3540 Homestead Rd
Santa Clara, CA 95051
And I thought ramen was popular in LA…
Orenchi Ramen in Santa Clara has been dubbed the most popular ramen shop in America by multiple sources (along with ~2600 Yelp reviews). We had to get there over half an hour before they opened at 11:30am just to ensure a minimal wait upon their doors opening for lunch, as the restaurant is quite small (Will said that if we didn’t get there when we did, we would’ve had to wait over an hour). There were all sorts of people waiting – locals, nearby workers, and Asian tourists with cameras (probably where I fit in). But was it worth the wait, especially for someone who slurps noodles on a regular basis?
In a word: yes. By now you all know the drill with tonkotsu ramen – pork-bone-simmered for long periods of time, chewy noodles, slices of chashu, etc. Orenchi’s bowl also includes menma (fermented bamboo shoots), kikurage (wood ear mushrooms), scallions, nori, marinated soft-boiled egg, and a bit of black garlic oil and sesame seeds. First of all, the broth here is quite fascinating. It’s essentially what we would consider kotteri-style, with plenty of visible back fat particles floating on top. Yet, the base isn’t too overpowering with the heft and the saltiness – quite balanced and refined, actually.
The other components aren’t as memorable as the broth, but competent in their own rights. The noodles aren’t glorious, but they have enough chew and bounce to match the broth well. The toppings are all nice touches, and I actually liked that the black garlic oil wasn’t used liberally, as it’s beginning to get hot at ramen shops, and I feel that more than a little is somewhat of a overkill. But the chashu and egg are especially noteworthy, if for different reasons. The good news: that soft-boiled egg was cooked perfectly. Also nicely marinated. The bad news: there were maybe 2 paper-thin slices of overcooked, lean pork. We also split an order of chicken karaage – not bad.
This is definitely a bowl of ramen worth waiting for, but do go early, for the reasons I gave above, and the fact that they only serve 500 bowls a day (and apparently only 15 servings of their tsukemen). Service is efficient and friendly. The bowls are fairly-priced. Also, I read that they plan to open a second location in the Mission district of SF, and that they’re opening a robataya right next door to the current location (saw some construction while waiting). But they do need to step that chashu game up…