531 Broadway #101, Downtown San Diego
It might be getting carried away to start calling San Diego a ramen town, but the recent proliferation of noodle bars suggests our collective taste for this stuff isn’t a trend that will soon pass.
In the past year, Japan-based ramen chain Nishiki opened a location here, as did L.A. chain Jinya. Kearny Mesa’s Tajima added a fourth location in East Village with a fifth planned for North Park, and Underbelly’s expansion continues to attract a crowd.
It’s getting so a ramen fiend has to work to keep up, and I am such a fiend. I haven’t been to all the aforementioned shops yet, but I did try another recent opening: Ramen Yamadaya.
L.A.-based Yamadaya has had a San Diego location for years, on Clairemont Mesa Boulevard. I’ve been a few times and enjoyed its take on pork tonkotsu broth, including a kotteri style, which is fattier and laden with black garlic oil.
For over a year I had my eye on a location closer to home on the northern edge of the Gaslamp Quarter, at Broadway and Fifth. Of course it took forever to open — everything does in this city — so when it finally did, it was with a whimper more than a bang. Not that the downtown area might not be excited for a new ramen bar, but given how many noodles have been slurped around town in the interim, I suppose it lost a little thunder.
I dropped in on a chilly, wet afternoon ready for warm broth and al dente noodles, and eventually I got it. But the servers were coming off some lunch rush issues, so while there were plenty of open seats and nobody waiting, I was asked to hold for a table while they caught their breath.
The street-level entrance immediately enters a small, four-table section, not easily visible from the primary dining room five feet below. The servers lost sight of me waiting for a table, then again when they seated me up top.
I wound up with plenty of time to examine the menu, which allows you to choose regular, spicy, kotteri, or soy sauce flavored broth with a selection of toppings ranging from corn and spinach to a large chunk of kakuni-braised pork belly. I went with the standard toppings: a small piece of kakuni, thin slices of chashu-braised pork, scallions, egg, thinly sliced wood ear mushrooms, and menma — fermented bamboo shoots. These last two I’d only recommend to people with an adventurous palate, as the respective earthy and sweetly sour flavors can pull you out of what is otherwise a savory pork immersion.
Yamadaya’s got great ramen, but I’d suggest sitting in the lower dining room or visiting the more spacious Clairemont location. Or go elsewhere. You’ve got ramen options, San Diego. There’s no need to go to the Gaslamp for it.