Marugame Udon, a large Japanese udon chain with locations around the world, has opened one of their restaurants in SF, in the Stonestown Galleria. They also have other U.S. locations in Honolulu and Los Angeles.
It’s in the front of the mall between an Olive Garden and a Chipotle. They are in a soft opening mode, so not all of the menu items are available. According to a flyer they will have their official grand opening on January 18. I got there at around 8:30pm (they are open 11am - 3pm and 5pm - 9pm during their soft opening) and there was a bit of a line running outside the door, but it moved at a fairly decent pace. Noodles are made in house - they have what looked like a noodle making machine in the front, and one can see them preparing dough to put into the machine.
It’s cafeteria style service. You get in line, grab a tray, order your udon, receive your udon, and then grab any tempura or musubi that you want as you move down the line, paying at the register at the end. Seating is first-come first-serve.
I had a large beef udon ($8.50). After sometimes spending more than half an hour in line waiting for a table at some ramen joints the relative speed of Marugame’s setup was pretty refreshing. Udon prep was quite fast. The noodles are removed from the boiling water (I’m guessing they can just keep putting new noodles in the water since there’s really only one type of noodle), quick dried in a cool noodle drying thing, and then in my case placed in broth and then topped with toppings.
After you get your noodles you can move down the line and grab various pieces of tempura on display. I added a shrimp tempura ($1.90), a squid tempura ($1.90), and an asparagus tempura ($1.40). They also have musubi right before the register. I added a mentai mayo musubi ($1.60) as well. This was a lot of food.
My beef udon was very good. Nice clear-ish dashi based (I think) broth with a bit of beef flavor maybe coming from the thinly sliced poached beef. Sweet and a little on the salty side. Beef was quite tender and had some nice fatty bits. There’s a condiment bar near the register that had green onions, cilantro, tenkasu (tempura bits), garlic I think, shichimi spice mix, and shoyu and tempura sauces, along with utensils. I added some green onions and tenkasu. The green onions could probably be chopped a little finer. The noodles were quite good. Thick and springy with a nice chew. The large size was indeed quite large. I probably could have just went with the regular size.
Squid tempura was quite good, a large piece of tender squid with a nicely fried exterior. The shrimp tempura was not bad, crispy but a touch over-fried. The asparagus tempura was fine.
I liked the mentai mayo musubi. It had a creamy salty mayo and salted cod roe (mentaiko) filling. The nori wrapper could have been a bit more crispy. I think sitting in loose plastic wrap made it a little soggy.
The kama-age udon, kake udon, beef udon, and bukkake udon were the only ones available that night. There were stickers with release dates on top of the pictures of the unavailable types.
Noodle Drying Orifices
Various Tempura Stations
Squid Tempura, Shrimp Tempura, Asparagus Tempura, Mentai Mayo Musubi