Ramen Burgers at RakiRaki in San Diego
4646 Convoy Street, San Diego CA 92111 (map); 858-573-2400; rakirakiramen.com
Cooking method: Griddled
Short Order: It's worth trying these ramen burgers, even if it's just for the experiment
Want Fries With That? Sweet potato fries dusted with powdered sugar come standard. Their main appeal is dipping them in the spicy mayo
Price: Tsukune Ramen Burger, $8.75; Angus Beef Ramen Burger, $8.75
Like cronuts or Miley Cyrus, reports about ramen burgers are impossible to escape. And while it didn't take long for Dominique Ansel's doughnut/croissant hybrid to get copied, co-opted, and otherwise reinterpreted, few operators have attempted their own take on the ramen burger, even though over a thousand people reportedly lined up for a chance to try one when Keizo Shimamoto brought his creation to Los Angeles.
In San Diego, you don't have to stand in a line for hours upon end to score a ramen burger. RakiRaki, a busy ramen shop in Kearny Mesa, will set you up with their California-influenced take on the trend, made with your choice of patty (chicken, turkey, pork belly or loin, veggie, or beef). Since this is AHT, and I'd be blasted for not ordering the most burger-like patty, that's what I ordered...in addition to the signature option, tsukune (aka chicken, meatball-style).
As a general rule, opting for the signature version of any menu item is a good call. That decision paid off at RakiRaki. The Tsukune Ramen Burger ($8.75) is the most complex of the bunch. The patty is made of ground chicken, "chicken soft bone," shiitake and kikurage mushrooms, shiso leaf, green onion, and various herbs and spices. It's topped with five-spice soy sauce, spicy mayo, and tomato. For an extra charge, you can get it wrapped in lettuce or add avocado (each upgrade is $1).
The promo photo looks pretty awesome. Big slices of avocado, perfectly ripe tomato, and a glistening chicken patty, between two moist, yet slightly crunchy ramen "buns." I was so down. Here's what mine looked like:
Without the lettuce wrap and avocado, it looks pretty sad. Still, I thought the flavor of the patty, which is essentially a giant, seared meatball made of chicken and mushrooms, was flavorful (even if it was pretty salty). The chicken was moist and beautifully browned, and the spicy mayo had enough heat to scorch my sinuses. I'm not sure if adding lettuce would make much of a difference, but I'd suggest going for the avocado upgrade. It would have been nice to have another texture, and something to balance out all of that salt and spice.
If you want to take the plunge, the chicken is definitely the way to go. The beef-based Ramen Burger ($8.75) just didn't have the complexity as the signature option. It tasted bland, like it was missing something. In fact, it might have been. When we ordered, our server told us the beef is topped with "crunchy pork-like meat," which would have been tasty, but mine arrived without the mystery pork product. There's no mention of it on the menu, so that could have been an honest mistake.
My main take-away about ramen burgers is they're worth trying as a novelty item, but they may not satisfy your craving for a burger (or ramen, for that matter). By eating something that was not quite ramen and not quite a burger, I felt like all I accomplished was confusing my stomach, and leaving dinner craving both a proper bowl of ramen (with broth and everything), and a somewhat regular burger (or, at least one with a regular bun—that tsukune patty was pretty great, but not with the noodle "buns").
Fries really weren't necessary, especially given how filling the burger was, but I appreciate the gesture. They're fine as sweet potato spuds go, but their main appeal was using them as a delivery method for the spicy mayo. It's powerful enough to overwhelm the powdered sugar that's dusted on top.
Has anyone else tried the ramen burger at RakiRaki (or any other ramen burger)? Feel free to leave a comment and weigh in with your take.
About the author: Erin Jackson is a food writer and photographer who is obsessed with discovering the best eats in San Diego. You can find all of her discoveries on her San Diego food blog EJeats.com. On Twitter, she's @ErinJax