By Judi Curry
Hitomi and I – my Japanese student that has been with me over a year – decided to go shopping at the “Zion” market on Clairemont Mesa Blvd. It is by far our favorite place to shop and it started out to be just a routine day. But if you have ever gone to the Zion, you will know that as you turn left off of Convoy you have to pass the market and make a “U-turn” to enter the driveway.
As I was getting into the left-hand turn lane to make the “U,” Hitomi squealed one of the happiest and surprised sound I have ever heard. I won’t tell you what my heart did at that noise, but you can imagine. It turned out that she spotted the “Ajisen Ramen” restaurant that originated in her home town in Japan – in Kumamoto – and the restaurant was always a “go-to” place for her as a high school student.
We originally were going to go to the Original Pancake restaurant for brunch, but I asked her if she would like to go to Ajisen Ramen and she jumped at the chance. So although this restaurant is really out of my Ocean Beach/Pt. Loma territory, it was so much fun, and so good, I think it is worthy of a write-up. The chain now has over 700 restaurants, but this is the only one in San Diego. The manager is from Hong Kong, and Hitomi does not think that many of the workers were from Japan, but she said the physical appearance is identical to the one in her hometown. And, surprisingly, the menu is the same also!
The menu starts out with beverages – and amazingly enough there are FIFTY-TWO different kinds of beverages listed on the first two pages. And if those aren’t enough – there are additionally cokes, lemonades and more listed separately! Some of the beverages are from Japan; some are made at the restaurant. I ordered a Mango Lychee Cranberry Juice, which was delicious. Hitomi ordered a Lychee, Yogurt Cranberry Juice that was also very good. The drinks were $3.25 each and well worth the price. I did not see any alcohol on the menu; in fact, there was non-alcoholic beer listed.
There are 116 items on the menu (!) plus a lunch special menu of ten items; a dessert menu featuring 14 items; the appetizer menu has 22 items, beginning at $2.25 and going up to $8.50. Hitomi and I elected to try their Gyoza – 8 pieces – for $4.50. I’ll tell you about this later.
In addition to the Ramen, which is what we went in for, they also serve Udon, Yakisoba, Tempura, Tsukemen, Rice with Curry, Chicken and/or Beef. There are salads also available as well as a Kids menu.
Making a decision from the main menu was difficult, and I finally let Hitomi order for me. (That was fun, because I usually order for her!) She selected a “Miso Ramen with BBQ pork for me ($7.95) and Ajisen Ramen – the house Ramen – ($6.95) for her. Both were filled with noodles; vegetables; BBQ Pork and boiled egg. Both were delicious. I would order either of them again. They were served with a small ladle – instead of a soup spoon – and extra long chopsticks, that even Hitomi had trouble using. (The Japanese chopsticks are not as long as these were and she was surprised that these were being used instead of the traditional shorter ones.)
So….the food was wonderful and I would go back to try other items on the menu. The service left something to be desired. We ordered the Gyoza first, and after 10 minutes or so we were brought something that we did not order. Then we received our Ramen. Hitomi was already finished with her Ramen when the Gyoza appeared. In all fairness it was hot and tasty, but we really wanted it before the Ramen. Then as we were eating, a server brought us another appetizer that someone else had ordered.
When we left at approximately 2:00pm there was a line waiting to get in. It is not a small restaurant, but it is not a large one either. People were willing to wait for a table, which says something about the place.
Our bill came to $27.91, not including the tip. We brought home some of my Ramen, and 6 of the 8 Gyoza. We are looking forward to finishing it up for dinner. And by the way, there are many vegan and vegetarian items on the menu!
Website & Address: 7398 Clairemont Mesa Blvd, San Diego, CA 92111.