Right about now there is going to be a sushi chef mad at me for writing this place up because it's one of his favorite little secret spots. (I guess I won't be able to order omakase from him anymore.) But I consider it my tablehoppin' duty to share my discoveries, and I had no idea I was going to run into him the last time I was there, so here we go. (I can hear him sharpening his santoku.)
Tucked away off Union Square, on one of the grungier streets in the area, is ~KATANA-YA~, a literal hole in the wall serving one of the city's finer late-night treats: ramen. San Francisco is severely lacking in the ramen department, and to have a tasty and cheap ramen joint that is actually open until 2am is downright special. Not unicorn special, or Jerry's Kids special, but special nonetheless.
Now that Cantina has opened up the street, I know I can depend on Katana-ya, just a short stumble away, to help correct the evils of partaking in Cantina's pitchers. The menu has dishes on it like some sushi classics and gyoza and donburi, but all I can really vouch for is the ramen. Oh wait, I have had the gyoza, but that was only to stave off the hunger until the ramen arrived--even in my tipsy haze the dumplings were nothing spectacular.
The main things your booze-addled mind will need to choose (come on now, focus!) is whether to order the broth rich (i.e. extra porky and salty) or light (if I understood our waitress correctly, the light is chicken-based), with a shoyu (soy), shio (salt), or miso base, and whether you want ramen or udon. I say go for the whole hog, literally, and do the rich shoyu broth with ramen, and get the chashu (pork) ($9). You could also opt to get your noodles topped with kimchee, spicy negi onion, chicken karaage, or spicy tofu (also good, and rates high on the flave-o-meter).
What comes out is a ridiculously piping hot bowl of broth, with thin slices of flavorful pork (or whatever topping you chose), some green onion, a few slips of seaweed and bamboo shoots, and glistening globules of fat on top that makes it look like the Exxon Valdez got to your soup. The broth magically gets better with each bite--almost like a good red wine after it has been decanted The noodles are bouncy, springy, the right amount of chewy, that is, until they sit for too long in your bowl, so start slurping as soon as you can stand the heat.
The saltiness of the rich broth might be too much for some, so if you are really sensitive to salt, I'd choose otherwise. Let's just say when you're done with your bowl (if you can even finish it, I couldn't) you basically feel like you somehow slurped an entire ham in a liquid form. I am talking INTENSE THIRST. Parched. Which after a night of drinking might add insult to injury, so be sure to order some beer with your noodles, heh.
But just the same, this bowl of rich, salty, porky heaven totally rocks. On a cold SF night, it could be nirvana. Downtown workers are grateful for this place on hangover days, I am quite sure. If you are super-starving, you can go for a donburi and ramen combo, but I have not idea how someone could eat both--it sounds seriously daunting.
To reiterate, this joint is hella small, so if you show up with a gang of five, you're definitely going to have a wait; tables of two are much more nimble. And even though the restaurant says it's open until 2am, your order has to be in by 1:15am, so don't come racing over after last call because it will be too late, my friend. The service doesn't leave much to comment nicely on, in fact, it can border on quite abysmal, but maybe it's better in the day when they aren't dealing with a full house of tipsy clientele.
The ambiance is, uh, challenged? The music is eclectic (in a good way), there are random owls sprinkled throughout, and one night the bathroom looked like someone from high school decided to come by and TP it--it was insane. Not really sure what was going on there. The pendant lamp hanging over our table had such serious wattage I felt like my friends were about to play good cop/bad cop with me. Which is what sushi chef pal might do with me the next time he spots me there, because I know we'll both be back for some ramen when he's done with work, and I'm done drinking for the night.
430 Geary St.
Cross: Mason St.
San Francisco, CA 94102
Mon 4:30 pm-2am
Ramen $9 avg.