Exterior of a restaurant with a man walking by
Taishoken on Valencia Street. Photo by Maria C. Ascarrunz

Taishoken was already a well-established ramen and tsukemen restaurant in Tokyo, founded circa 1955. The Mission restaurant is its second U.S. outpost in the (San Mateo boasts the first). They’re known for their tsukemen (“dipping noodles”), a Taishoken invention; a humble dish of cold, leftover noodles that are dipped into a hot broth. The story goes that customers saw the staff slurping it up on their lunch breaks and clamored for it. It has since become a very popular offshoot of ramen in Japan, and now we have it in our own backyard. Not to mention another ramen place of some note.

(Full disclosure: The BF and I just recovered from Covid-19 [mild, thankfully], and so, with our newly found and assuredly short-lived immunity, we’re allowing ourselves to dine indoors for awhile.)

Taishoken is in the old Mau space, prettied up, warmly lit, and spacious. 

We started out with an order of gyoza.

Dumplings. a plate of five.

Maybe not the best thing to try here; these were certainly not the best we’ve had. The pork filling was bland and mushy, and the skins weren’t as crispy as they could have been. I would rather have ordered the calamari or takoyaki (octopus balls), but the BF… well, you know. 

However, the karaage:

Fried chicken.

It was spectacular! Fried chicken at its finest. Craggy and crunchy as all get-out, yet light and airy, made with super juicy and flavorful dark meat, and served with mayo and what I believe was togarashi. This was some of the best karaage I’ve had, and you should definitely try it.

All the noodles are made in-house at Taishoken, in a process that involves machinery brought from Japan, and let to sit overnight in a temperature-and-humidity-controlled room for optimal hydration, which gives them their irresistible texture. Their broths, made with chicken and pork, are simmered for two days, allowing deep flavors to emerge.

Of course, I had to try the tsukemen:

bowl of pork and noodles.
Tokusei tsukemen.

You’re instructed to pick up the noodles with your chopsticks, dip them into the broth, and then delicately into your mouth. You’re warned not to simply pour the soup over the noodles like some sort of rube, nor vice-versa, one would assume. Sort of a deconstructed ramen, the noodles came with gorgeous fat slices of rare, sous-vide Berkshire pork chasu, which practically melted in the broth, and ajitama, a tender Jidori soft-boiled egg. 

The noodles in this version were buckwheat, with a homey, chewy texture. The rich, thick broth itself was a bit tangy, made with pork and chicken like that of the ramen, but also with anchovy and bonito, menma (a fermented bamboo shoot condiment), and seaweed. My only problem with the dish was that I was a complete failure at picking the noodles up with chopsticks; they’re fat and slippery, and I could only get a couple of chubby strands in at a time. So we ended up taking most of mine home. For those who are more adept at eating their noodles the proper way and end up with leftover soup, there is the option of ordering dashi broth (“soup wari”) to mix into it, which is poured table-side from a metal pitcher, for a hit of umami goodness.

BF ordered the spicy ramen: 

bowl of ramen noodles and broth.
Spicy ramen.

The texture of these wheat noodles was top notch, with a toothy bite, (and much easier to pick up with chopsticks), and I absolutely adored this broth. Again, pork/chicken, rich, deep, and almost creamy in texture, with a lump of spicy pork miso (salty, spicy, sweet), chili oil, kikurage mushrooms, the same fatty chasu, scallions, and seaweed. This came with only one slice of chasu, however, which is a crime, but you can always order more. No egg, either. I’d order the ramen next time, and add toppings to my heart’s content.

Taishoken offers several Japanese beers, sake, plum wines, and soft drinks. I had a Tokyo Yakusho, with citrusy yuzu, and also a faintly sweet Okunomatsu ginjo sake, and the BF had a Ruri “German-style” pilsner.

There are different variations of ramen to choose from, including a lobster ramen that they make limited amounts of each night, as well as dry noodles with no broth that totally piqued my interest, and chasu don, roast pork over rice. I’d also love to try their potato salad, and tuna tartare with sea urchin. There are vegetarian options, and two simple desserts: vanilla ice cream and lychee sorbet.

Now that we’re getting our cold weather, Taishoken feels especially welcoming. Stop in for a comforting bowl of steaming broth and noodles and support our new neighbor.

Taishoken San Francisco (website)
665 Valencia St.

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