Pure Pork Bone Ramen - The Silky, Smooth, Refined Tonkotsu Ramen at Ippudo S.F. [Thoughts + Pics]



At the Berkeley location, I liked the extra-firm noodles a lot, but I wish they had some sort of dry preparation. I’m just not that big on noodles in soup.

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Hi @Chowseeker1999. Great coverage. This sake selection is “balls to the walls” for a ramen joint. As a general rule, ramen joints in Japan are some of the most informal eateries. I think if you time an average meal of ramen, it’s probably about 10 minutes - 15 on the outside.

You’ve seen the drill - eater lowers head over bowl, line up a mouthful of noodles on the chopsticks, pull towards the mouth, and conspicuously slurps in short strong bursts while pulling successive lengths of the noodles toward the mouth. This type of meal is synonymous to the 100-meter Sprint of meals. It’s really a thing of beauty once one gets over the cultural contradictions. My relatives in Japan can slurp down a bowl of ramen or udon in five minutes without issue. They always end up waiting for us, as we have no skills.

I think that, outside of being a baller, the vast majority of Japanese slurpers would consider a vast collection of premium sake to be out of context. Laying down more than 20-30 USD-equivalent for a bottle of sake to share on a quick ramen meal would be considered excessive. Premium sake is like most other premium alcohol. There’s a context for it and it should be appreciated. Besides, I think beer is the overwhelming favorite alcoholic beverage for ramen, probably followed way back by shochu. I think the average Japanese drinker probably considers one beer with their meal as not really drinking.

Ippudo is definitely scaling up the ramen meal. My guess is that, unlike Japanese noodle slurping sprinters, people here prefer a much more unhurried meal when eating bowls of noodles and other items on the menu. Besides, most have no ability to consume noodles (properly) with any appreciable speed. So the meal almost has to be at a more relaxed pace.

Also, the Bay Area is blessed with True Sake. I don’t know if Ippudo sources their own sake, or if they wholesale through True Sake. But just by the fact that this specialty store exists up there tells me the sake culture is far more prominent up in the Bay Area (as are “baller” food experiences in general) than down our way. So Ippudo can probably pull off this sort of offering.

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Some branches of Ippudo have serious sake lists, some don’t. The Berkeley branch is more of a quick-service place aimed at students.

SF branch sake list from Yelp:


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Some points:

  1. The NY Ippudo had/has a very successful full bar program.
    The Ippudo locations that I have been to in Tokyo and Fukuoka do not have any type of bar program.
    This is a creation for American customers. Other ramen shops have implemented this style Ramen + Bar-- see Bangaichi - Culver City, Jinya.

  1. The bar program was implemented to augment sales and feed demand.
    Turn time for a seat at a ramen shop in Japan is 10-15 min. According to ramen shop owners in the States that I have spoken with, Americans tend to linger around for 40-45 min. Therefore, ramen shops need to increase their average ticket sales via alcohol, sides, and the price of their ramen to remain viable

  2. I would guess that the quality of Hakata (Tonkotsu) Ramen that you can get from Ikkousha in LA is not vastly different than that of the quality at Ippudo.

  3. Noods are probably from Sun Noodle (http://sunnoodle.com/)


The best thing I had at the Berkeley branch was a pork shoulder bun appetizer.

Any idea what’s in “Rudo’s wasa nachos”? The photo’s not sharp enough for me to read the fine print.

Sorry, I just scraped that photo from Yelp! to show the full bar in NYC.
The photo is of the NYC East Village location.

Hi @robert,

Interesting. Good to know that different branches have a much more limited offering.

Hi @bulavinaka,

Thanks for the insight, and it’s good to know we weren’t losing our minds on this! :sweat_smile: Yah, I remembered Ramen eating in Japan wasn’t a slow-paced, luxurious experience so that 48 bottle premium Sake list was very unique.

Soon, we’ll be able to try out Ippudo on the Westside in L.A., so you can chime in and see what you think about their Ramen offerings. :slight_smile:

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I’ve been pleasantly surprised with Ippudo in NYC, very well managed operation and very decent bowl of ramen for a chain.

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A few clarifications

Out of the 3 West Coast locations of Ippudo (Santa Monica being #3), the SF location is the only one with the expanded bar.

The beverage list for the most part (and definitely the sake) was put together by NA Sales which is part of MTC. All the sake are available through MTC (Wholesaler) including a few selections that are only distributed in the East Coast (scratching my head on that one, whether it is politics or whatever), but glad we can get them there. The Berkeley sake menu is small compared to SF (the picture from Yelp Robert posted is double sided). I have word that Santa Monica location will not have the same sake / full bar like SF. It sounds like MTC has scored the contract for beverage providing (at least for West Coast Ippudo locations), then again they do have a large portfolio that includes the big brand name ones as well.

The people(s) who put the list together are WSET and other certified (in sake) and at least two of the selections I tried were excellent pairings (from the Junmai and Junmai Ginjo list) and were surprising. I’m not so sure about the Junmai Daiginjo side though.

While they have been opened a couple months or so, there may be expansions to the menu once they get into the groove of things. I’m expecting more interesting dishes to come. They have also been doing other events to promote the business, e.g. a recent collaboration with Pacific Cocktail Heaven and Ichiko soju.

The SF location of Ippudo is right by or at the foot of one of the hotels. Some travelers might want a snack and some drinks at the bar (which has bites but no ramen). Who knows maybe some random high tech sales person scored a major multi billion dollar contract and wants to seal the deal or celebrate with a Dassai Beyond with some buns and ramen?

True Sake operates similarly to Japanese restaurants, they have accounts with their contacts (importers/distributors/wholesalers/reps) and order what they need for the retail store. They go through at least 4 to 6 sources in my estimation. It is highly unlikely for any restaurant to use True Sake as their sake source.

Americans aren’t in the business of slurp and go (in fact they sip their noodles, they do not slurp like the Japanese do, especially the Asian Americans in SF Bay Area).

I don’t think they use Sun Noodles (which can be purchased from most Northern California Nijiya markets), they are made in the East Bay probably close to the Berkeley location then delivered over to SF.

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Hi @beefnoguy,

Thanks again for the info! :slight_smile: Ah MTC! I’ve seen that name before, and it’s good to know that only the SF branch got this massive Sake menu (it is quite shocking / daunting). But it’s cool that you had a couple pairings that worked with their Tonkotsu Ramen. :slight_smile:

Yah from the long lines and when we sat down and ate, we ordered, ate our Ramen and finished up faster than all of the tables around us who were already seated and ordered before us. :sweat_smile: It was also really quiet in there (outside of conversation, i.e., no slurping except by us, LOL). When it hits L.A., we’ll need @bulavinaka @PorkyBelly and others to show them it’s OK to slurp Ramen. :wink:

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@beefnoguy MTC carries “Special Order” sake in addition to their main product line. You gotta ask the right questions to the right people :wink:

While the list is mostly MTC product, judging from the pic below (from Yelp! Dated 04.05.2018) it looks like they are ordering from JFC, as well.
See: Hakutsuru, Daishichi.

Iichiko shochu. I cry when I see shochu called soju :sob:

Ippudo makes its own ramen.


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Hopefully not at Ippudo, but elsewhere:
Watch out for soy milk in your creamy tonkotsu.

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Taking @Chowseeker1999’s comment below into account:

Do you know if they are making the ramen for the Bay Area shops too?
Do they have a central kitchen in the Bay Area? Do they have a nood machine there too?
It would be pain in the ass (and costly!) to ship ramen from NY.

Using Sun Noodle is nothing to be ashamed of.
Sun Noodle is very good.

While you can get some Sun Noodle retail versions at Japanese supermarkets, they have dozens of other recipes which you cannot.

I’m going to chalk up the lack of an h in shochu due to a fast paced crazy work day like when I called nama “fresh” in haste.
Don’t taze me bro :crazy_face:, but I’ll pass you some tissues.

I’ve been to other sake events hosted by NA sales so I’m aware of the special stuff (and seasonal limited editons) that’s not on the website. Same goes for JFC, World Sake, and others :wink:.

And good catch on Hakutsuru, Daishichi = JFC! I stand corrected! Spoken like a true insider!

You are right about Sun Noodle. Now that you mentioned it I remember someone who gets their noodles made by them (custom specs).

Though going back, I don’t see myself eating at Ippudo often. They even have a shoyu ramen made with katsuo dashi, but the bottom layer is too shoyu heavy while most of the dashi flavors are about 1/3 top of the bowl, and it doesn’t jive as well with the Hakata style hosomen.

The Ichiko x Pacific Cocktail Heaven event at Ippudo SF must have been really fun from the social media pictures.

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