San Francisco is gripped by ramen mania, and vegetarians and vegans are in luck. Some of the top ramen shops, with direct links to Japan, serve creative bowls that rival even the most traditional ones. These picks are well worth the wait in line.
Mensho, near Union Square
Mensho is the latest outpost from ramen innovator Tomoharu Shono of Tokyo. His epic vegan tantanmen is made from a kombu and mushroom broth enriched with premium Japanese soy cream, seven types of nuts, and sesame. It’s thick as gravy and just as rich with chewy, curly noodles. It’s topped with a satisfying crumble of mushrooms that resembles ground meat along with cilantro, chili oil, scallions, menma bamboo shoots, and kale sprouts.
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Nojo Ramen Tavern, Hayes Valley
Headquartered in Tokyo, Nojo Ramen Tavern brings a modern twist on traditional Japanese food to their US flagship location. The veggie miso ramen plays with flavors and textures with a meaty, seasoned ground soybean and brown rice topping, fresh corn, Japanese greens, beet chips, scallion, okra, and a slick of garlic oil and butter. Don’t hesitate if you happen to see a seasonal special on the menu like the hearty vegan curry ramen which comes topped with plenty of vegetables including crisp lotus root, pumpkin, red peppers, edamame, broccolini, and vegan soy croquettes.
Marufuku Ramen, Japantown
While it’s not on the menu, Marufuku offers a popular vegetarian ramen to diners in the know. It’s made from a light soy broth, but it has a balance of sweet and savory notes that replicate the complexity of long-simmered bone broth. The hearty bowl comes with an egg and a salad-like topping of chopped mizuna greens, slivers of red onion, sweet bell peppers, and scallions. The Hakata-style noodles are angel hair thin, but still manage to be firm and toothsome.
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Hinodeya Ramen, Japantown
Originally from Saitama Prefecture, Tokyo’s northern neighbor, this ramen shop offers two vegan ramen options. The zen ramen, inspired by traditional Japanese Shoujin temple cuisine, starts with a clear kombu and shiitake dashi broth, and has thick “champon" noodles—egg-based ramen noodles that are inspired by a similar Chinese noodle. The toppings include shiitake mushroom, yuba chips, kale, and goji berries. It’s light and bright, but a real umami bomb. There is also a vegan ramen available only at dinner: spinach noodles bathe in a luscious and slightly sweet sesame and soy broth. The bowl is topped with a tofu vegetable cake, crisp fried kale, acorn squash, shiitake mushrooms, dried seaweed, sesame seeds, scallions, and red pepper.
The Ramen Bar, downtown
Hidden among towering office buildings, Ramen Bar offers Instagram-ready bowls. The mushroom-and-soy ramen is made with soy milk and miso to create a beguiling peppery finish. Chef Ken Tominaga's noodles are based on a Tokyo-style ramen that he enjoyed growing up, and topped with corn, silky beech mushrooms, and a crunchy cluster of tempura fried enoki mushrooms. As an added bonus you can visit Pabu next door for its "Tasteful Noodz," a vegetarian ramen–seasoned, Japanese whisky sour served playfully in a ramen bowl.