1944 S El Camino Real
San Mateo, CA 94403
Santa Ramen is a very popular Japanese noodle Ramen restaurant in San Mateo. Kazunori Kobayashi is the proprietor of this restaurant along with 2 others in the same city. Located in a small shopping mall with a Fresh Choice and JoAnn’s, the restaurant has achieved a legendary cult following and has long lines at both dinner and lunch times. We have eaten here many times with our last visit in November 2015.
Be sure to check out our first encounter with legendary ramen in Tokyo.
There is almost always a line even before the place opens. You should arrive about 15 minutes before it opens to ensure you get a seat, otherwise come late and be prepared to wait. Lines have grown shorter over the years. The main draw is the tasty ramen noodles in various broths. If you are not into noodles, avoid this place. There are no vegetarian options.
Santa Ramen Decor – Basic sparsely decorated strip mall location with bamboo accents, Japanese liquor posters, and counter seating in the back.
Santa Ramen Menu pics (Click to zoom in on any picture)
Three types of broth for ramen is the main choice. Santa Ramen later added Pork Cheek and Stewed Pork variations. Differing levels of spiciness are available as are Extra toppings. Tea is complimentary so be sure to ask for it. Santa Ramen limited dessert options.
Santa Ramen Picks:
Soy Sauce flavor Classic Ramen ($8.50) with roasted pork (2pcs), green onions, bamboo shoots, roasted seaweed. Broth has a heavy soy sauce flavor but does not look like dark soy sauce. This is not instant ramen but lacks eggs unlike most other places. Decent quantities but many with larger appetites, order it as we do with extra noodles ($1.50) and extra pork ($1.50 for 2pc) or order an appetizer with it. The noodles are fresh and hot out of the kitchen. The broth is probably one of the better ones around, with the noodles being solid. Noodles are on the al dente side. The roasted pork reminds us of old Swanson’s pork TV dinners. Comfort food for some.
Add 2 pieces of the legendary Stewed Pork ($4.50). It is a tender, flaky, fatty pork that has been slowly stewed a long time. Best served on the side to maximize flavor. Stewed pork is may be an acquired taste for some.
Pork Flavored Classic Ramen ($8.50) with roasted pork (2pcs), green onions, kikurage mushrooms. We like to add some Corn ($1) to round it out. Another fairly low cost meal. We prefer the pork flavored broth to the other ones, but this is a matter of taste.
Pork Cheek meat Ramen ($9.50) comes with Stewed pork cheek meat (1pc), premium roasted pork (2pcs), Quail eggs (2pcs) fried onion with chili oil, mixed vegetables (bean sprouts, cabbage, green chives, kikurage mushrooms, shredded red peppers), and roasted seaweed. At a $1 premium over the classic ramen and containing a lot more goodies, this is clearly a better value.
The pork cheek is a single piece of meat that is a bit chewy and fatty, it is personal preference whether to order this, the stewed pork, or the normal pork. It also includes premium roasted pork that has a bit more flavor but is less tender. We preferred the classic pork meat ourselves.
Miso Flavored Broth Ramen ($7.95) with roasted pork, bean sprouts, green onions, crunchy bamboo shoots, roasted seaweed. A bit of zestiness from chili flakes. Steaming hot broth makes it hard to slurp it down. This broth is miso soup-like but not too thick. The Miso version uses a heavier broth that feels a bit powdery to the tongue.
Grilled Whole Squid ($7.50) is simple and tasty. Sometimes it is grilled too long and tastes like Robata grill charcoal.
Grilled Chicken wings ($4.75) are just too charcoal grilled flavored to be good. Also there isn’t much meat. Grilled corn is the same.
The draw at Santa Ramen is clearly the ramen noodles. It is unusual that this home made ramen does not contain eggs. The service here is just adequate. It can take almost 30 minutes to get your ramen during peak times, once you order. Santa Ramen is not a place where you linger.
Be warned that they start running out of some broths or stewed pork around 830pm, so do not come too late. Most people are out in 45 minutes, as the people in line ‘pressure’ you to leave by staring. 90% of the people in this restaurant are of Asian descent.
Santa Ramen runs the spicy ramen joint Ramen Dojo in their old location and Ramen Parlor. Many people prefer Santa Ramen over less crowded sister location Ramen Parlor. Ramen Dojo has obtained cult like status and has people lining up 30 minutes to an hour before they open for their stamina ramen. All 3 serve use slightly different noodles and broth.