I drive east through downtown to get to work weekday mornings. When the sign first went up at 531 Broadway for Ramen Yamadaya, my interest was piqued. At the very least I liked saying the name out loud: RA-men YA-MA-DAY-A! Some days I’d sing it for a few blocks…then an MTS bus would squeal in front of me, and I’d go back to concentrating on the road.
Subsequently, my girlfriend and I were strolling up Fifth Avenue when I remembered my sing-songy restaurant. We walked by and looked in. It seemed cozy but maybe a little cramped. We weren’t super hungry or really in the mood for Japanese. Then it started to rain. Suddenly we were turning Japanese.
We ordered rice bowls. I ordered the Chashu (pork) and Jules, my cute vegetarian, got the spicy tuna. Both were tasty and filling. After a small bottle of unfiltered sake and a Kirin Light we felt like old guard. I like the kitschy Japanese restaurant tradition of the kitchen staff stopping work and chanting a loud goodbye when patrons exit. I was sold.
We went back a week later with three teens in tow. Our mission was to explore the ramen. The Tonkotsu Ramen here is cooked with pork bone. Such broth usually needs eight hours to cook but Ramen Yamadaya spends 20 hours boiling it to increase flavor. Once the pork bone broth is ready, it’s filtered and served.
First things first, though. We showed up at 7 p.m. on a Tuesday evening and there was a wait list to be seated. At a new restaurant on Broadway between Fifth and Sixth avenues. Yes, outside the Gaslamp Quarter confines and on an off night.
To be accurate, Ramen Yamadaya is not a new concept. It’s a chain now 10 strong up and down California; the first was in Los Angeles and there’s another San Diego location in Clairemont.
We had several Tonkotsu bowls brought to the table. (Regrettable note: Three arrived at one time and two more orders came 10 minutes later.) All come with melt-in-your mouth pork, half a hard-boiled egg and bamboo shoots. The Spicy version comes with a choice of three levels of heat; Kotteri is served with black garlic oil; the Shoyu bowl is topped with soy sauce. The pork is the main attraction, but we found out you can also special order chicken on the side. The chicken was good, but not wispy like the pork.
The Vegan Ramen bowl is popular. On our first visit for dinner, we’d been told it sold out that day during lunch. It was available for this second dinner—but they ran out of miso broth and successfully substituted soy milk. Ingredients include spinach noodles, bamboo shoots, green onion and mushrooms.
The bowls are huge, but we were advised that a still-hungry patron with broth left over is able to re-order extra ramen toppings a la carte.
The next time I go back I’m going for it and ordering the Specialty Ramen, which comes with all the previously mentioned good stuff and a side of pork belly. That should leave me singing a happy tune.