Black Garlic Pork Cheek Ramen at Santa Ramen [Thoughts + Pics]

We found ourselves in San Mateo on short notice, and thanks to @sfchris @Paul for a lunch time recommendation, we decided to stop by Santa Ramen.

L.A.'s Ramen scene is fairly well-developed by now: The recent years have been a huge boon to the region, where you can now find Kurume-style Ramen specialists, Kitakata-style, Nagoya-style and beyond. We were curious how Santa Ramen would compare.

Fried Gyoza:

We started with an Appetizer of Fried Gyoza. It is fairly straightforward if a bit oily.

Kara-age (Japanese Fried Chicken):

Their Kara-age is a pretty solid rendition, with a slightly crunchy exterior and moist, juicy Chicken inside.

For Ramen, Santa offers 4 core Soup bases: Shoyu (Soy Sauce), Miso, Tonkotsu (Pork Bone), and Tonkotsu with Black Garlic. Our server said their Tonkotsu with Black Garlic was “by far” the most popular type, so we went with that.

“Pork Cheek Meat Garlic Pork Flavor” (Tonkotsu + Black Garlic Base) Ramen:

Besides the 4 Soup bases, you can choose “Classic” (just Chashu slices), or have Pork Cheek Meat, or Pork Belly. The first thing you notice is the absurd mound of food! :open_mouth:

This bowl was massive! We’re talking Claim Jumper portions here, which ultimately makes the $10.75 / bowl a ridiculous QPR (it is easily 200% the size of most Ramen we have around L.A.).

First, a sip: The Black Garlic Tonkotsu (Pork Bone) Broth is delicious! :slight_smile: It has a nice Pork funk, but the Black Garlic makes it stand out more than some of the local places in L.A. that had Black Garlic (e.g., Iroha before it closed).

The Ramen Noodles are cooked competently, having a decent chew and bite to them. I appreciated the Moyashi (Bean Sprouts) and Napa Cabbage.

The Pork Cheek Meat was fresh, tender, and succulent! It had a nice Shoyu + Mirin braise and long infused flavor. :slight_smile:

Sadly what brings down this bowl of Ramen is the base Chashu (Roast Pork Slices). It tastes really old! :confounded: It has an old, leftover, pre-cooked funk to it, and is chewy. :frowning: I understand why Ramen shops do that - it saves money and time by making huge batches of Chashu at once, refrigerate it and use it up throughout the week. But it really takes away from the rest of the solid ingredients and effort. :frowning:

The other issue is the use of Hard Boiled Quail Eggs. It’s OK and cute looking, but it’s no substitute for a fantastic Aji Tama or perfectly creamy / liquid Soft Boiled Egg.

If they served the Ramen with only the Pork Cheek Meat or Pork Belly (our friend ordered that one and loved it, but also was saddened by the Chashu), this would be a much more outstanding bowl. As it is, I’d agree with @beefnoguy that this is OK, but not the upper echelon. But despite those hiccups, Santa Ramen was a nice, approachable Lunch option, and had the makings of a nice bowl of Ramen for the area.

Santa Ramen
1944 S. El Camino Real
San Mateo, CA 94403
Tel: (650) 344-5918


Santa has been around since the 80s. They used to be where Ramen Dojo is currently (and down the street from there is Ramen Parlor), both of these are part of the Santa empire. Santa was the go to spot back in the early 2000s when ramen started to take off (particularly tonkotsu broth).

I hope you find (or found) better meals in San Mateo!

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I am going to agree with this. Hard-boiling a quail egg always seems like such a waste to me. One of my favorite foods are little raw quail egg yolks, or very softly poached.

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Thanks for the history lesson @beefnoguy. Interesting. In that light, I think it makes sense and I can see how if they were one of the earlier pioneers of Tonkotsu in the area, how it could earn a loyal following (the restaurant was packed when we went).

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