Whether you’ve been eating ramen your whole life or just recently started Instagramming the perfect slurp, chances are you love it. There are few places in the U.S. where you’ll enjoy a higher concentration of delicious ramen stops than San Francisco’s charming Japantown neighborhood.
Nestled just north of the Painted Ladies and Hayes Valley, and just East of swanky Pacific Heights and Fillmore Street, Japantown is dense with deliciousness, packing in more flavor per square foot than probably any other area of the city. One of only three remaining Japantowns in the country, it once spanned more than 40 blocks of San Francisco, and is now concentrated along about eight.
Distilled down to favorite strongholds, including everything from bonsai vendors to a 100-Yen shop, and from Japanese baths to Michelin-starred sushi, Japantown’s best stops merit a meandering stroll—on an empty stomach.
Work Up an Appetite
Consider a ten-block, self-guided walking tour along the historic trail and check out the signs filling you in on the neighborhood’s storied past. Browse books and Japanese gifts at the beautiful Kinokuniya bookstore, or nibble on sweet confections from the century-old Benkyodo “manju shop.”
After you enjoy some salty ramen goodness, you’ll be ready for the famous Coffee Crunch Cake from Yasukochi Sweet Stop. Locals and savvy visitors arrive at 10:30am on Tuesday through Saturday with cash in-hand to snap up this treat by the slice. Arriving an hour or two later? Fear not! They will usually still have whole cakes on the shelf.
Local Favorites: 3 Best Ramens in Japantown
What most locals and travelers come for though, is food—ramen in particular—and for good reason. At the Kimpton Buchanan Hotel, situated on the north edge of Japantown, across from the landmark Torii Gate, our team members are engaged in a never-ending debate over which noodle house should earn the top title in Japantown. We thought we’d share our favorites with you, and let you make up your mind for yourself.
While Marufuku may claim the most fame, our reception experts feel spoiled by three noteworthy spots within one block of the hotel, each of which offers deep flavors without the need to get your name on an epic waitlist.
Hinodeya probably has the most foodie street cred. This location marked the restaurateurs’ first venture outside of Japan. As their “I ♥ Dashi” stickers denote, this hotspot takes great pride in their particular broth, which combines the classic umami elements of bonito, kombu and scallop. Alternative twists on the classic are also available, including a vegan ramen.
Strolling just across the pedestrian cobblestone walkway of the Buchanan “Mall,” appreciate the origami-inspired Ruth Asawa fountains on your way to Ramen Yamadaya’s airy and tucked-away second-floor space. Here, notes of savory pork take center stage, and, as the wall décor implores, you must inhale the rich, complex aroma of the 20-hour Tonkotsu broth before making the full mess that reverent ramen-eating requires.
To round out this one-block trifecta of tastiness in Japantown, face the Peace Pagoda and make a left to head slightly down Post Street to Waraku, which also preaches the virtues of a slow-cooked pork broth foundation. Waraku offers a more refined atmosphere, and their air conditioning makes them the easy winner on a hot day. If you love garlic, Waraku has a menu option just for you – and even visitors who eat gluten-free can indulge in a bowl of noodles. Build the perfect bowl with fun toppings like kikurage mushrooms, spicy miso paste and bamboo shoots.
Slurp & Tell
If you’re staying at the Kimpton Buchanan Hotel, don’t leave San Francisco without letting us know which of our neighbor-restaurants you loved most. We may each have our own personal favorites, but there’s one thing we can agree on: No matter which ramen bowl—or bowls—you go for, you’ll end your time in Japantown full and satisfied.
—Emily Glick, General Manager, Kimpton Buchanan Hotel