Cold tantan men ramen with paiko chicken cutlet, from Menya Ultra
Indoor dining has resumed in San Diego, though at a limited (25 percent) capacity, it won’t be enough to keep most restaurants afloat, so outdoor dining and take-out remain crucial to their success.
8199 Clairemont Mesa Blvd, San Diego
That includes a certain highly touted ramen brand. When Menya Ultra opened in Kearny Mesa in 2017, the hype came with it. Menya opened its first shop in 1994, in the city of Odate, about 300 miles north of Tokyo. After multiple ramen awards and numerous expansions throughout Japan and Taiwan, San Diego became its first U.S. outpost. A Mira Mesa location quickly followed, and a Hillcrest location could open by the end of the year.
Menya Ultra's Kearny Mesa location, offering to-go orders during the pandemic
Those added locations are necessary, because, with celebrity chefs and ramen influencers raving about the quality of Menya’s noodles and broths, the lines form quickly. It was so long my first attempt — over an hour was the estimate — that I gave up and went to locally owned ramen bar Tajima instead.
I thought I got the jump on the crowds a second try, when I showed up 15 minutes ahead of its 11am opening. Nope. Nearly a dozen people had already lined up ahead of me.
The tiny ramen bar can only serve so many at a time, so I thought I’d come up with a workaround, and order myself a bowl of ramen to go. Wrong again. Wanting to preserve the quality of their noodles, best eaten fresh and on site, they told me over the phone that they don’t do phone orders.
Hot ramen, separated into takeout friendly components
Fast forward to summer 2020, and sure enough, Menya has put together a way to offer take out. It involves separate packaging: not just the broth, but also the noodles and toppings (which is actually pretty common among local ramen bars doing take-out). Menya adds instructions on properly heating and assembling separate components.
The only complaint I’ve ever heard from ramen eaters is that the pork tonkotsu broth can be a bit salty, and that’s true enough here. That’s never been a problem for me though, and the miso broth, mixed with tonkotsu, was luxuriously savory. Menya adds fish oil to its tonkotsu, which lends added umami and complexity, and combined with that of the miso and sesame flavors ($13), it’s easy to see why ramen lovers repeatedly line up for the stuff.
Take-out ramen from Menya Ultra, put together at home with simple instructions
Of course, we’ve recently been hit with a heat wave, and not likely the last we’ll see this summer, so a bowl of hot ramen isn’t on everyone’s agenda. No worry, though, because Menya offers a pretty special cold ramen as well.
For the cold version, the broth is whittled down to a sauce, which lightly dresses the noodles. I went for the cold version of its tantan men, a spicy sesame ramen featuring ground pork and a choice of fried pork or chicken cutlet. My cold tantan men included the pork, and my pick of chicken cutlet, and unlike the hot stuff it was topped with raw slivers of red onion and julienned cucumber, plus a handful of fresh cherry tomatoes.
Whether or not indoor dining is on your agenda yet, cold ramen should be on everyone’s summer eating list (Tajima and Hachi Ramen often offer it too). Consider it a rare covid silver lining that you don’t have to wait in line for it this year.