SFoodie has been a fan of Hapa Ramen since its inception last year. While ramen street vendors are common in Japan, Hapa is currently the only one in San Francisco. We've long adored Hapa Ramen's sous-vide egg, crisp and tender chicken katsu nuggets, and succulent pork cuts, which remain unmatched in the Bay Area -- and its first version of the robust and flavorful pork broth was no slouch.
But the original batch of noodles failed to earn the same level of praise, and service mishaps at its public debut triggered a backlash among bloggers. Subsequently, chef Richie Nakano endured criticism from ramen fanatics. They called his ramen too expensive; dissed the inauthentic, crappy noodles; complained about the measly portions; wah, wah, wah. SFoodie shared some of these misgivings, but undeterred, we pressed forward, believing in the Little Ramen Stand That Could. And it has paid off. On our subsequent visits to Hapa Ramen, it's gotten good. Really good.
Nakano's menu sometimes features nonramen items like sandwiches and cold cuts, as well as extra toppings made from pig parts that no other ramen in the city offers. It's unusual, and if you asked us to define it, we'd call it California-style ramen.
First on our list of praises is the roasted veggie-miso broth ($8). It's simply the best vegetarian ramen in the city. The standard pork-chicken-veggie broth is tamer than the original version but still satisfying. The 32-ounce paper container should silence all those who complained about portion size and value. And its firm and chewy noodles will finally appease any hard-core rameniac. Part of the fun is digging through Big Daddy bowl ($12), with delectable meats, healthy veggies, square dark jelly disks, fresh egg noodles, and the runny egg hiding at the bottom. If it's available, don't forget to add a couple of spoonfuls of the garlic chile oil; it adds aroma and a hint of fire. While this might seem unusual for ramen, and more common to other Asian noodle soups, it's comparable to the use of charred garlic sesame oil (nonspicy) in Izakaya Sozai's ramen. Sprinkle some shichimi togarashi, a mix of red chile flakes and spices, for even more flavor.
Hapa Ramen has continued to evolve and tweak its recipe, using seasonal ingredients and lately adapting to the economic hardships by butchering and processing whole pigs rather than buying meat cuts from vendors. Nakano is not satisfied with serving the same thing all the time. SFoodie has indulged in many of the seasonal changes, including roasted brussels sprouts and carrots last year; delicious pumpkin ramen during Thanksgiving; and the current offering, sliced asparagus and sugar peas.
Hapa Ramen: Ferry Building Farmers' Market: Tue., Thu., some Saturdays, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Off the Grid at Fort Mason: Fri. 5-9 p.m. Check Twitter for additional pop-ups.