Like really good dim sum, it always seems like I have to travel outside of San Francisco – specifically down the Peninsula and San Jose – for a good bowl of ramen.
So when the buzz was that a good bowl of noodles could be found in the Sunset at Saiwaii Ramen, I thought I’d go check it out for myself. Getting to the restaurant in the busy Irving Street corridor from Oakland does seem like a bit of a trek, and I almost missed the 20-month-0ld because the sign outside looked more like a Japanese toy store than a restaurant.
Saiwaii Ramen serves up the rare tonkotsu (pork bone broth) along with the standards shio (salt), shoyu and miso. But it also has an extensive menu of rice dishes, from sushi to donbori (rice bowls).
But I was there just for the ramen, and the spicy pork tonkotsu ramen ($8.95) was a special treat with its rich broth and chili threads. While the broth isn’t super oily as some other full-bodied tonkotsu bowls, it was a delicious milky broth.
The crinkly noodles was actually more soft than I would preferred, not the springy al dente style I expect. I told myself it probably would be perfect if I asked for the noodles to be cooked more al dente. But so much time passed between my visits that I forgot the next time, and my bowl of ramen disappointed again for its soft noodles.
Saiwaii Ramen introduced a new seafood ramen ($11.95), which is also spicy and quite beautiful with its variety of seafood, including crab, mussels, shrimp, scallops and baby squid. It looks good on paper and pretty when it arrived, but I was sad to find the crab was imitation, and the baby scallops tasted like they were previously frozen.
I guess it’s too much to expect a ramen shop to have the inventory of a first-class seafood place, but it does also sell sushi so I expected the seafood to be somewhat fresh. The poor quality of the seafood brought down the overall flavor of the bowl (and the broth wasn’t that spicy either).
The service at Saiwaii is amazingly good for a tiny shop that can get pretty busy with people hungry for good ramen in the city. Saiwaii still won’t keep me from leaving the city’s border for ramen but it’s a solid effort whenever I’m near Golden Gate Park.
Rating: 2.5 out of 4 camera snaps
Saiwaii Ramen, 2240 Irving St. (at 24th Avenue), San Francisco. PH: 415.665.7888. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Reservations, major credit cards accepted.
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