Inside Taishoken's first U.S. ramen shop, opening July 13 in San Mateo | Peninsula Foodist | Elena Kadvany | Palo Alto Online |

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By Elena Kadvany

Inside Taishoken's first U.S. ramen shop, opening July 13 in San Mateo

Uploaded: Jul 8, 2019

The first U.S. location of renowned Tokyo ramen shop Taishoken is set to open at 47 E. 4th Ave. in downtown San Mateo this Saturday, July 13.

Taishoken specializes in tsukemen, chilled noodles dipped in a separate bowl of warm broth. Owner Yoshihiro Sakaguchi is related to Kazuo Yamagishi, who is believed to have created the tsukemen style of ramen.
Sakaguchi's grandfather, Masayasu Sakaguchi, also co-founded Taishoken in Japan in 1951.

Sakaguchi makes the umami-rich dipping broth over two days, adding chicken, dried anchovy, bonito flakes, homemade soy sauce and other ingredients to a traditional pork broth. The broth is finished with a scoop of fish powder, green onions, yuzu and dried seaweed.

Taishoken's tsukemen with noodles, right, and broth, left. Photo by Elena Kadvany.

The thick noodles, made fresh with buckwheat, are cooked to a chewy but firm al-dente texture, then rinsed in cold water and folded into bowls for serving. You can add slices of sous-vide Berkshire pork chashu, pork belly charred with a blowtorch, green onions, bamboo shoots and marinated egg, among other toppings.

The menu instructs the uninitiated in how to properly eat tsukemen: First, taste the noodles by themselves, then dip them into the broth. "DO NOT POUR THE SOUP on to the noodles as it will dilute the soup," the menu admonishes. 

When you're done with the noodles, you can order a side of soup wari, a dashi broth, for $1 to add to the remaining dipping broth as a palate cleanser. The combination of ingredients in the dashi broth -- glutamate acid from kelp, guanylic acid from shiitake mushrooms and inosinic acid from dried bonito flakes -- "will spread in your mouth and leave a great aftertaste," the menu reads.

While tsukemen is the main event, Taishoken also serves several kinds of ramen, including tokusei ramen with a soft-boiled egg and chashu, spicy ramen made with two kinds of chili oil and vegan yuzu-shio ramen (the broth is made from kelp and shiitake mushrooms). The kitchen uses a thinner housemade noodle for the ramen. 

The menu also includes three broth-less noodle dishes, including abura soba and mazesoba. The dinner menu includes more appetizers, beer and sake.

Yoshihiro Sakaguchi focuses intently on assembling ramen inside the open kitchen at Taishoken in San Mateo. Photo by Elena Kadvany.

Sakaguchi started working at an Italian restaurant in Tokyo after a post-college backpacking trip that took him abroad. He went on to cook at Mensho Tokyo in Japan for three years, then spent three years at the popular ramen company's San Francisco location before branching out on his own with Taishoken.

Sakaguchi said in a previous interview that he was drawn to San Mateo because of the city's Japanese culinary culture. He's neighbors with many of San Mateo's well-known ramen shops. Taishoken is also one of several prominent Japanese ramen chains to expand to the Bay Area in recent years, including Mensho, Ramen Nagi and Ippudo. Afuri Ramen + Dumpling is also set to open in Cupertino this summer.

The 58-seat Taishoken will soft open with a limited menu on Saturday and Sunday, July 13–14, from 5–9:30 p.m. or until it's sold out. Taishoken's grand opening will be from Wednesday, July 17, through Sunday, July 21, from 5–9:30 p.m.

Taishoken will open for full hours, including lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., starting Tuesday, July 23.