Iza Ramen (SF)

I’d been to the Iza Ramen pop-up at Blowfish out on Bryant and decided it was the best ramen I’d had in SF (which is not saying much, both for SF and for my coverage). A month ago they opened a permanent location on Fillmore just south of Haight, a spot I occasionally walk by on my way home after a visit to Toronado. My partner and I walked up to have dinner there on Friday.

Some caveats: I have just had jaw surgery and am on a soft diet; I was in Sapporo and Kyoto a short while ago having some amazing bowls of noodles; it was the Friday of Thanksgiving week. So take my impressions with a grain of shio.

We arrived just after the opening time of 5pm, and I was dismayed to see a crowd outside. But there were only a few people in the restaurant. Those outside had put their name on a clipboard hanging at the entrance. I could see there were plenty of tables, and they could have just let the five parties of two in after arranging things for the party of eight. But they kept us outside in the 50F cool, waiting a few minutes between each seating. I was seriously unimpressed. When we got in at 5:20, it was just as cold inside the restaurant. I kept my down vest and outer jacket on throughout the meal, and usually I am in a sweat at the end of a bowl of ramen.

Interior was current cliché: dark, Edison bulbs, reclaimed wood, hard surfaces, exposed wiring (but not ductwork, since no heating). We were seated at a bare two-top, orders taken quickly, drinks came fast, but food did not arrive until 6:00. The menu is fairly short: a few appetizers (I would have had the chicken karaage but I wouldn’t have been able to chew it); {regular, spicy} {regular, tsukemen} ramen; various extra garnishes; three beers on tap (Sapporo and two Fort Point, $7); a small list of bottled beers and sake. Service was not unpleasant, but somewhat robotic.

I had the spicy ramen ($13), which was too spicy, to the point of being unbalanced. The broth underneath seemed all right, neither too fatty nor too lean, but it wasn’t hot enough; because I was eating slowly in a cold atmosphere, it was tepid before I was halfway done. Straight, medium-thick noodles that I would have considered too soft but I was grateful this time. The bowl came with a half-egg, one sheet of toasted nori, wakame, sprouts, and chashu. I wasn’t sure I could eat some of those (I gave away the nori but managed the rest, though the chashu was a challenge) so I had ordered an extra marinated egg, which came on a cute jiggly spring holder, but was fridge-cold and lacked flavour. My partner had the tsukemen, which I’d had and enjoyed at the popup; the noodles are thicker, halfway to udon, and the thicker dipping sauce verges on greasy.

This place fits in with its Lower Haight neighbours: okay, but a bit too expensive for what you get. (I’ll exempt Palymyra from that judgment; it is fairly priced.) For me, the twenty-minute walk, the fact that I’m going to have to wait outside no matter what, and the other small unpleasantnesses are going to make it a rare visit, unless they start opening for lunch.

Thanks for the review. Sounded like the spicy noodle is a little too extreme. Hopefully, its standard ramen(s) are a little better.

If/when I go back, I will order the regular ramen.

Thanks for the report. Was it the tsukemen that you liked at the popup? What were the other ramen places in SF that you tried that didn’t impress?

It was the tsukumen that I had tried and liked at the popup. Trying to remember where else I’ve been in SF. Yamadaya and Waraku in Japantown (not impressed), Kirimachi when they were in North Beach (that was good, but reports from their new FiDi digs are not). Further afield, Ryowa in Berkeley when they were good (and, alas, when they were not), Santouka in San Jose (probably the best I’ve had in the area).

Everyone talks about Japan being expensive, but a bowl of ramen is typically ¥800-1000 (tax included, no tipping), which is at most $8 US. It’s going to cost me at least twice that at most local establishments.

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Honghe Hani Rice Terraces, Yuanyang County, Yunnan
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