Santouka Ramen (山頭火) at San Jose Mitsuwa
Thanks to the Hokkaido Festival at the San Jose Mitsuwa, San Francisco bay area ramen lovers had a chance to try out one of the highest rated ramen from the L.A. area. Santouka Ramen has a high reputation in southern California for its Shio Ramen and they’ve brought this ramen to San Jose during the weekend.
Taking over the bento box kitchen at Mitsuwa’s food court, Santouka attracted a large crowd of bay area ramen lovers eager to try out its famous shio ramen. The lines were long but the wait was not too bad. The kitchen was cranking them out one after another.
The broth of the ramen was a milky, yellowish color with a layer of oil on top and lots of small pieces of grounded sesame. The broth had the right level of saltiness and had a good, deep, pork bone flavor with just a hint of sweetness. After finishing the entire bowl, I think it was very good, but not the best that I’ve had.
There were several pieces of sliced pork belly meat, as opposed to chasu meat. I completely ignored the bamboo shoots and the fish cake. The pork belly meat had very good flavor, but perhaps due to the “temporary” operation, it could have been better. One of the several pieces of meat was tender. The other was just average, and there was one piece that was undercooked.
The noodle, supposedly imported from Japan, was very good. It was a good mixture of chuka-style, thin noodle and the more curly, alkaline-based ramen noodle. It had a good chewiness but was not very tough and yet held up very well through out in the hot broth that was protected by the oil layer. It was able to soak up the flavor of the broth very well.
Comparison of Santouka to the bay area ramen shops is only natural. The shio ramen broth is not overly sweet as the Kahoo‘s version. It is more comparable to Santa Ramen‘s version. They are both milky, yellowish, with deep pork bone flavors. But Santouka’s is defintely more complex and beats Santa‘s in my opinion. However, it still cannot match the most robust broth dished up by Ramen Halu. Halu‘s broth is the perfect combination of deep pork-bone broth with additional complexity of the robust ocean flavors. There’s nothing else like it. A similar version to it comes form another of L.A.’s favorite ramen shops, Asa Ramen, but it is a bit more subtle.
That said, as a temporary operation, Santouka definitely showed its potential. Some folks may like it the best, and others may still prefer Santa or Halu, as ramen flavors are in large part determined by personal taste, but I think if it opened a shop in the bay area, it would do well and easily move into the top echelon of bay area ramen hierarchy.
Based on this showing, I will also “temporarily” place it in the Top bay area ramen ranking soon.
Santouka (山頭火) at Mitsuwa Marketplace (09/18~09/21)
675 Saratoga Avenue
San Jose, CA 95106