Santa Ramen – no longer tops?
It’s been a while since I’ve gone to Santa, once upon a time the best ramen house in the bay area with no equals. In recent years, many ramen houses have popped up to challenge it and in some cases have been successful, such as Ramen Halu. Upon hearing from some friends that they much prefer Santa over Halu, I wanted to give my tastebuds a readjustment to make sure I can compare them straight.
Arriving at 5:15 for the 5:30 opening, there was already a dozen people in line ahead of me. After the opening, I grabbed a seat and ordered the pork soup based stewed pork ramen. Extra noodles as usual. After about 40 minutes, the ramen finally arrived.
There were two good sized pieces of stewed pork and not much other toppings besides chopped scallions and the red ginger strips. The noodles looked pale and straight and worst of all “shiny”. And a taste of it confirmed that it was not able to soak up much flavor. The texture was not soft but not really “Halu level El Dente” or “Q” at all, in Chinese speak. The noodle is very much “Chuka”, Chinese style – in similar fashion as those at Do Hentkotsu and Maru Ichi, but not nearly as good in either in texture or the ability to soak up the tonkotsu broth.
The tonkotsu broth looked rich enough with a layer of oil. A taste of it revealed a simple, standard, good flavored broth. There was nothing special to it. It was not a “custom” soup broth which can be claimed by Santa alone. This is where Halu’s broth, though on a salty side, really outshines Santa with its incredible depth and flavor. Even Maru Ichi’s Kuro broth seemed much more interesting.
After two strikes, it’s time to taste the stewed pork. One bite and I knew it was over. This may possibly be the last time I visit Santa, especially for ramen. (The kara-age and squid appetizers looked great) I was expecting tender pork heaveness but got a very average not so tender piece of pork with embedded fat. Comparatibly, in the stewed pork department, the Gen Ramen version is the new crowning champion with Himawari a close second. It is tender and flavorful, besting both Santa’s version as well as Maru Ichi’s kakuni pork.
My original visits to Santa were focused on the Shoyu based broth and those seemed to be better than it’s supposedly core-strength tonkotsu broth. Especially now that the other places have refined their tonkotsu broth, Santa’s version, I’m afraid, is no longer my favorite.