the meals I had this trip, my favorite was at Ramen Yamadaya in Japantown.
Ramen Yamadaya is on a Buchanan Street, a pedestrian-only street in the heart of Japantown. This was my first time in this neighborhood of San Francisco and it looked beautiful, fully decked out with holiday lights.
The restaurant is on the second floor, above a Shabu-Sen restaurant.
As you head up the stairs toward the entrance you will pass the restaurant's ramen manifesto, which states their commitment to making the most delicious pork ramen.
When you reach the front door, you sign in and wait for the host to greet you. The kitty keeps you company.
You can also spend your wait time reading their rules of ramen (which are quite sassy). Notice that number one reads, "Chopsticks only. Forks are for amateurs." This freaked me out because I never learned to eat with chopsticks and I always have to sheepishly ask for a fork.
We were seated in a booth and immediately delivered menus.
We started with drinks, a Sapporo for my friend and an ice green tea for me.
She ordered the Yamadaya Kotteri ramen, which is pork ramen with black garlic oil. Look at all those delicious goodies right on top!
After several hearty spoonfuls I asked for her thoughts. She explained, "I am very lucky to live in San Francisco where there are tons of great ramen places. I really like this broth, it has rich flavor. I would give it a four out of five. While the meat was tasty, as were the fresh scallions, the noodles got soggy faster than they should." She continued, "This is a generous portion and I do appreciate the quick service."
I went with the vegan ramen, which is made with miso broth. Many authentic ramen places don't even offer a vegetarian version, so I was thrilled to discover this option.
The miso broth and the heavy handed sprinkle of sesame seeds was delicious. I loved the greens, the scallions and every single strand of noodle. I only wish I had asked for an egg on top.
We also decided to try the shiitake mushroom buns. When we ordered the buns (plural) I was under the impression the order came with two or three buns, but sadly only one arrived. We were still enjoying our ramen, so we pushed the bun to the side while we continued slurping. That was a big mistake. Not eating the bun while it was hot definitely impacted the taste.
Personally, I found the mushrooms to have an extremely strong vinegar taste. My friend said, "It's almost like they wanted to make the mushrooms like a cha siu bao, but they can't stand up to that preparation." I still haven't been able to find buns that compare to Ippudo in New York.
Happy and full we headed across the street to the Japan Center Mall to walk around. Many of the shops were closed (it was after 9:00pm on Wednesday) but we were able to get to Chocolate Chair in time, which makes ice cream with liquid nitrogen. I got a chocolate mint flavor that was spectacular.
If you are planning a trip to San Francisco, Japantown is just a mile outside of Union Square, making it really easy to get to. If you're a meat eater, I definitely recommend Ramen Yamadaya. Just make sure your chopstick skills are on point!