The story: Hinodeya is a Japanese ramen bar that started in Hasuda station in Saitama Prefecture and is now headed by fourth-generation Masao Kuribara of Sasala Group. A year ago, Kuribara opened his first U.S. outpost in San Francisco’s Japantown with a ramen restaurant serving up the lighter dashi-based broth.
Why I went: I tried Hinodeya’s light dashi-style broth of bonito and konbu (seaweed) in 2016’s J-Pop Summit and found it a refreshing contrast to the prevalent tonkotsu (pork-bone milky broth) ramen around town. I made a mental note to check it out when it finally opened, but only got around to it a couple of weekends ago when I stopped by its shop in the former Shalala Ramen space in the heart of Japantown.
The vibe: The layout is similar to when it was Shalala Ramen, but the decor is a step up in sophistication. Like other ramen spots around town, there’s often people waiting in line before the restaurant opens, and that was the case when I arrived to find three other parties before me on a Saturday night. But since it’s a big spot, I easily got seated at the bar.
The booze: There’s a limited selection of beer and wine, and Japanese iichiko (or shochu), with basically two options in each category (maybe a bit more of the iichiko). I went with my basic choice when I eat ramen, which was a glass of Sapporo beer ($6).
The menu: Much of the offerings seem typical of ramen bars around town, including takowasa (raw octopus), chashu (pork belly slices), karaage (fried chicken) or agedashi (fried tofu in broth). I’m finding few places offer gyoza, which is one of my favorite starter, and it’s not on the menu at Hinodeya, but they did have tebasaki, which is stewed chicken wings ($8) probably the only way I will eat chicken wings (which are often deep-fried before sauced). The tebasaki is kind of what you’d expect from braised chicken, which means tender meat but a bit of a washed out flavor with just a hint of soy sauce.
There are four types of ramen: the signature Hinodeya with the dashi broth, Hamaguri (clam ramen), tori paitan (rich chicken broth) and a vegan option. At the time I went we were changing from warm weather to cold, so Hinodeya offered a special lemon koshu ramen, a lighter ramen broth that’s served cold. I just went with the signature Hinodeya ($14), which comes with chashu, menma (bamboo shoots), marinated egg, dried seaweed, green onions, sesame seeds and red pepper threads. The bowl was light as promised, but it actually lacked the sea-forward punch that I tasted at the sample offered at J-Pop. It was still good, but not as richly layered as I tasted that first time.
The last bite: With all the ramen spots offering tonkotsu broth, Hinodeya stands out for offering a lighter fare with its signature dashi broth. The friendly and professional service and solid ramen make this a nice rotation in the ramen options, but it is pretty much on par with other ramen you’d find elsewhere. Everything was fine but nothing was a standout.
The rating: 2.5 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: Hinodeya Ramen Bar, 1737 Buchanan St., San Francisco. PH: 415.757.0552. Open daily (except Tuesday) from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. No reservations. Major credit cards accepted. hinodeyaramen.com
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