Photo by Beth Demmon
Ramen has exploded in popularity over the past few years and, thanks in large part to celebrity chefs like David Chang, is now practically synonymous with hipster food culture. Despite its oft-fetishized appropriation, Japanese ramen remains one of the most glorious dishes found in all Christendom.
Nobody in San Diego dishes out a superior bowl of ramen than any one of Tajima's locations (Hillcrest, East Village and two in Kearny Mesa). Its traditional "Tajima ramen" presents a thick, buttery Tonkotsu-style broth that will leave you slurping loudly with pleasure until every last drop is consumed. The soft noodles give way easily under the crunch of green onions, while fresh bean sprouts complement the fattiness of the delicately woody pork glistening just below the surface. As you work your way through the layers (each better than the last), prepare to be surprised by the umami-laden sheets of Japanese seaweed as they slowly dissolve into the depths.
Tajima's deeply satisfying delivery and minimalist presentation are a revelation. While there are tons of different styles and approaches to enjoy, Tajima's expertise is unmatched anywhere in the city.
Photo by Beth Demmon
Waiting in line for brunch is so passé, especially when pho is an undeniably superior option. With its subtle broth and surprising amount of customization available (add jalapeños, bean sprouts, limes, basil, Sriracha and fish, hoisin and chili garlic sauces as you see fit), it's this juxtaposition of simplicity and complexity that makes this Vietnamese classic truly the perfect meal for any time of day.
When your inner pho-natic calls, head to Pho Hoa (4717 El Cajon Blvd., City Heights), where the most recognizable icon on their nondescript building is, inexplicably, an off-brand version of the Laughing Cow cheese logo. Once inside, its pho tai is the best way to go. Thin slices of rare beef simmer merrily in the citrine-tinted liquid, cooking itself to perfection as you work to untangle the sticky noodles at the bottom of the bowl. I like to add a handful of bean sprouts and a generous dollop of Sriracha (don't hate me, purists), topped with a squeeze from a fresh lime.
Don't let its delicacy fool you. This is a complex dish steeped in history, and fewer ingredients leave the chefs fewer opportunities to mask mistakes. Best of all? You're not likely to waddle out of Pho Hoa in a bloated food coma. Instead, you'll float away on a cloud of utter bliss and satisfaction.
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