By Kelley Carlson
The ramen obsession that began in the Far East has made its way to the West Coast, as restaurants that serve these noodle dishes are springing up everywhere, including San Diego. One that has become quickly recognized is Rakiraki Ramen & Tsukemen, which opened in 2012 in the heart of Kearny Mesa. Among its accolades is an appearance on Zagat’s "8 Hottest Restaurants in San Diego" list in December 2013.
picy Tuna with Crispy Rice, topped with jalapeño peppers and Japanese mayonnaise. Photos by Kelley Carlson
"Everyone is finding out what ramen is," owner and Executive Chef Junya Watanabe said. "It’s (becoming) one of the basic comfort foods in America."
Watanabe developed his culinary skills by shadowing some of Japan’s famed chefs, including Takeo Araki of Jyosui Ramen. For ramen broth, he specifically uses Enagic’s Kangen Water — which is 100 percent alkalized — to help develop a naturally subtle sweetness; combines it with more than 20 herbs, spices and organic bases imported from Japan; and spends hours boiling and cooling it to perfection. Al dente noodles and aburi-style (flame-blistered) meats and additional toppings are added moments before the steaming bowl is brought to the customer. There are no "secrets" in the preparation, as everything is assembled in an open kitchen before guests’ eyes.
Ramen isn’t restricted to soup bowls at Rakiraki. There’s also the California Ramen Burger, featuring a protein patty of choice (beef, pork, chicken, turkey or veggie), lettuce, tomato, spicy mayo and a five-spice soy sauce, sandwiched between a ramen noodle "bun." It’s accompanied by sweet potato fries dusted with powdered sugar, and some patrons opt to pair their meal with Japanese beer, sake or Kenwood Vineyards wine.
The restaurant also offers tsukemen, known as "dipping ramen," in which triple-extra-thick noodles are dipped into a rich soup base that’s in a separate bowl.
However, Rakiraki isn’t all about ramen. It has additional, Japanese cuisine on the menu, including curry and specialty sushi rolls. One notable "roll" is the Spicy Tuna with Crispy Rice, which is actually square-shaped pieces topped with small rings of jalapeño peppers and tiny dollops of Japanese mayonnaise. Another non-ramen option is the donburi, a type of rice bowl that contains meat, fish, vegetables or other ingredients that are simmered together and then served over the grains.
Original Ramen with chicken
In addition, there are nearly a dozen "starters," including Chinois Custom Gyoza — dumplings filled with vegetables and pork that can be dipped in ponzu sauce.
For a special deal, Rakiraki offers a $8.95 lunch combo between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. It includes the signature original ramen, plus a donburi rice bowl or sushi roll, with optional add-ons. (Note: A bowl of original ramen alone is $7.75.)
Guests gather for dinner at Rakiraki Ramen & Tsukemen
Guests who still have room left in the tank and are craving something sweet can walk through the restaurant to Watanabe’s Angels & Hearts Harajuku Creperie for Japenese-style crepes. The batter for the thin pancakes is poured onto a flat, circular hot plate and spread evenly until it’s cooked. It’s then spread with dessert-style fillings of the customer’s choosing — one delectable combination is bananas, strawberries, Nutella, whipped cream, mochi vanilla ice cream and a crispy, thin chocolate cookie — and then rolled into a conical shape and eaten like an ice cream cone.