Santoka, you may have heard of it. In recent years they have opened four shops in my home state of California, and ramen fans have approved.
I'm actually a bit surprised at myself. I've never been to Santoka. It is a chain, with many shops around Japan, and I tend to stay away from chains. But the real surprise is that a few years ago I translated their English language overseas website, and still didn't make it in.
The truth was that, after reading about their history and passion, I wanted to have my first bowl at their head shop, in Asahikawa, Hokkaido.
Finally, after all these years.
The bowl is nothing like the Asahikawa-style that most people know. Instead of an intense soy soup, Santoka is an elegant, creamy shio. It's very nice, and the smaller, custom bowls are the perfect size. I can see why it is a hit in the States; creamy pork soup and tender chashu are always a winning combination.
I also had an experience that is becoming more and more common in remote Japan locations these days. At first the staff was scared of English communication (they wanted to ask if I would sit at a communal table), and then the master recognized my from TV. Thank you for your hospitality!
Official site here.
Hokkaido, Asahikawa-shi, Asahikawa 1-8-348-3
Closest station: Asahikawa