805 South B Street, San Mateo, CA 94403, (650) 344-5918
Yes Virginia, there is a Ramen Santa...
It's Sunday night and I'm still reveling in a post-Santa Ramen orgasmic bliss (I had it back on Saturday morning). For months, I've been on a pho and ramen kick. There isn't a ramen-ya worth a damn in Sac, so I was ecstatic when I got a chance to quench my ramen craving this weekend. A buddy and I had gone to the city to catch a show, afterwards we met up with a local friend of hers for drinks. We were working out the logistics of crashing at his place, when he burst out with a big smile and announced that he had a fantabulous place to take us the next day for lunch to quell our soon-to-be hangovers. I'm not much of a daytime eater, so I just raised an eyebrow...but then as though in slow motion I saw his lips form the words S-a-a-a-n-n-n-t-t-a-a R-a-a-m-m-e-n-n-n. Hell ya! I told my new BFF that I loved him and planned to marry him (I'm pretty easy to please like that). I'd been wanting to visit the S.R. for quite some time. So from there he proceeds to give us instructions... WTF? YES! Instructions... hmmm... instructions for going to a ramen-ya? Ummm-ok. We were told we needed to leave the house at 10:25 sharp, no ifs-ands-or-buts ; otherwise no ramen for us.
So at 10:25, we dutifully scoot out. As we weave manically caravan style through the Bay Area traffic; I'm advised that when we get there, I'm to toss the dogs off my lap, hop out of the car, and run into line? I'm silently thinking, "I hope he at least slows down to 25mph when I have to hop out. Yeah, at 25mph, I could do a tuck and roll and be ok." As we approach the target location, the car screechs to a halt and sure enough there's a frickin' line! I skooch out and join the waiting, hungry masses. As I wait in line, I see several other patrons zoom up to the S.R. and pull the same maneuver. I guess there was a method to the friend's madness afterall. The place doesn't open until 11:30, so we left one person in line and we went off to recon the neighborhood. Thank god, because the delicious wafts of ramen that were being emitted from S.R.'s kitchen were killing me. We find a nearby taqueria/bodega that's open and purchase a few sodas and a coffee and head back with our supplies.
As we wait in line, we sneak glimpses of the inner sanctuary through the plate glass window. S.R.'s menu is a large whiteboard on the wall. Most of the ramens run about $8-$9. This is a ramen-ya, so don't go with any expectations of bentos or sushi; although they do serve a few sides like karaage. They're known for their stewed pork ramen which can run out quite early. Several patrons left the line when the "Out of Stewed Pork," sign was taped on the window. At one point, a kind waitress came outside and took our order so that they could get started on it. We eventually made our way into the establishment and were promptly seated. The place is small, I think the max capacity sign stated 29 occupants. There's counter and table seating, but you don't get a choice where you want to sit...just be happy that you're inside.
At our table, we were offered small glasses of mugicha (a roasted barley tea) to tide us over. As we waited for our orders, I learn the Fight-Club like rules of Santa Ramen. Ramen Rule One: Once the food comes, you do not talk. You eat. Ramen Rule Two: Once the food comes, you do not talk. You eat. Ramen Rule three: Once you're done. You pay and get the heck out. Get the idea? Within 15 minutes, 3 bowls of steamin' ramen are set before us. I had ordered the pork broth ramen (comes with 2 slices of pork), with extra noodles and added menma (bamboo shoots), bean sprouts and a boiled egg. I shook a little shichimi togarashi on my bowl and was ready to commence with ramen slurping. After my first bite, I felt a wave of euphoria wash over me. After a few more bites, I got the ramen sweats. With the steam from the ramen giving me a ramen facial, I worked my way through about 3/4 of my bowl before I had to give up as there was no more give to the waistband of my jeans. However, there was no time to bask in the afterglow, we paid our bill and hurried outside past the throngs of customers awaiting the next wave of seating.
By the way, Santa Ramen does take plastic (although I don't know if they have a purchase minimum). And they do have a restroom for customers. You literally have to walk through the minuscule kitchen to get to it. I tripped over the three cooks in the process as there's no elbow room whatsoever back there and it's about 400 degrees in the kitchen. The kitchen guys were good-natured about it...maybe they're just used to sweaty women pressing themselves against them as they try to squeeze by?
Anyhow, I tend to be the type of person that's very dismissive about waiting in line for anything, but S.R. was so worth it! And when it moves to its new location on El Camino Real, I'll definitely be up and ready to leave at 10:25 to go stand in line for a bowl of screamin' goodness.