Silicon Valley’s ramen scene is in full swing. Although it was once difficult to find a decent bowl in the South Bay—outside of the neighborhood surrounding Mitsuwa Marketplace on San Jose’s West Side—seriously sumptuous noodle shops now proliferate the 408.

While a strong group of locally owned establishments, like The Place and Ramen Taka, have established themselves as major players in the past five years, the biggest change has been the increase in Japanese chains opening their doors here in the valley. Jinya Ramen Bar opened its first NorCal location at the Oakridge Mall, and Ramen Nagi opened its first two US locations in Palo Alto and at Valley Fair. With more ramen imports opening soon—including one by Iron Chef Morimoto—the South Bay will be swimming in tonkotsu broth.

One of the newest ramen establishments on the scene is Afuri Ramen + Dumplings, which opened its third American location—the first outside of Portland, Oregon—in Cupertino a few months back. Afuri sets itself apart from the pack with a unique broth. Most ramen chains serve a heavier, cloudy tonkotsu pork broth; Afuri’s bowls, however, feature a slowly simmered clear chicken broth called chintan, that’s finished with yuzu, a type of Japanese citrus hybrid that has the sweetness of grapefruit and the acidity of a lime.

The initial hype over Afuri’s opening saw wait times of one to two hours on average, but upon my arrival for an early Saturday dinner, I was seated straight away. Diners are immediately greeted by a large touch-screen kiosk ordering system, which evidently is an homage to the food-ticket vending machines in Japan. Here customers can customize their orders, pay and grab a number to take back into the communal seating area.

While Afuri does offer a traditional tonkotsu broth, it was the yuzu shio ($13) that we were after. We also ordered their acclaimed vegan hazelnut tantanmen ($15), along with the chicken karaage ($7), buta gyoza ($10) and the soft-shell crab bun ($7) to round things out.

Service was extraordinarily fast here, as we received our entire order within five minutes of sitting down. First we sampled the deep-fried karaage. Sadly, this dish was a miss—not crispy as advertised and quite bland.

The crispy eight-piece pork gyoza, on the other hand, was a hit. These pan-fried morsels featured a crisp exterior with a juicy pork and green onion interior. The concomitant sesame-soy dipping sauce was delightful and gave the gyoza a punch of salty and sweet. The soft-shell crab bun was also quite good, as the crispy crab was topped with a thick slice of kimchi and enveloped in a gigantic, pillowy Chinese bao bun. The crunchy sweetness of the crab paired well with the delicately spicy kick of the kimchi, while the sturdy but soft bun held everything together.

Finally, we dove into the ramen. We were delighted to find that the broth lived up to the hype, though I did have a hard time picking up any trace of chicken, as the yuzu and seafood dashi dominated the flavor profile. I found it to be light and refreshing. The highlight was the smoky sweetness of the chashu pork. Overall, it was enjoyable, though I’m not sure I’d ever find myself craving a bowl.

While expectations were high for the yuzu broth, the vegan hazelnut broth proved to be a surprise. The hazelnut flavor paired extraordinarily well with the mellow nuttiness of the soy milk and miso paste, and the spicy chili oil really put it over the top. The broth was also noticeably thicker than the yuzu, and their standard thick ramen noodles were hearty and toothsome, carrying the nuances of the broth admirably. The contingent of miso-cashew pieces gave the dish some texture, and the bok choy lent a nice freshness. This dish is one of those that could convert even the most hardcore carnivore.

AFURI Ramen + Dumplings
20803 Stevens Creek Blvd #110, Cupertino