Is there anything more satisfying than delicious, greasy, post-bar, late night restaurant adventuring? The biggest challenge in San Diego can be actually finding a place that’s open (assuming you’ve had your fill of Denny’s, Jack in the Box, and [fill-in-the-blank]-berto’s). Although we’ve done a lot of growing up in the last few years, San Diego still retains some sleepy little town feel when it comes to kitchens still serving after midnight.
We recently hit one of our go-to spots for late night grub – Tajima Japanese Noodle House. Open and serving food until 3am thurs-sat, this location of Tajima is a ramenya, a restaurant specializing in hot, (hopefully) tasty bowls of ramen. In Japan, ramen is a sacrament with fervent disciples debating ramen ideology. The New York Times describes Tokyo’s ramen scene as a “…sprawling ramen ecosystem, a realm that encompasses multilingual guidebooks, glossy magazines, databases that score shops to three decimal places…comic books, TV shows, movies (like the 1985 classic “Tampopo,” in which a Stetson-wearing trucker helps a beleaguered widow learn the art of ramen) and, according to the Shinyokohama Raumen Museum…the 4,137 shops selling bowls of noodles in broth.”
At Tajima, the setup is simple – small, close-together tables (expect a line at “bar-thirty”), and a short menu emphasizing ramen and a few Japanese tapas-style dishes (the main focus at the Izakaya Tajima location down the street). To order ramen at Tajima, you first select your ramen type: Regular (BBQ pork & egg), Spicy (spicy ground pork & egg), Vegetable (vegetables, pork & egg), Extra BBQ (extra pork & egg), Kakuni (pork belly & egg), Mabo Tofu (tofu, ground pork, egg), or Asari (asari clam & egg). From there, choose either thin or fat noodles and soup flavor (soy sauce, salt, miso, tonkotsu).
ikasugata at Tajima
We ordered a bowl of regular tonkotsu ramen with fat noodles to share. Because we were pathetically starving, we also ordered Tonpei (grilled pork with egg) and Ikasugata (grilled squid) to share from the a la cart menu.
The tonpei and ikasugata were the first to arrive. I love the ikasugata and always end up ordering it at either Tajima location. I think I keep ordering the tonpei and forgetting that I don’t really like it – menu description and presentation look interesting, but it ultimately just tastes like ham and eggs in mayonnaise to me. It’s certainly edible (pathetically starving, remember?), but I wish I’d ordered the Tan Shio instead.
If you go to either location, I really do recommend trying the tan shio. Yes, it is beef tongue, but it has a kind of beefy bacon flavor and comes with green onions and a nostril-clearing spicy mustard – delicious – it’s honestly probably the best post-bar tongue you’ll get that night. I kid, I kid! Besides, isn’t our motto to be adventurous and try new things, especially delicious ones? Hooray, it is!
The ramen comes out quickly and is topped with chashu (simmered pork), nori, negi (green onion), and hanjuku tamajo, a sort of halfway hard-boiled egg with a firm white and semi-l iquid yolk that’s been steeped in a soy sauce marinade. The noodles definitely have a lot of chew to them – ramen noodles are typically expected to have some bite to them and some people think they are undercooked or “hard” – you can try to order yours soft or “yawarakame” if you like them less firm.
I like to add a big scoop (or two) of ninniku-dare (garlic paste) from the condiment tubs on the side of the table. Hooray garlic!
Grand total for ramen, squid, tonpei, and tea? Just over $20. With nearly 200 places in San Diego selling ramen, is Tajima the best ramenya in town? Is it authentic? I can’t claim to have the expertise to really answer either question. I can, however, vouch for it being a pretty darn good choice for cheap 2 am eats, whether or not Tampopo is in your Netflix queue.
Tajima Japanese Noodle House, 4681 Convoy St., San Diego, CA 92111 (858)576-7244, open lunch, dinner, and late night (thurs-sat 10:30pm-3am).
Want to know more about ramen? Check out Ramenate, Ramen Adventures, or Serious Eats for ramen eating in Japan and beyond, mmm-yoso for what’s what in San Diego ramen, or RAMENRAMENRAMEN to brush up on your ramen terminology.
Ramen not your proverbial cup of tea? Still recovering from the Great Ramen Eating Contest of 2010? Stayed tuned for an upcoming post on eating after midnight in San Diego!