For Kaiju, Japanese-style pub food and noodle bowls are a touchstone, but are hardly the sole inspiration. The food is something of a blitzkrieg of cultural influences. Tortilla chips, basil, curry — all find their way into the dishes. But if the thought of Carmen Miranda-esque bowls of ramen makes the traditionalist in you clear your throat, there still are plenty of traditional flavors and dishes to be found.
The soups are soothing and stimulating, filled with a sort of Seussian jumble of eggs, lotus chips, potato nests and tortilla chips, depending on what you order. Cilantro makes a frequent appearance. You have to poke your chopsticks through to find the bed of noodles beneath the knick-knacks.
The Kaiju Kobe is the signature soup, inspired by Mongolian beef — the broth is deeply meaty and garlicky, seething with chili oil. The handful of thin slices of Kobe beef are tissue-tender; the tortilla chips are surprising but not unwelcome. A savory-yolked egg is hardboiled, then fried in panko for even more crunch. It’s tasty but intense.
In this, as in many of the soups, the heat gets even hotter as you eat it, because as the broth dwindles, the layer of spicy oil on top thickens. Be aware of the chili pepper hand-drawn next to many of the entrees listed on the menu, and be sure to keep the housemade pickles close by to extinguish the flames.
The ramen noodles themselves are curly, eggy and a nice al dente, but you can sub with gluten-free clear yam noodles, which do quite nicely, or udon.
On the more comforting side, the coconut shoyu — shreds of white chicken in what is essentially coconut curry broth — is a good bet. Cilantro provides a bit of zing, and sweet-crunchy lotus chips give it crunch. It’s utterly delicious and my personal fave.
What I found slightly over the top was the karaage ramen. The karaage — morsels of fried chicken — were crunchy, flavorful and all around sympatico. But it was drizzled with curry aioli and placed on a salty, meaty broth completely saturated in noodles — for me, it was overkill.
That said, a mouthful of the spicy miso ramen inspired guttural noises. The crunchy potato nest was a delicate counterpoint, the chashu pork tender and not too fatty. Though it’s hotter than spicy miso generally is, traditionalists would do well to try it.
Satsuma yam fries are a good start to a meal at Kaiju. Sweet and crisp, they come hot and drizzled in curry aioli, which has a tantalizing woodsy-spicy quality from the curry. A lingering note of aromatic rosemary teases.
There’s enough good stuff here to put together a low-key, inexpensive, delicious dinner. The cherry on top is the honey jujube tea that came gratis, with refills. Service is nice, but Kaiju is a two-person team, and with only one server it gets easily overwhelmed. Come with a bit of patience, and on your way out, be sure to take a business card, with smiling, hand-drawn monsters.
Kaiju Eats Ramen and Izakaya
Location: 3409 Geary Blvd. (at Stanyan Street), S.F.
Hours: Noon to 3 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays
Contact: (415) 742-4309
Recommended dishes: Satsuma fries ($4.50), spicy miso ($8.50), coconut shoyu ramen ($11)
Price range: $4.50 to $12
Reservations: Not accepted
Credit cards: All major