Marugame Udon is a giant in Japan and across Asia. With nearly 1,000 locations they are the juggernaut of udon. San Francisco is their second location within the mainland United States. When one thinks about a chain of restaurants this size it's natural to assume that quality may not be up to high standards. However, after learning about how they make their own noodles daily, on-site at each of their locations, using a special machine from Japan, this writer was intrigued.
Photo credit: Rick Camargo
I arrived at 3251 20th Avenue at Stonestown Galleria for the grand opening ceremony. To my surprise I saw a crowd of at least 200-300 people waiting outside in the rain! Yes, Marugame Udon has a global following. I quickly entered via the red carpet and was greeted by the lovely people at Spritz Marketing who are handling all of the PR. The guest list was impressive and included the executive management team of Marugame as well as the SF Japanese Consulate General and even a buddhist priest who would soon bless the new space.
Photo credit: Rick Camargo
Marugame Udon specializes in Sanuki udon noodles, featuring a square shape and flat edges. The concept is fast casual but with high quality ingredients. When a guest enters the restaurant every one in the kitchen shouts out the traditional Japanese greeting "Irasshaimase!". All of the staff are incredibly friendly and quick to explain the different udon bowls available, 10 in total. I opted for the the spicy chicken udon with walnuts. Once you place your order the bowl is assembled very quickly and handed to you. As you move down the line you have a number of tempura options available such as fried shrimp, squid, vegetables, etc. The whole process happens very quickly and with machine-like precision. The restaurant is so popular that on subsequent visits there was a line outside (it tends to move quickly), meaning the restaurant is running at maximum velocity most of the time it is open!
Photo credit: James Stolich
The broth--also made daily in-house--for my udon was very flavorful if a tad salty. The udon itself was marvelous in its texture and al-dente chew. Everything tasted very fresh. The tempura was hot and had a very nice, light batter. For the amount of production involved I was very impressed with the end product. Some of the bowls failed to convince me like the curry udon which I found to be too thick and syrupy for my tastes. However, both the Nikutama and the Kama-Age udons were excellent and very comforting companions on a grim, rainy day. I plan to return soon and try the egg drop chicken udon which looks fantastic!
Spicy chicken udon. Photo credit: James Stolich
There is still no wine or liquor license--I was really craving a cold sake with my udon--but hopefully this will be resolved in the near future. Due to the fast casual concept the space does feel a bit like a high-end cafeteria but the staff are so friendly that overall it's just a fun place to go, particularly for lunch. Marugame Udon is open daily from 11am until close.
Me, excited to try my udon bowl. Photo credit: Liam Mayclem
James is a food writer and Bay Area chef who owns and runs a private dinner party and cooking class business specializing in regional Italian and Spanish cuisine. See CookWithJames.com