Ramen House Raijin
Ramen House Raijin1901 S St.
Sacramento, CA 95811
Good for: spicy ramen, or when there’s a line at Ryujin Ramen House
Notable Dishes: karashibi, garlic-tofu tonkotsu
Some eye rolls ensued when Sai Wong replaced his Izakaya Daikoku with a ramen house across the street from his other ramen house.
After all, ramen is dead. Didn’t you hear? New York City chef David Chang—the man who popularized ramen stateside back in 2004 with his Momofuku Noodle Bar—is sick and tired of mediocre, unoriginal, overpriced ramen popping up everywhere.
But unlike most major American cities, Sacramento hasn’t yet reached peak ramen. Prior to Ramen House Raijin, Wong’s original Ryujin Ramen House regularly drew long lines—and combined with the even longer waits at Shoki Ramen House a few blocks away, Midtown’s thirst for ramen clearly demanded more. Immediately.
Consider Ramen House Raijin, which opened in July, the more modern-looking, formal-feeling annex to Ryujin.
It’s also the best spicy ramen spot in town—half of the restaurant’s 20 ramens arrive in some shade of fiery red and deliver on whatever desired level of heat.
The karashibi ($8.95) is particularly strong. It starts with tonkotsu—the delicious and milky pork-based broth—amped up with spicy miso. Ground chicken gives it body, a slew of vegetables makes it feel healthy and sansho pepper—also known as Sichuan peppercorn—creates a tingly, numbing sensation in your mouth. Instead of being spicy for the sake of being spicy, the karashibi builds serious flavor.
Can’t say the same about the gekikara ($8.95), a one-dimensional soup covered in so much chili oil that your tongue actually feels slick after each sip. The less spicy kimchee ($8.95) broth is more successful: bright, funky and nuanced, just like kimchee.
On the milder side spice-wise, the kakuni ($8.95) stands out. It’s the meatiest option on the menu, with two glistening hunks of fatty, braised pork belly atop a sweet, soy sauce-flavored tonkotsu. It’s as rich and decadent as ramen gets.
The garlic-miso tonkotsu ($8.95) is excellent as well—spoonful after spoonful of intense umami, with salty nori, a perfectly creamy soft-boiled egg, scallions, crunchy garlic chips and disappointingly thin slices of barbecued pork. But if you’re a Ryujin fan, then you already know what that’s about.
Some of Raijin’s bowls come with the familiar thick and eggy noodles from Ryujin, but others are filled with a thinner variety—less chewy, still springy. They work well to offset heavier dishes like the kakuni, but elsewhere, the chef’s noodle choice seems more arbitrary. Similarly, the noodle-to-broth-to-stuff ratios sometimes seem off. The garlic-miso, for example, could have used much more soup; the kimchee could have used much more stuff.
Elsewhere on the menu, there’s carryover from its Izakaya Daikoku days, including the popular okonomiyaki. Wong was smart to keep the egg-and-cabbage pancakes, which were tough if not impossible to find in Sacramento prior to Daikoku. Topped with bonito flakes and mayo, Raijin’s okonomiyaki are forceful with savory-sweet flavors but less so with texture—the edges only look crispy around the soft, custardy center.
Among the izakaya-style dishes are hotate mayoyaki ($6.95), mayo-covered whole scallops; gyutan ($6.95), grilled slices of beef tongue; and yaki onigri ($3.50), grilled rice balls. The scallops impress in sheer size, but unfortunately they’re served in a piping hot cast iron and quickly become overcooked and rubbery. All around, the small plates fail to dazzle—ramen is easily the way to go. No surprise at a ramen house.