Iza Ramen // San Francisco
San Franciscans rejoice! For this review, we are joined by Japanese food connoisseur Karin and knife-cut noodles enthusiast Roberta, both San Francisco transplants. But the main reason why you should be rejoicing, is that Iza Ramen is a hidden gem located within San Francisco. With all the checking-in and the yelping going on in San Francisco these days, there are very few restaurants left that can actually be classified as hidden gems or under-the-radar. So its surprising that this place hasn’t gotten the hype that it deserves. So let’s change that, right now.
Iza Ramen is technically a pop-up restaurant that is located inside Blowfish Sushi in the Mission district of San Francisco. Because of its temporary nature, Iza Ramen only exists on Saturday and Sunday between the hours of 11:30am and 3:00pm. The wait staff is rather small, so the entire restaurant isn’t being used up, so you’ll never feel like you are jostling for elbow space. Even upon entering, we had a good feeling about this place when we realize the entire staff was Japanese and we were surrounded by actual Japanese speaking patrons.
Iza Ramen’s specialty is a unique, but distinctly Japanese ramen known as tsukemen ramen. Unlike traditional ramen in which the noodles and the broth are served in the same bowl. Tsukemen ramen separates the noodles from the broth+fixings in their own distinct serving vessels. Therefore, the eater must “dip” the ramen into the broth prior to eating. Because the tsukemen style of ramen is less prevalent here(San Francisco) than in Japan, it makes Iza Ramen that much more unique. Damn you lucky San Franciscans.
For this review, we sampled all three different types of ramen being served at Iza Ramen. The iza ramen – a traditional tonkotsu flavor ramen served in a single ramen bowl. An iza tsukemen ramen(described above) and its spicier sibling, a spicy tsukemen ramen – same as a tsukemen but with some hotness to it.
Overall, the noodles are fantastic. The perfect consistency when it comes to the body and enough wheat flavor to let you know that what you are putting into your mouth is fresh. The pork chasu is flavorful with ample amounts of smoky soy sauce marinaded into the fibers of the meat. My only complaint would be that the slices of pork are relatively tiny when compared to other locations which are being reviewed.
The real star attraction of Iza Ramen is the broth. Trust me when I say, I have never had anything like the tsukemen ramen broth and I’m pretty sure most of you haven’t either. The broth is rich, thick and extremely creamy. This is not a broth for little kids, this is a man’s man’s broth(yes, 2 man’s). The broth is so thick and full bodied that its consistency feels like a cross between pea soup and chipotle guacamole. You’ll see as your ramen noodles scream for help as it tries to break out from the broth’s deathgrip every time you dip your chopsticks into the broth’s serving bowl.
A word of caution, the spicy tsukemen ramen broth is hot. It’s a fast burn, so you’ll definitely feel it more on the frontside of your mouth and across your lips. Additionally, the thickness of the broth will create a “net” effect that coats the back of your throat, so certainly, exercise some caution.
Come hungry and come early. While the wait is only a couple minutes, there is no doubt in my mind this place will blow up like crazy. I recommend getting there either right at opening or after 1:00pm to ensure yourself a seat. The fried chicken bowl(picture above) is equally epic.