There are a number of good ramen places in the Bay Area, and I am so lucky that my absolute favorite one is just a few minutes' drive from my house - Maruichi Ramen in Milpitas.
I am a huge fan of their kuro ramen. "Kuro" means black in Japanese, and their kuro ramen is aptly named. It features a fragrant and richly flavored black broth:
For me the heart and soul of good ramen (and good Vietnamese pho for that matter - but that's another blog post) is the broth. While other ramen places I've tried seem to be more subtle in seasoning their broth, there is nothing subtle or subdued about the aromatic kuro broth. Its strong flavor and texture comes through "like a brick through a plate glass window" (to quote the wizard gadget inventor "Q", from the 1962 James Bond movie "Dr. No", describing the Walther PPK pistol).
The next requirement for me to be absolutely delighted with my ramen is pork - lots of it! Kuro ramen comes with a few slices of chashu pork. While the meat is tender and tasty, there's not enough of it to satisfy the ravenous carnivore within me. So I usually order an extra dose of stewed pork. The stewed pork sports thick, chewy chunks of dark brown meat interspersed with layers of golden fat in between. It is the fat which generates its sweet flavor and aroma - yum! It can't be good for my cholesterol, but whatever...I'll just work it off in the gym ;-)
The icing on the cake for me which rounds out the whole experience is practicing my Japanese reading skills with a copy of Bay Spo (a free local Japanese newspaper, a big stack of which is found by the Maruichi entrance). Having lived a few years in Japan, I can speak, read and write basic Japanese, but I have by no means mastered this complex language. So in addition to perusing the pages filled with news and gossip about the hottest Japanese celebrities and sports stars, occasionally I will practice speaking Japanese with the staff. Unlike a lot of other Japanese restaurants, the staff at Maruichi actually speaks Japanese! I find that really cool.
One time, a Maruichi waitress taught me how to write a word in Kanji. I went home, double-checked it on my Japanese dictionary, and found that what she had taught me was wrong. The next time I went to Maruichi, the same waitress ran up to me and exclaimed "I was wrong!" She said it really bothered her that she had taught me the wrong thing, and kept wondering when I would show up again so she could right the wrong. Now that's cool ;-)
530 Barber Lane
Milpitas, CA 95035