Saturday, December 12, 2015

Torraku Ramen: A Ramen Food Truck Happens At SoMa StrEat Food Park

When Matt Cohen, co-founder of Off the Grid and food truck mogul, quit the hotel management business, all he wanted to do was to sell ramen from a truck.  But he found the permitting process in San Francisco so opaque and arbitrary and the prospect of success so unpredictable that he turned his efforts to decoding the process, steering others through it, and lobbying (successfully) for a more transparent, faster and fairer permitting system. In the process he began building an empire of food truck venues for himself, and eased the way for for individual entrepreneurs to launch food trucks. Like Torraku Ramen.

Torraku Ramen, which debuted yesterday at Carlos Muela's SoMa StrEat Food Park, may be the only Food Truck 2.0 vehicle to devote itself exclusively to ramen now plying the streets of San Francisco. There have been other food trucks trying ramen as a diner option, tented food stands featuring ramen, and even a food trailer purveying house-made udon, but not until now, to my knowledge, a self-propelled, fully mobile ramen-ya.

Torraku Ramen uses a ticketing system popular in Japan and some stateside venues where the user marks and hands in a ticket indicating their choice of broths and toppings and any add-ins they desire. (You can, of course, verbally order and make the cashier do the work) The truck offers tonkotsu, shoyu, miso and curry broths with choice of chashu (pork shoulder) or kikuni (pork belly) toppings for $12, or seafood ramen for $13. There's also a veggie option with a choice of three toppings for $12. The price may seem a little steep, though a double digit price is becoming more the rule than the exception at new ramen joints. There are also various add-ins available for $1-$3, and a surcharge for black garlic and "Extra Spicy" options. Gyoza and other typical ramen shop sides are also available.

I visited the truck on its opening day at about 2:30, well after the the lunchtime peak, and waited about 10 minutes for my shoyu chashu selection to materialize. (Longer waits are to be expected at lunchtime, as they cook the noodles to order). I'm not a ramen maven (I've always made clear it's not my favorite noodle soup form), but I liked my bowl of ramen just fine. It was piping hot, the medium curly noodles pleasantly chewy, broth deep in flavor and not overly salty, and the half-egg had a nice soft yolk. The (no cost) spicy option had the broth respectably spicy, so there's no need to order the "Extra Spicy" add-on unless you are a chili head. There was not a lot of protein in the toppings, (something typical of ramen in general). Overall it was a tasty, solid bowl of ramen,, comparable to what you'd expect in a decent sit-down ramen-ya.

Where slurped: Torraku Ramen at SoMa StrEat Food Park, 428-11th St., San Francisco

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