The Scoop: Marufuku Ramen started as a small ramen shop in the Japantown area of San Francisco, and now it has seven locations across the United States. And it’s still growing. The restaurant specializes in Hakata-style ramen, and it’s a fun place for a casual date night. Its savory ramen dishes feature a creamy pork broth and ultra-thin noodles. Couples can top off their meals with appetizers, beer, or sake.
If a couple visits any one of Marufuku Ramen’s seven locations for a date, they’re likely to find a line of hungry guests laughing and chatting. The eatery serves up some of the best Hakata-style ramen in the U.S. It is known for its noodle soup made with thick pork broth and thin noodles.
“We specialize in Hakata-style, which is not as thick or greasy as other types of ramen. It is a great style of ramen. That’s our signature product, our famous ramen,” said Carlos Herrador, Executive Vice President Franchise Operations at Marufuku.
It takes the Marufuku chefs 16 to 18 hours to make the broth they serve, but couples on dates can expect their food to arrive quickly — usually within 30 minutes of the order. However, it’s a good idea to plan ahead and have good conversation starters ready because wait times to get into the restaurant can be long.
Over the years, Marufuku has grown to seven locations: most in Northern and Southern California, along with a shop in Frisco, Texas and another in New York City’s East Village. More locations are in the works, as well.
But Marufuku has a somewhat unlikely origin story. Its founder and creator emigrated from Japan to San Francisco. He came to the United States not to start a chain of ramen shops — but to play golf. However, he was disappointed by the lack of tasty ramen shops in his adopted city, so he decided to create his own.
The first restaurant opened in San Francisco’s Japantown in 2017, and it received critical acclaim.
“We do get a lot of people visiting Japantown because they want to see Japanese culture. That’s where everything started,” Carlos said.
The second location made its home in the Temescal neighborhood of Oakland the following year. The other three California locations are Redwood City, Irvine, and Del Mar.
If they want a socially distant date, couples can order pickup or delivery meals from Marufuku.
Couples Can Enjoy Hakata-Style Ramen
Hakata-style ramen is popular in Japan. The word “Hakata” derives from the city where this soup originated. What sets this type of ramen apart?
For one thing, Hakata-style broth consists of a rich, silky pork broth — called tonkotsu — thin noodles, and only a few toppings. . The broth is then filled with thin noodles and only a few toppings.
The thin noodles have an origin story that dates back 70 years. Hakata ramen was first sold to fishermen who needed a quick meal. These thin noodles boiled more quickly than other noodle varieties. The only drawback was these noodles could become mushy after a few minutes soaking in the broth, so the Hakata ramen cooks offered noodle refills as needed.
The original Hakata ramen shop is still open in Japan. Although it is no longer only a stand, it still serves ramen exactly the way its founders did.
Marufuku hearkens back to that old-world style, and its quick service keeps people satisfied.
Tonkotsu ramen is one the most popular menu items at Marufuku. The restaurant’s Hakata Tonkotsu is served with Chashu pork, or simmered pork belly, a soft-boiled egg, green onions, kikurage mushrooms, and bean sprouts.
Janelle Bitker, a writer who visited the Oakland location, described the appeal of the Tonkotsu: “The noodles had space to breathe. The broth had room to be appreciated on its own. The soft boiled egg, while not marinated, was cooked to gooey perfection. And the irregular, wide-mouthed ceramic bowl was both beautiful and functional,” she wrote.
The restaurant also serves a meat-free broth to meet the needs of vegan and vegetarian diners. The Vegetable Ramen comes with spinach noodles, tofu, cherry tomatoes, red and yellow bell peppers, red onions, greens, sprouts, and a soft boiled egg. Vegans can even order the broth without egg.
Building a Following of Devoted Diners
The Marufuku team proudly carries its ramen traditions from one city to the next. Whenever a new location opens, the space tends to fill up quickly and earn a loyal clientele.
“We have all different types of customers. It’s for everybody. Ramen pleases a lot of different types of people,” said Carlos.
One Yelp diner in San Francisco said the taste of the broth was unbelievable and worth the 30-minute wait during the lunch rush. “The veggie ramen was the best I’ve had — no skimming out on the flavors or toppings at all,” according to the review. “You can also adjust your spice level, choose extra toppings, and order extra noodles. The menu also has rice bowls, salads, and small side orders like gyoza.”
Another diner raved, “I’m still dreaming about this ramen hours later. I won’t lie, I was a bit skeptical about this place. Like, how good could it really be? Trust me. It’s GOOD. I would make the drive from socal to have another bowl of this. 10/10 recommend.”
Many couples also come into the restaurant for first or second dates because it’s quick and casual. And they have a natural way to break the tension by slurping some noodles. Carlos shared a story with us about a couple who had their first date at Marufuku ramen. Later, when they decided to marry, the couple asked the restaurant’s team if they could take their engagement photos at the same table where they’d enjoyed their first date.
“A couple months ago, we featured someone on our social media. Their wedding pictures were inside a Marufuku,” said Carlos with a laugh.
Marufuku Ramen: More Locations in the Works
Marufuku Ramen has significantly expanded in the few short years since the first location opened in 2017. Yet Carlos, the head of franchise operations, said it’s not done growing. Marufuku locations will open in several cities soon.
In addition to the three already in operation, Northern California will see seven more locations open in the next few years, bringing the total to 10 California locations. Texas will be home to three more Marufukus in Dallas and Austin.
“We’re in the process of designing the restaurant in Austin. It is supposed to open at the beginning of 2022. We are developing the franchise department. We are opening in a lot of different areas,” Carlos told us.
Carlos added that the restaurants will continue hiring masterful chefs from Japan to ensure the food maintains the quality it has always had. The team values its chefs and waitstaff members who deliver the quality dining experience that has made the restaurant famous.
Marufuku Ramen has become a beloved date spot for couples who are looking to relax and unwind together. Carlos recommended seeking out one of the locations during dinnertime, and then ordering ramen and a sake or beer.
“Ramen is a special food. We take a lot of pride in making this ramen,” he said.