Literally a hole in the wall, ARIA Korean Tapas can be found on Larkin Street, between Geary and Post. The red brick facade is covered from top to bottom in graffiti and blown up pictures of fried chicken, kimbap, and other Korean snacks, with a tiny single door in the center. Directly beyond the dark portal, to the left, I place my order. Behind the register is a small woman who’s surrounded by a compact but sturdy kitchen, working over several steaming pans and fryers. She looks like a church organist as she sends all sorts of spicy and salty aromas through the air. I squeeze in and grab a spot along the only seating area in the joint, a foot wide shelf with about seven stools scattered along the wall to the right.
Elbow to elbow with other diners, I hear very little conversation, only violent slurps and vicious crunching. Today I’ve travelled deep into the bowels of the Tenderloin district for a bowl of delicious spicy ramen, and it’s going to be well worth the voyage.
Korean ramen, or ramyeon, is a dish prepared with a precooked or dried noodle block, flavored with sauces or powders. The rich, opaque broth arrives in a steaming tin pot and bubbles with sinister meaty fumes. The springy bed of noodles have a lovely bounce to them, one that can only be found in instant pasta. The fun part, is how customizable the soup can be. Starting at $5.50, the ramen comes with spicy broth and noodles, which on it’s own, makes for a fine snack. But, for an extra $1 to $3, you add a variety of meats or vegetables, including spam, kimchi, fish cakes or even cheese! I keep it clean and simple, adding bulgogi beef ($3) and a soft boiled egg ($1), running about $9.50 in total. The soft marinated beef and the glowing egg yolk only enhance the already perfect experience.
Although I come for the cheap ramen, Aria’s menu is riddled with affordable Korean bites. The Korean fried chicken or KFC, is their true claim to fame. 10 pieces of delicious and crispy boneless fried chicken for $9 keeps stoners and poultry lovers alike returning to this glorious little snack cave. The place is just cool. It’s authentic and it couldn’t get more mom-and-pop. The location is perfect, and the food is just so damn good.
ARIA Korean Tapas, 932 Larkin St., ariasf.com