Forget about the little .99 cent package of dried noodles and foil wrapped flavor packets. Real ramen is made with fresh noodles, a deep and rich soup and delicious toppings like roasted pork belly, eggs, pickled bamboo roots and seaweed are one of Japan’s most delicious exports. With its large population of Japanese ex-pats and visiting businessmen, Silicon Valley has developed a thriving ramen scene.

Located inside the excellent Mitsuwa grocery store, a goldmine for all things Japanese and edible, Santouka is one of Silicon Valley’s destinations for a truly great bowl of ramen. The salt-flavored ramen, or shio ramen for ramenophiles, is Santouka’s flagship offering. The milky, opaque broth is luxuriously rich with a salt-edged sweetness that comes from the addition of shellfish broth to the pork-bone and salt broths. Come early to avoid the lines.

Ramen Halu
Ramen Halu is in a class all its own. The flagship bowl of Halu ramen is based on a rich, almost gravy-like soup made by combining two separate stocks. One is made from pork back and thigh bones and boiled over high heat for 10 hours. The other is decocted from chickens, feet included for their rich collagen content and flavor. Combining these two stocks produces a supremely flavorful, silky, milky broth with bits of pork fat floating on top. There is a world of pleasure within each spoonful. The ramen is unabashedly rich; if you’d like a little less pork fat, just ask.

Kahoo Ramen
The two best bowls of ramen at Kahoo are the shoyo and shio. Shoyo is defined as soy-sauce-flavored ramen, but that doesn’t begin to capture the worlds of flavor within this bowl of soup. The pork-based broth is dark but clear and dappled with small blobs of pork fat and yet isn’t overly rich or salty. Chicken feet and dried fish are also used in making the soup and the result is a subtle, complex and staggeringly good soup. The surface of the ramen is an edible landscape of spinach, bamboo shoots, an iridescent sheet of nori, chopped green onions, half an egg just a few seconds past soft boiled and dangerously delicious chunks of roasted pork belly. The noodles are thickish and springy and have just enough texture to capture some of that great broth as you chopstick a load mouthward.

Go straight for the house speciality: Orenchi ramen. It’s made with a tonkotsu, or pork bone broth, and that accounts for the milky-white color and wonderfully rich, pork-fat-dotted richness.The bowl is loaded with all kinds of ramen goodies—a soft-boiled egg that oozes into the broth, pickled bamboo shoots, sliced green onions, wood-ear fungus, seaweed, sliced pork, a little slick of black oil and a huge kick of flavor that’s made with garlic, sesame seeds and other seasonings.The broth is already deeply flavorful, but the little dab of oil adds another layer of deliciousness. The flour noodles are cooked just right—springy and chew

Maru Ichi

Kuro ramen is the house specialty and for good reason. According to the menu, kuro, or “black,” ramen was invented in a noodle shop in Hitoyoshi, Japan, some 45 years ago. Made with browned garlic, the ramen became popular and spread throughout the country. At Maru Ichi, the broth isn’t exactly black but an opaque, earthy brown. It’s rich and deeply flavorful, no doubt the result of hours of slow bubbling in a stockpot. The plump, silky noodles are topped with meaty slices of pork, seaweed, sliced green onions, bean sprouts and an unremarkable boiled egg. Mix it all up and slurp away.