Tanpopo in San Francisco’s Japantown
1740 Buchanan Street
San Francisco, CA 94115
Open daily for lunch and dinner (closes at 10:30 p.m.)
We were visiting SF with some family, and stayed in Japantown at Hotel Tomo. On a quest for a hot bowl of noodle soup on a cold October day, we were initially going to head over to one of our favorite udon noodle spot, Hotei, in the Inner Sunset. But the idea of having to drive and find parking near UCSF/Inner Sunset seemed like a drab idea. While I was napping, my partner, sister-in-law, and niece walked around Japantown and found Tanpopo, a bustling ramen shop right in the middle of Japantown. I was disappointed with the idea of not having nabeyaki udon during my SF visit, but decided to give Tanpopo a shot.
We were quickly greeted and seated. The restaurant decor was very visually pleasing. I am super fond of the bright wassabi/green tea ice cream color, which was the color of the walls. The green was nicely offset with pink blossoms found around the restaurant. The decor is simple, and the restaurant is very clean. Unfortunately, the size of the restaurant is small and cramped (and I do mean small), so seating is limited. There is a bar area where you have the option to dine at. You are also very up close and personal with your neighbor diners, which I always find somewhat awkward.
Lastly, there was always a line of people waiting to be seated. So expect to wait during busy restaurant hours. If you want to beat the crowd, go early or really late.
The menu at Tanpopo’s offered a variety of food that cater to many. They also have listed the daily specials on the bamboo wall, so be sure to check that out, too. There were some tasty options listed on the specials, but I was after a hot bowl of ramen! After perusing through the menu, I was between the miso ramen and the karamiso ramen. I asked the waitress what she liked and she suggested the latter. Sold! I got the karamiso ramen with extra chashu, and tuna sashimi as an appetizer. We also got seaweed salad and a pea shoot stir fry.
The ramen arrived in a large, hot bowl of spicy red broth goodness. There were huge, meaty slices of chashu, a boiled egg, a few pieces of fishcake, some bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, and chopped green onions. It was a beautiful arrangement of noodles, toppings, and such. I slowly inhaled the aroma of the karamiso ramen and was quickly sent to Elysium. With chopsticks in my right hand and an Asian soup spoon on the left, I delved right into my ramen. My first slurp of the broth, swirled around my mouth, left notes of spicy goodness that awakened my senses with a big “HELLO.” It was spicy, but not overly so. In fact, it was the good kind of spiciness that you get used to after a few more bites, but can also leave your nose a little runny from all the heat. The broth was perfectly balanced, while not overly salty like some ramen broths can be.
The service was abrupt and hurried. I understand that there is a line of people waiting for table, but there are slow eaters that exist in this world. And I’m one of them! The waitresses were not the friendliest. In fact, they made some rude passive-aggressive comments about the small mess a toddler made. We even tried to help, but instead, got some bad attitude from one of the waitresses.
Usually, bad service is a deal breaker for me. I was delighted with my meal, but irritated with the service and vowed not to eat there again. Unfortunately, that feeling of discontent didn’t last very long because I found myself at Tanpopo’s the next day. This time I did take out so that I wouldn’t have to deal with the service and it worked out perfectly. I was going to try another type of ramen, and had every intention of ordering the shoyu ramen. But before I knew it, karamiso ramen rolled off my tongue.