Santa Ramen Reborn in San Mateo
Santa Ramen is an old name in the SF bay area for ramen. It was around long before ramen became as popular as it is now. It also used to be the standard for which all other bay area ramen were judged against. But then as the newer ramen shops began popping up several years ago such as Himawari in San Mateo, Ramen Halu in San Jose, and Gen Ramen in Fremont, somehow Santa seemed to have lost its magic touch. I noticed its downhill quality as early as three years ago. After it recently moved to a new location, I decided it was time for another try.
The new space on El Camino Real is several times bigger than the old place on B Street. The decor is modern but feels sort of cafeteria-ish. One big plus is now the wait time for the ramen to come out is much, much shorter.
I ordered the tonkotsu ramen with extra buta kakuni (stewed pork). Supposedly the tonkotsu broth at Santa is one of the best in the area and I wanted to see if it has improved from the old blend version. The ramen came topped with scallions, woodear mushrooms, two pieces of chashu and two pieces of the stewed pork.
The broth is milky white with a slight yellowish tone. It has a glistening layer of oil/fat floating on top. But it is less “fatty” than Halu‘s broth. The flavor a bit on the salty side. But the flavor of the pork bone comes through in a robust manner. This is what tonkotsu broth should be. Its definitely an improvement over the old plain broth that I’ve had before.
One of the biggest complain I had was with the limp, lifeless noodle used at the original Santa. They seemed to have noticed this deficiency and is now using a more standard variety of ramen noodle. Instead of the old “chuka” style noodle that was terrible, it is now using a factory style ramen. It is able to last most of the way without getting too limp even for my extra noodles.
I really wanted to like the stewed pork, even though I’ve had bad experience with them before at Santa. It didn’t seem like a tough task since many ramen shops such as the old Gen Ramen and Himawari all offer good quality stewed pork. But, the stewed pork here is still too dry and tough, it just does not make sense to order this at around $5 that Santa charges for it. I’ll have to think about eating it even if it was offered free.
The chashu pork also didn’t impress me much. It was not very tender nor very flavorful and tasted just bland and average.
So although Santa has improved vastly on its noodle and tonkotsu broth, it still lacked in the meat department. With only 2 out of 3 major ramen requirements covered, it still cannot compete with the other top ramen shops. But it is now in the solid mid-tier range of ramen shops in the bay area with the likes of Himawari, Ringer Hut, etc.
Santa Ramen1944 S El Camino Real
San Mateo, CA 94403
Latest update to my best ramen of bay area rankings:
- Ramen Halu, San Jose – Halu Ramen
- Ajisen Ramen, Fremont – BBQ Pork Chashu Ramen, Paiku Ramen
- Kahoo Ramen, San Jose – Shoyu Ramen, Shio Ramen
- Maru Ichi, Mountain View – Kuro Ramen, Tonkotsu Ramen
- Ringer Hut, San Jose – Nagasaki Champon
- Santa Ramen, San Mateo – Kakuni Tonkotsu Ramen
- Himawari, San Mateo – Kakuni Tonkotsu Ramen
- Maru Ichi, Milpitas – Kuro Ramen, Tonkotsu Ramen
- Ryowa, Mountain View – Ryowa Ramen