Ramen has a cult following. Where there is good ramen, a line will form. Such is the case with Kotetsu Ramen in Santa Clara. While the line is more manageable than a certain competitor down the street, there’s no getting around a little wait time at Kotetsu. The restaurant opens at 11:30am and the queue starts by noon. Luckily, our group arrived exactly at opening and was one of the first to be seated.

The restaurant has no windows except for the front and the lighting is dim, making lunch feel more like dinner. Booths line the sides of the dining area and appropriately spaced smaller tables populate the middle, leaving comfortable elbow room and privacy for diners. Service was swift and thorough from ordering to the check.

We started by sharing appetizers like the classic agedashi Tofu ($6), a soft tofu lightly battered and fried then served with a dashi broth and shaved daikon and bonito on top. Texture is the key to getting this dish right, and Kotetsu hit the mark with a silky tofu, a batter that did not slide off and a subtle dashi broth. The avocado and chashu pork bun ($6 for two) were larger than expected with the two buns together possibly being enough for an entree. The sweet buns held melt-in-your mouth pork belly with just the right proportion of fat to meat marinated in a soy sauce. It was balanced by lettuce, sour and crunchy kimchi slices, and buttery avocado—a combination that worked very well.

In contrast, the meat in the pork belly and kimchi rice plate ($10.50) was not as impressive. The pork was marinated in a similar sauce but the cut was thicker with more meat to fat ratio and was a bit chewy to get through. It was served on top of white rice with kimchi slices, kewpie mayonnaise drizzles, and a cabbage and wakame seaweed salad on the side. The entrŽe was good overall, but the high sodium content from the meat and kimchi made it too much to finish in one meal.

The ramen menu can be a bit confusing. The standard tonkotsu (pork) broth can be ordered with kuro (soy sauce) or shiro (sea salt) flavorings. After choosing the flavor, the standard elements are noodles, chashu, soft boiled egg, kikurage (mushroom), green onion, seaweed and spinach. A standard bowl will cost $9.95, a spicy broth of either flavors is $1 extra, and extra toppings are $1 each. Veggie ramen and other combinations are also available.

In the kuro ramen bowl, thinly sliced chashu lines the sides like flower petals with cream colored rich broth and thick noodles in the middle. All the toppings are added in small clumps with a spoonful of spicy sauce. The seasoned soft boiled egg is not as runny as preferred. The noodles are springy and the broth is full of umami flavor as they should be. While everything is done well, it’s just missing that extra something to make the ramen bowl worthy of a longer line.

This was not my first time at Kotetsu and my previous visit was met with overly salty broth. It must have been an off night as the second visit fared much better. Kotetsu offers a decent variety of appetizers and most have been very good. Standouts include the avocado buns, the white tuna carpaccio and karaage. Most people like to customize their own ramen and any flavor here may not be mind-blowing but is usually satisfying. However, I have had more than one dish here which was heavy handed on the salt. Kotetsu’s ramen is worth the line it has currently earned, but maybe not a longer one for the time being.

Kotetsu Ramen
2089 El Camino Real, Santa Clara