Captivated. Utterly, unapologetically captivated by hearty noodle soups are we. You tempt me with a savory broth that speaks volumes about the tender love and care that has gone into its birth, and I will find myself a reason to fall into its depth with aplomb. It was that temptation that drew us into waiting for an hour in line at Mensho Tokyo's San Francisco spot, the first U.S. outpost of the acclaimed Japanese ramen-ya that focuses purely on a beautiful dining experience. Opened just this year, the restaurant features ramen, tsukement, and mazesoba but really, we were there for the first on that list, and we were absolutely not disappointed.
"Ramen is always bubbling with the love of all." - Owner Tomoharu ShonoThough the wait is long outside, it is for good reason. The restaurant only seats a handful of guests (under 30, it seemed), and its menu begs diners to stay a while and enjoy the dishes. There were just a few options to choose from, and it looked like many there opted for the same things. On occasion, there are specials that are done in unusual ways but we were on a mission: to try paitan. Once we had entered, it was comforting to see the walls decorated in such a way that explained the owner's philosophy and outlook on his food as well as the science behind making the perfect bowls. The arrangement inside encouraged community tables so if you aren't one who enjoys rubbing elbows occasionally with your neighbor, you might want to ask to sit on an end.
Though that evening there were three of us enjoying the restaurant, we all ordered the same thing because of all of the accolades - the Tori Paitan Ramen (Double Chashu) ($18 - 鶏白湯チャーシューめん - rich and creamy chicken soup, pork chashu, duck chashu, menma, kale, burdock, and Katsuobushi sauce). Compared to other ramen places we regularly visit, this was certainly at a higher price point but for good reason; it became apparent quickly that the cost was worth the broth alone. Despite the variations of ingredients that may have deviated from our notion of a traditional ramen dish, the bowl here was fantastic. It wasn't the wait that made it feel worth it; the ramen was just worth it. The rich and creamy broth was not a component to belittle as it touched on every sense in all the right ways. This was easily one of the best bowls of ramen I have ever had. The pork chashu melted in your mouth, and the duck chashu had a taste not too unlike duck prosciutto. I actually wish I had toured more of the menu in that moment but we were all getting so full from the ramen itself. If you have the time, certainly make your way to 676 Geary Street, San Francisco 94102 to experience Mensho Tokyo.
Photography by Duc Duong. More photos available on Facebook here.