The story: San Francisco’s Japantown has seen an influx of ramen imports coming from far and wide after years of being bypassed by ramen diehards for the Peninsula and South Bay. The latest addition came last month in the form of Shalala Ramen, which is the second location of the three-year-old Shalala in Mountain View.
Why I went: The new Shalala is right across from fairly new Ramen Yamadaya (an LA import), so I wanted to see how it compared. Plus, they claim to make their rich tonkotsu broth from pork and chicken bones for 15 hours.
The vibe: The sparse decor with typical restaurant-issued chairs and tables gave me a feel like they moved in really quickly without doing much to the interior (it was formerly a Hawaiian-style restaurant). The only interesting element was the wall with counter seating that at least had some texture, but it was still a bit Ikea-like.
The menu: I dropped in for lunch, and I don’t know if the menu is limited for lunch but it seemed smaller than what’s advertised at Shalala’s Mountain View location. For example, there were only seven ramen choices (all the same sizes where you can choose small to large in Mountain View). You begin by deciding your broth, either the “kuro” which is tonkotsu broth with a soy sauce base, or “shiro,” which is tonkotsu broth with the sea salt flavor. For either one you can choose a “light” version if you don’t want the richness of the tonkotsu broth to weigh you down. There’s also some interesting appetizers, like the chashu (pork slices) muffin sandwich ($6), and mini rice bowls. NOTE: No desserts available.
My favorite dish: OK, since ramen is the featured item, I can single out a single dish, but as for the kuro ramen ($8.95) that I ordered, I really enjoyed the soft-boiled egg with its rich orange color and oozing texture. The broth had a nice flavor, but I had richer base elsewhere. I did enjoy the thick noodles that was cooked to the right chewy texture, but it has a strong yellow color.
Insider tip: Avoid the mini chashu negi bowl ($3.50), which I tried because I had something similar at Kataya-na and loved the fragrance of the negi, which is a Japanese green onion but more subtle in essence. But Shalala’s version really didn’t showcase the negi, and the pork (which was great in the ramen) had almost a mealy texture in the rice bowl.
The last bite: Shalala’s reputation rests with its broth, but I found at least the one I tried was good but nothing spectacular. It’s another solid option for Japantown but I’m still exploring for a star for San Francisco.
The rating: 2.5 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: Shalala Ramen, 1737 Buchanan St., San Francisco. PH: 415.757.0552. Open daily for lunch and dinner (except Tuesdays). No reservations. Major credit cards accepted.
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