Saiwaii, Newest Arrival in S.F.'s Year of Ramen
South Bay restaurants have dominated the trend, but 2010 appears to be the year of ramen for San Francisco, as new shops continue to pop up around the city. SFoodie was among the first to spot Saiwaii, a new ramen contender that opened a little over two weeks ago. As usual, the first week proved to be hectic at the restaurant, and while we liked most of what we saw, the broth didn't hit the right notes. So we allowed a bit more time for the kitchen to adjust before going back.
Luis Chong Saiwaii's tonkotsu ramen with chasu and kakuni, braised pork belly.
In addition to ramen, Saiwaii's one-page menu lists many appetizers, a few salads, half a dozen donburi bowls, and some Americanized sushi rolls, prepared by sushi chef Yoshi Fujita, former owner of the defunct Yo's Sushi Club in Bernal.
The basic ramen bowl (choice of miso, shio, shoyu, or tonkotsu broths, $7.95) includes chasu, menma, nori, kikurage mushrooms, and chopped green onions. You can customize with a half soft-boiled egg, or more veggie options ($1 each), as well as additional chasu ($2) and pork belly ($3). If you like a lot of toppings, things can add up fast. If you're feeling hungry, a side of donburi is available for $3-$4 more, though we opted to add ramen toppings rather than filling up with a bowl of rice.
Watch for specials on the white board, posted above the kitchen entrance. This week features ankimo (monk fish liver, $6.25), and two extra ramen toppings, pork cheeks and buta no kakuni (braised pork belly) for $3 each. Our eyes lit up when we saw the last item, since kakuni is the holy grail of pork ramen lovers everywhere ― just ask any fan of Santa Ramen in San Mateo. The caramelized, melt-in-your-mouth layers of fat and meat are drool-worthy. It was a great complement to our bowl of tonkotsu ramen. The curly noodles had the proper consistency: firm and chewy, the milky-white broth with good flavor this time around, and though the house-made chasu was tender, the star of the bowl, clearly, was the delicious kakuni.
Luis Chong Saiwaii opened some two weeks ago in the old Macao Friends space on Irving.
Strange coincidence that our top choice for superb tonkotsu and kakuni, Izakaya Sozai, is only a few blocks away. But since Sozai is open for dinner only, we think there's plenty of room in the day for both.
Saiwaii Ramen: 2240 Irving (at 23rd Ave.), 665-7888; open daily 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; Sun.-Thurs. 5-10 p.m., and Fri.-Sat. 5-11 p.m.