4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

Pork belly evolution

The street dog is hard not to love.

Kewpie, spread on top of the ramen nachos, is a rice vinegar mayo.
Kewpie, spread on top of the ramen nachos, is a rice vinegar mayo.

“The whole ramen thing again?” says my friend Annie. We’re on the phone.

“No. This is like the original, and IMHO the best,” I say. “Come on down! Sun’s got two fists to go!”

Place

Underbelly

750 W. Fir Street #101, San Diego

Up to now, I’ve been looking all over for a decent Happy Hour here in Little Italy. I mean, yes, there’s no shortage. And plenty of solid streetside eating shelters, too. Makes India Street look full and busy. I stop off around Cedar to say hello to Mr. Pecoraro, who’s sitting on the porch of his house, as he usually does this time of day. He has lived here ever since he started his house-painting business decades ago. Today, woah! There’s a gold Bentley parked outside. I have to wonder if it’s his. I’m about to ask, when one of his sons comes up with something to sign.

Cassandra, keeps the party going.

So I hustle on up India. I look down Fir towards the sparkling blue bay. Hmm. Cafe Gratitude, the LA vegan chain. It’s right there on Kettner. Have to take a look.

Its windows are filled with self affirmations for us to mutter. “I am cozy. I am rejuvenated. I am bright eyed. I am immortal. I am luscious. I am awakening.”

Ayee! How much forced positivity can a guy take?

Luckily, it’s right opposite the place I was talking to Annie about. Underbelly. One of my faves, even though I haven’t been in maybe three years. Think this was one of the earliest eateries this brilliant guy, Arsalun Tafazoli, started. Now? He’s hard to keep up with. Think (and take a deep breath) Neighborhood, Noble Experiment, Craft and Commerce, Polite Provisions, Soda and Swine, Raised By Wolves, on and on. Guy’s got the touch.

Annie says she’ll be here “soon.” I don’t wait, because the sign says Happy Hour is 3 pm to 5 pm. Don’t want to miss it. Of course, even if I did, I see the normal prices are totally reasonable. Nothing over $12, and lots around the $4-$6 mark. How do they do that, with the rents up here so legendary?

UB Street Dog. Excellent Kurubota sausage, and bacon wrapper helps. Deal at $2.50!

“Reasonably authentic,” says the menu, talking about its food. That is so cool. I head down the slightly awkward ramp to where the counter jackknifes around the entrance.

“What’s it going to be, my good man?” It’s this perky gal, Cassandra.

“What do you have for Happy Hour?”

“Well, we have half-off San Diego beers, so we’re talking three, four dollars a pint.”

“And food?”

“Oh yes. Not the full ramen, but we have like ramen nachos for $6, our street dog for $2.50, boiled edamame $2, and kimchi wings for a buck each. At least for the next half hour.”

Heck, can’t argue with that. Plus, even non-Happy Hour prices are great. The “No Name” ramen bowl promises “thiccck” & rich chicken broth, duck confit, chard, leeks, bok choy, pickled ginger, yuzu paste, plus soft-boiled egg, green onions, and mayu (black garlic) oil, for $12. The Underbelly Ramen is built around tonkotsu (slow-cooked pork bones) broth (which was born in southern Japan, just about on the same latitude as San Diego). Or Chashu belly (braised for a long time), plus smoked bacon and adobo pulled pork. Costs $12. A “herbivore” version costs $10.

Somewhere in there, kimchi wings.

Under “small plates,” I’m also looking at the shrimp gyoza (gyoza is wonton wrappers stuffed with pork, cabbage, and onion). Costs $6. And among the baos (stuffed buns), the tempura eggplant ($7) looks like fun.

But no. I decide to stick with happy hour. Beer first, natch. I like that they list them under light/crispy/sweet, malty/dark, and hoppy/bitter. And all are San Diego brews. I go for “The Butcher” by Societe, an imperial stout, usually $8, but $4 HH. Then, eats-wise, have to start off with two of those buck-apiece kimchi wings, and then mainly the ramen nachos. Original idea. It’s supposed to be crispy noodle “chips” under pulled pork, with green onions, kewpie (mayonnaise made with rice vinegar), soy glaze, pickled red fresno peppers, and furikake (a condiment made from dried fish, sesame seeds and seaweed). Six dollars. And heck, why not? I get a UB Street Dog. It’s only $2.50. Made of bacon-wrapped kurubota (“black pig”) sausage, in a steamed bun with umami mustard, scallions, and sautéed onions. Wow. All those items for a Hamilton? Deal. (Okay, $10.50, plus $4 for the beer.)

I pay up first — that’s the system here — grab a number, and head for the inside-outside counter stools on Kettner. Butcher stout’s in a smaller glass. Turns out it’s almost 10% alcohol. And a little sweet, just like the food. Love it. For starters, those wings really are crispy. They mix the kimchi vinegariness with the creamy mayo and crunchy garlic. It’s a mess, but you’ve just got to use your fingers and chomp into the whole snake pit of carrots, onions and, somewhere in there, the actual wings. The street dog is also hard not to love. Beautifully peppery, tempered by the steamed bun.

But really, the big act is the ramen nachos. The “chips” are a hotbed of the mostly crunchy noodles, and with those bright red fresno peppers on top, they’re an irresistible frame for the pulled pork. Don’t dilly-dally on the ramen noodle chips, though. They can get tough if they dry out.

Just before 5 o’clock, I rush up and get a Hopmata Burning Beard West Coast IPA ($4). But what about Annie? Ayee! I do a rush scan of the menu. Decide on a chicken katsu salad for her. Lots of roasted cashews, curry tahini dressing. She’s into salads. $10. It’s not included in happy hour, but I don’t hesitate.

Guess that’s just the kind of guy I am. Does Annie appreciate this?

  • The Place: Underbelly, 750 W Fir Street, at Kettner, 619-269-4626 (also at 3000 Upas Street, on 30th, North Park, 619-487-9909)
  • Hours: 11:30am-10:30pm (drinks till 11pm), daily
  • Happy Hour Prices: Ramen nachos, $6; UB Street Dog, $2.50; boiled edamame, $2; kimchi wings, $1 each
  • Regular Prices: “No Name” ramen bowl, $12; The Underbelly Ramen (in tonkotsu pork bones broth, with chashu belly, smoked bacon, pulled pork), $12; “herbivore” version, $10; shrimp gyoza, $6; tempura eggplant baos, $7
  • Buses: 83, 280, 290
  • Nearest Bus Stops: India and Cedar (83 northbound); Kettner and Grape (83 southbound; Pacific Highway and Grape (280, 290)
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all

Previous article

The fate of Tijuana's 300,000 stray dogs

Injections instead of electocuting
Kewpie, spread on top of the ramen nachos, is a rice vinegar mayo.
Kewpie, spread on top of the ramen nachos, is a rice vinegar mayo.

“The whole ramen thing again?” says my friend Annie. We’re on the phone.

“No. This is like the original, and IMHO the best,” I say. “Come on down! Sun’s got two fists to go!”

Place

Underbelly

750 W. Fir Street #101, San Diego

Up to now, I’ve been looking all over for a decent Happy Hour here in Little Italy. I mean, yes, there’s no shortage. And plenty of solid streetside eating shelters, too. Makes India Street look full and busy. I stop off around Cedar to say hello to Mr. Pecoraro, who’s sitting on the porch of his house, as he usually does this time of day. He has lived here ever since he started his house-painting business decades ago. Today, woah! There’s a gold Bentley parked outside. I have to wonder if it’s his. I’m about to ask, when one of his sons comes up with something to sign.

Cassandra, keeps the party going.

So I hustle on up India. I look down Fir towards the sparkling blue bay. Hmm. Cafe Gratitude, the LA vegan chain. It’s right there on Kettner. Have to take a look.

Its windows are filled with self affirmations for us to mutter. “I am cozy. I am rejuvenated. I am bright eyed. I am immortal. I am luscious. I am awakening.”

Ayee! How much forced positivity can a guy take?

Luckily, it’s right opposite the place I was talking to Annie about. Underbelly. One of my faves, even though I haven’t been in maybe three years. Think this was one of the earliest eateries this brilliant guy, Arsalun Tafazoli, started. Now? He’s hard to keep up with. Think (and take a deep breath) Neighborhood, Noble Experiment, Craft and Commerce, Polite Provisions, Soda and Swine, Raised By Wolves, on and on. Guy’s got the touch.

Annie says she’ll be here “soon.” I don’t wait, because the sign says Happy Hour is 3 pm to 5 pm. Don’t want to miss it. Of course, even if I did, I see the normal prices are totally reasonable. Nothing over $12, and lots around the $4-$6 mark. How do they do that, with the rents up here so legendary?

UB Street Dog. Excellent Kurubota sausage, and bacon wrapper helps. Deal at $2.50!

“Reasonably authentic,” says the menu, talking about its food. That is so cool. I head down the slightly awkward ramp to where the counter jackknifes around the entrance.

“What’s it going to be, my good man?” It’s this perky gal, Cassandra.

“What do you have for Happy Hour?”

“Well, we have half-off San Diego beers, so we’re talking three, four dollars a pint.”

“And food?”

“Oh yes. Not the full ramen, but we have like ramen nachos for $6, our street dog for $2.50, boiled edamame $2, and kimchi wings for a buck each. At least for the next half hour.”

Heck, can’t argue with that. Plus, even non-Happy Hour prices are great. The “No Name” ramen bowl promises “thiccck” & rich chicken broth, duck confit, chard, leeks, bok choy, pickled ginger, yuzu paste, plus soft-boiled egg, green onions, and mayu (black garlic) oil, for $12. The Underbelly Ramen is built around tonkotsu (slow-cooked pork bones) broth (which was born in southern Japan, just about on the same latitude as San Diego). Or Chashu belly (braised for a long time), plus smoked bacon and adobo pulled pork. Costs $12. A “herbivore” version costs $10.

Somewhere in there, kimchi wings.

Under “small plates,” I’m also looking at the shrimp gyoza (gyoza is wonton wrappers stuffed with pork, cabbage, and onion). Costs $6. And among the baos (stuffed buns), the tempura eggplant ($7) looks like fun.

But no. I decide to stick with happy hour. Beer first, natch. I like that they list them under light/crispy/sweet, malty/dark, and hoppy/bitter. And all are San Diego brews. I go for “The Butcher” by Societe, an imperial stout, usually $8, but $4 HH. Then, eats-wise, have to start off with two of those buck-apiece kimchi wings, and then mainly the ramen nachos. Original idea. It’s supposed to be crispy noodle “chips” under pulled pork, with green onions, kewpie (mayonnaise made with rice vinegar), soy glaze, pickled red fresno peppers, and furikake (a condiment made from dried fish, sesame seeds and seaweed). Six dollars. And heck, why not? I get a UB Street Dog. It’s only $2.50. Made of bacon-wrapped kurubota (“black pig”) sausage, in a steamed bun with umami mustard, scallions, and sautéed onions. Wow. All those items for a Hamilton? Deal. (Okay, $10.50, plus $4 for the beer.)

I pay up first — that’s the system here — grab a number, and head for the inside-outside counter stools on Kettner. Butcher stout’s in a smaller glass. Turns out it’s almost 10% alcohol. And a little sweet, just like the food. Love it. For starters, those wings really are crispy. They mix the kimchi vinegariness with the creamy mayo and crunchy garlic. It’s a mess, but you’ve just got to use your fingers and chomp into the whole snake pit of carrots, onions and, somewhere in there, the actual wings. The street dog is also hard not to love. Beautifully peppery, tempered by the steamed bun.

But really, the big act is the ramen nachos. The “chips” are a hotbed of the mostly crunchy noodles, and with those bright red fresno peppers on top, they’re an irresistible frame for the pulled pork. Don’t dilly-dally on the ramen noodle chips, though. They can get tough if they dry out.

Just before 5 o’clock, I rush up and get a Hopmata Burning Beard West Coast IPA ($4). But what about Annie? Ayee! I do a rush scan of the menu. Decide on a chicken katsu salad for her. Lots of roasted cashews, curry tahini dressing. She’s into salads. $10. It’s not included in happy hour, but I don’t hesitate.

Guess that’s just the kind of guy I am. Does Annie appreciate this?

  • The Place: Underbelly, 750 W Fir Street, at Kettner, 619-269-4626 (also at 3000 Upas Street, on 30th, North Park, 619-487-9909)
  • Hours: 11:30am-10:30pm (drinks till 11pm), daily
  • Happy Hour Prices: Ramen nachos, $6; UB Street Dog, $2.50; boiled edamame, $2; kimchi wings, $1 each
  • Regular Prices: “No Name” ramen bowl, $12; The Underbelly Ramen (in tonkotsu pork bones broth, with chashu belly, smoked bacon, pulled pork), $12; “herbivore” version, $10; shrimp gyoza, $6; tempura eggplant baos, $7
  • Buses: 83, 280, 290
  • Nearest Bus Stops: India and Cedar (83 northbound); Kettner and Grape (83 southbound; Pacific Highway and Grape (280, 290)
Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

Is Normal Heights' Orchid complex ugly or cool?

13 one-bedroom apartments on Adams and 36th
Next Article

Traffic lights on Market Street, baseball card nostalgia, Surfer Motel attacked

Mission Beach dog abuse, Hillside Colony under the flight path, a quieter Mission Beach
Comments
0

Be the first to leave a comment.

Sign in to comment

Sign in

Art Reviews — W.S. Di Piero's eye on exhibits Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Best Buys — San Diego shopping Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits City Lights — News and politics Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Famous Former Neighbors — Next-door celebs Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town Here's the Deal — Chad Deal's watering holes Just Announced — The scoop on shows Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Of Note — Concert picks Out & About — What's Happening Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Pour Over — Grab a cup Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Drinks All Around — Bartenders' drink recipes Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Sports — Athletics without gush Street Style — San Diego streets have style Suit Up — Fashion tips for dudes Theater Reviews — Local productions Theater antireviews — Narrow your search Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Waterfront — All things ocean Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close