さん太 santa ramen: seasoned eatings
Civic pride is a funny thing. We cheer our local sports teams despite their perpetual mediocrity. We celebrate our most famous residents, child actors and one-hit wonders who’ve long since faded into obscurity. When tourists comes to town, we take them to our newly-gentrified outdoor shopping districts, as if they’d never seen a Pottery Barn or an Apple store their whole lives. We exonerate our local eats and the people who cook them. In some cases, as with a top flight East Los Angeles taco stand or a particular Hakata yatai, such ardor may well justified. In others, at Santa Ramen in San Mateo for instance, fervent love is perhaps a little bit blind.
Rare is the ramen shop with a perpetual lineup. Fukuoka’s Ichiryu has an endless queue of hungry patrons stacked along the Nakasu river. At Tokyo’s venerated Taishoken in Ikebukuro, one could expect at least an hour standing in the cold.
Santa Ramen is that kind of place, but due largely to a lack of options. Like the prettiest girl in your 8th grade class who’s actually only a 6, she’s a 10 to you because hey, that’s all you’ve known these few, queasy years. And all that fawning lets her get away with a lot: with bold proclamations on the window that she’ll pass you over if you’re not around when your turn is finally up. That you’ll have to get back to the end of the line. That her ramen is not for vegetarians. That you can’t bring outside food into the establishment and that you best not be seen with another girl on your arm at the dance. Not if you even hope to have a chance with her, a crack at slurping from her bountiful bowl.
And finally, when you get that chance, you’ll be forty minutes past famished and she’ll invariably have run out of stewed pork buta kakuni for the day. And so you’ll settle for an over-ripe but tasty tonkotsu soup, seasoned with mentaiko cod roe, some disturbingly pink sheets of chashu and a fair approximation of Hakata ramen completely undone by the wrong kind of noodles - thick, yellow, and better suited for Nagasaki champon, which, you sense, is what the chefs in the back might actually do well if they were, well, a champon restaurant.
The cult of Santa Ramen runs deep around these parts, and it’s understandable. This is the most savory pork-bone broth I’ve encountered in the Bay Area. It’s quite good, if a tad funky, in that Chinese seafood soup (again, Nagasaki champon) sort of way. But by masquerading as Hakata-style ramen, it only emphasizes that it’s not even close. Like that 10 who’s actually a 6 in your junior high school class, she could possibly be an 8 if she stopped trying so hard, if she shed herself of her pretensions, took off all that makeup and let her natural youth and beauty shine on through.
|a full flavored tonkotsu soup that is a touch overseasoned and hints at champon. msg? artificially enhanced appeal? it's what keeps the locals lining up for more, that's for sure.||7|
|all wrong. thick, generic yellow noodles that definitely don't belong in a soup of this quality, not when it's aiming to be hakata-style ramen.||4|
|disturbingly pink chashu that is not particularly memorable. wish i could have tried the stewed pork buta kakuni, but they run out after a few servings. with a neverending line out the door, good luck.||4|
|my third bowl of ramen in a 4-hour period meant i still didn't have room to try any gyoza.||NA|
|a little ramen shop tucked away in the corner of an urban renewal "downtown" project. they have decent mood lighting inside, but that's about it.||1|
|santa ramen is a venerated bay area institution with a disproportionately zealous cult following, possibly for a lack of better options. still, it's a service to the community and i can appreciate that.||2|
805 South B Street
11:30am - 2:00pm (lunch)