SAN MATEO, Calif.
Since I don’t own a car, I basically focus my eating adventures around San Francisco and the East Bay. But recently I caught a ride with my friend Sandy of Foodhoe’s Foraging as we met up with another foodie friend Edda in San Mateo.
Edda of A Housewive’s Tale blog always meets us in San Francisco for our dining adventures, so we thought it was only fair that we met her halfway (she lives in San Jose) for at least one dining adventure. Sandy’s husband, Mr. K, also joined us for dinner on a Saturday as we told Edda we wanted to try some of San Mateo’s best Japanese food.
She put together an impromptu foodcrawl for us, as we ate at both Ramen Parlor and Izakaya Mai, some of Edda’s favorite restaurants in the area.
I’ve always found the best ramen on the Peninsula and in San Jose, and on many occasions I’ve eaten at places from the same owners. The people behind the popular Santa Ramen know their stuff because I’m often satisfied by their bowls of noodles in rich broth, first at the original namesake and then Dojo Ramen.
The latest noodle heaven is Ramen Parlor, which specializes in seafood-focused ramen dishes. Its menu actually offers a lot more than ramen, such as small plates and even donburi, or rice bowls. But we stuck with the ramen, with me trying the Crab Spicy Miso Ramen ($9.95).
My ramen had an amazing red hue and was topped with shredded crab meat (adding to the red color) and a deep-fried piece of soft shell crab. The spice level was just right for me, and I especially liked the green chives – an unusually wide and flat version. The rest of the gang shared a couple of bowls of ramen (lobster pork flavor and miso flavor with corn).
While the broths were supposed to have a seafood infusion such as lobster or crab, I didn’t really get that strong seafood essence. Still, the noodles and rich broth made every slurp enjoyable.
After our ramen, we battled the Saturday night traffic in downtown San Mateo (this is definitely a hot spot on the Peninsula on the weekends) and headed to our second stop at the popular Izakaya Mai.
This tiny spot (it’s so popular the owners are expanding to a space next door) has an intimate and authentic Japanese feel when you enter, and the menu is crazy extensive with a variety of small plates, from sushi to sashimi to donburi and fried goods.
We ordered a variety of dishes, and our favorites tended to be the simple raw fish dishes such as the hamachi sashimi and special uni (sea urchin). Of course, Sandy ordered a deep-fried dish, which was the fried squid, which I felt were tasty but slightly greasy in that deep-fried way.
Sandy had a craving for natto, the pungent Japanese sticky bean dish, but we talked her out of it. So instead she ordered the shaved mountain yam with maguro. And while I love maguro, I couldn’t get passed the whipped texture of the mountain yam that’s typically served with a raw quail egg.
But there were a lot more for us to eat beyond the mountain yam, including a large plate of beef tongue (a bit chewy and crunchy from the grill), simply blistered shishito peppers, and grilled mackeral (saba shio).
I enjoyed the whole experience of Izakaya Mai, from the friendly service to the assortment of dishes to choose from to the casual, family atmosphere. With Ramen Parlor and Izakaya Mai, Edda definitely showed us some great Japanese food on the Peninsula.
Check back Wednesday when I spotlight how we ended our impromptu dish crawl in San Mateo.
Ramen Parlor, 901 S. B St., San Mateo, Calif. PH: 650.344.9728. Open for lunch and dinner, Tuesday through Sunday. No reservations. Major credit cards accepted.
Izakaya Mai, 212 22nd Ave., San Mateo, Calif. PH: 650.347.2511. Open weekday lunch, and dinner, Tuesday through Sunday. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. www.izakayamai.com
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