The Mission is, seemingly all of a sudden, awash in that much loved Japanese staple: ramen. We’ve got at least five or six places that actually have “ramen” in their name, and a plethora of other Japanese places that also dip their toe into the ramen world. While we lost Ken Ken Ramen a year or so ago (*sob*), we gained Raki Raki, Hell’s Ramen (from the people that just shuttered Blowfish), and Ramenwell. The Mission has gone gaga over these steaming bowls of silken noodles in golden elixir.

I’ve been charged with comparing and contrasting the different ramen places in our hood. While I’m by no means any kind of an expert on the stuff, I Know What I Like. (Kinda like art. Or is that porn?) I learned only last year that ramen isn’t actually that old a tradition in Japan. But it has become as much a symbol of Japanese cuisine as sushi or tempura – at least in this country. And there are So. Many. Kinds. of ramen to be had, with myriad variations in broth and toppings. So, we’ll just start nice and slow here, slurping our way through as many places as the BF can stomach.

First up was Coco’s Ramen which, to my surprise, seems to have been around for a good six years. Coco’s is warm and cozy inside and abuts a sushi restaurant with a walkthrough doorway between the two spaces. You know, for when you want a raw fish bang-bang after stuffing yourself with broth and noodles.

The BF ordered the spicy tonkotsu with pork belly. Tonkotsu is a pork broth made by boiling pork and chicken bones for hours and hours, with many changes of water and strainings through cheesecloth to ensure the broth is as clean and pure as possible, while bringing out the utmost in porkiness. Tonkotsu broths are rich and deeply flavored, with an almost-creaminess to them. Once I tried tonkotsu, it was hard for me to go back to other ramen broths, but I took one for the team this evening and let the BF have it.

Tonkotsu ramen with pork belly.

A basin-sized (though quite lovely) bowl, of course. Besides the pork belly, the BF’s came topped with the de rigueur soft-boiled, jammy half-egg, nestled coyly in the broth, raw garlic, shiitake mushrooms, cabbage, and scallions. I tasted his broth a few times: mmmmporky. Although most places don’t offer the spicy version, we really enjoyed ours. It wasn’t so hot it obscured any of the nuances of flavor, but merely rendered a nice, slow burn in the back of the throat, with ancillary sniffles and tears.

I got the spicy shoyu broth with pork katsu and black garlic.

Spicy Shoyu ramen with pork katsu.

Hello, gorgeous! Wow, so good, with lovely, chewy ramen. Shoyu ramen is considered a classic, and has a “cleaner” flavor than the tonkotsu. My katsu (breaded pork cutlet) was a crispy delight. I even loved the bamboo in this, as it tasted fresher to me than the usual canned stuff you find in most Asian-American restaurants. I got the black garlic in mine, but because of the spiciness of the broth, I couldn’t really discern it.

The springy, resistant noodles are what really got me, though. People argue the age-old question endlessly: What is the key to good ramen, the broth or the noodles? Hell no, I’m not about to answer that! At least, not this early in the process, but I will say it’s a real bummer when you get a mouthful of flaccid noodles. Most of this went home with us, for the BF’s dinner a couple nights later.

We’d also ordered two appetizers, which arrived after the ramen: A standard, fresh-tasting seaweed salad.

Seaweed salad.

You know, to cleanse the palate.

And the best goddamned gyoza I think I’ve had in, like, ever.

Gyoza.

Will you look at these fat bastards? Stuffed to the gills with gingery pork, these dumplings were a study in bouncy, meaty decadence. Oh, I’d come back just for these any old time.

The ramen menu at Coco’s also boasts shio (salt-based), curry, veggie, and seafood broths. Also on offer are a variety of fried nibbly things (chicken karaage, fried oysters, calamari), yakitori (skewers of char-grilled asparagus, pork belly, chicken thighs, etc.), and special dishes of grilled whole squid and salmon kama or head with a ponzu sauce.

So how would I rate this place? On the ramen, I’d give it 4 out of 5 stars. I may have to adjust that by the time we reach the end of this ramenaganza, but for now, Coco’s ramen made us pretty danged happy.

Coco’s Ramen
3319 Mission Street
SF
415-648-7722