A note from Darlene: Every once in a while, I like having Paul write a review for me. This time instead of doing a write-up on fast food, I had him write about his experience with a ramen burger. He had no idea what it was and that people in NYC waited in line for hours to try one.
A recent favorite haunt of Darlene’s and mine is Rakiraki Ramen & Tsukemen on Convoy Street in Kearny Mesa.
They’re getting a lot of attention because they’re one of the best ramen houses in America (the best in California, per eater.com) and one of the few (maybe the only?) ramen houses in Southern California that serves Tsukemen-style ramen (you dip the noodles). And this week they unveiled their latest San Diego exclusive — the ramen burger. It’s the only West Coast appearance of this food fad that I know of. Darlene would have written about this, but she had a conflicting engagement so I went in her stead.
I didn’t have any idea what to expect. Partly because I didn’t do any research prior to arriving at 5 p.m. sharp, partly because my menu didn’t have a sheet with the ramen burger on it (hence the photo of the poster). The burger itself is an odd hybrid of Japanese and American cuisine. You choose the type of burger meat — beef sirloin, turkey patty or aburi underbelly chasiu. The rest is lettuce, tomato and a bun made of cooked ramen noodles, pressed and cooked into the vague shape of a bun. It comes wrapped in paper (think In-N-Out Burger) with a side of sweet potato fries and two condiments: ketchup and spicy mayo (sriracha). The presentation was elegant, pristine and, well, Japanese.
I chose the beef for a two reasons. 1.) It was the meat that most closely identifies an American burger, and 2.) I’m not that much into pork, and I feared the pork and ramen would serve to make the meal less a burger and more a deconstructed, dry bowl of ramen.
My first few bites of the ramen burger were without any of the condiments. The burger had some char to it, was slightly pink in the center but was otherwise lacking in depth of flavor. The ramen was the traditional thin noodle variety; how it was pressed to its bun shape and cooked remains a mystery. The noodles were al dente, warm and well-seasoned with soy. The tomato and lettuce were fresh and worked well to trick the palate into thinking this was an American burger… even more so with the addition of ketchup. But make no mistake: Every bite reminded you this was ramen. To drive it further home, my last few bites of the burger required me to use chopsticks to fish out few remaining bits of noodle bun from the paper sleeve.
I asked for just the burger and no sweet potato fries but apparently they don’t do that (my receipt proved otherwise). This was the weakest component of the meal by a wide margin. Either the oil was old or the fries were cooked too long (maybe both) but I couldn’t finish them.
The ramen burger with the fries is $8.75. There was some confusion on my check because it appears the burger a la carte is $6.75 and the fries are $2.75, and my server was gracious to catch the mistake and credited the bill the difference.
I would say it’s worth a try. Perhaps the pork underbelly would be the better option. I would imagine the pork would have much more flavor than the hamburger, though possibly at the expense of it not really mimicking a burger.
Rakiraki currently only serves their ramen burger during the dinner hour (which starts at 5 p.m.). My advice is to call ahead before checking it out to see if they’re serving it.
NOTE: Post-meal research reveals they also have a California Ramen Burger ($8.75 a la carte) with a tsukune patty made of triple-pressed ground chicken with shiitake and kikurage mushroom, chicken soft bone, onion, green onion, shiso leaf, ginger, garlic and natural Japanese herbs. It comes with California avocado and is wrapped in leaf lettuce. I probably would have ordered that, but like I mentioned earlier, my menu didn’t have the ramen burger sheet so I ordered the beef patty from a quick glance at the poster on the wall.
RakiRaki Ramen and Tsukemen
4646 Convoy St.
San Diego, CA 92111