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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ajisen's Kumamoto-Style Ramen Is Really Good

Posted By on Thu, Aug 19, 2010 at 12:02 PM

click to enlarge Ajisen's premium pork ramen. - LUIS CHONG
  • Luis Chong
  • Ajisen's premium pork ramen.
We ventured into the just-opened Westfield San Francisco Centre branch of Japanese fast-food chain Ajisen Ramen yesterday. It's been more than a decade since a branch of Japan's Yoshinoya came to the city and failed, so we were curious about San Francisco's latest chain import.

Ajisen specializes in Kumamoto-style ramen, signature of a region on the Japanese island of Kyushu. It shares the same characteristics as other ramen variations from the island, namely the use of tonkotsu broth and straight noodles. The difference here is the milder-tasting tonkotsu broth blend, usually achieved by adding vegetable and chicken stocks to the secret base recipe.

As you might expect, service was scattered on Ajisen's first day.

click to enlarge Ajisen's Westfield mall outpost opened yesterday. - LUIS CHONG
  • Luis Chong
  • Ajisen's Westfield mall outpost opened yesterday.
A beautiful laminated picture menu facilitates ordering, but won't be completely helpful to anyone unfamiliar with standard ramen fare, things like kikurage (wood ear mushrooms), negi (spring onion), menma (bamboo shoots), nori (seaweed), or who might not know that milky-white tonkotsu broth is a reduction of pork bones and tendons. Also, non-pork eaters might not understand that when the menu mentions beef, it's referring to a ramen topping. The broth is always default broth is tonkotsu.

For our inaugural taste, we ordered the flagship premium pork ramen ($8.75). The creamy, flavorful soup put a big smile on our face. We gorged on the thin slices of Kumamoto pork and noodles in less time than it took to bring the hot bowl to our table. While we continue to reserve top honors for Izakaya Sozai's Ritsu tonkotsu ramen for its decadent porkiness and unrivaled pork belly, we can't deny that Ajisen has quickly earned runner-up status.

Ajisen Ramen: Westfield San Francisco Centre, 865 Market (at Fifth St.), #C-12, 357-0288.

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Luis Chong


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