When two of the faces behind Ken Ken Ramen visited me in Tokyo a few years ago, they were nothing more than a once a week popup running out of a Mexican restaurant on it's day off. Popup food is big in American cities these days, with the likes of food trucks and once-in-a-blue-moon chefs relying on twitter to drive their ventures. It's fun, but I can imagine the frustration people feel when they get that tweet and rush down to the spot, only to see a two hour line and a sign saying that the goal of their journey is out of food for the day.
This was a problem for Ken Ken in the past, and the first review returned from a Google search was a scathing one from someone who was turned away on multiple occasions. There was no mention of the actual food.
Jump ahead a bit, and they have established a permanent residence in the Mission.
With an excellent bar. This is another trend that ramen shops in America are jumping on. If your shops is expecting to have massive wait times, why not build a bar for those thirsty customers. Ken Ken's bar has Asahi on tap, a few choices of nihonshu, and boba tea from The Boba Guys. This is one concept that Japan could learn from. How about a cold beer while you wait? Or maybe some hot Japanese sake during the winter. Japan has no open alcohol container laws, and street-side drinking is almost encouraged here.
I sampled the miso ramen, as well as the shoyu ramen. Don't expect the bold, oily, heavy impact flavors that are all the rage in Tokyo these days. Instead, Ken Ken goes for a more approachable bowl, mixing just enough red and white miso with their pork broth to let the flavors come through.
It's good to have good eggs, something I never thought American ramen shops would figure out. The toppings here are all on par. Pork lovers should go for the double chashu. Veggie lovers should go for the vegan version . . . I guess. It looked pretty good, with a colorful piece of Japanese pumpkin on top.
The atmosphere of Ken Ken is a major draw. The place is noisy, hip, and happy. Communal seating works in this situation.
Ramen chef Hori-san is constantly evolving their product. It's a tough battle, fighting against the varying palates of the citizens of San Francisco. I remember taking these guys to Kikanbo, in Tokyo, a few years ago, and their reactions. No, not their reactions, but the anticipated reactions of their American customers: Too oily! Too hot! Not hot enough! I'm having an MSG induced seizure!
The balance is working, and the biggest complaint from a modern day Google search? Only open four days a week.
I brought my niece and her friend with me on my foray to Ken Ken. Yeah, I'm the rad uncle in the family. Opinions of mazui boba tea do not reflect the views of this site's writer. Opinions of oishi ramen do.
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