Marugame Udon serves up a bowl of disappointment

Eva Shen and Ella Shen


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  • The Nikutama udon (regular size).

  • The line at Marugame Udon stretches far out the door on a Saturday night.

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*Disclaimer: Some diction may be slightly exaggerated, but our sentiment holds true. 

Marugame Udon: it seems as though half the school is planning on visiting, and the other half is employed there. 

With acclaimed and beloved locations in San Francisco and Berkeley, Marugame Udon’s arrival to San Ramon’s City Center Bishop Ranch was highly anticipated. We, too, were highly anticipating it as we sprinted into the long line for lunch.

The atmosphere was bustling and busy, with a buzz of noisy excitement in the air that reminded us of Asian food markets. The line of people stretched many meters out the door. 

The experience was elevated by the set-up of the restaurant: customers order the flavor of their bowl, add complimentary toppings and then use tongs to self-serve tempura from an inviting display. 

Through a glass wall, one can see the many employees making udon in giant vats of boiling water, scooping broth, rolling out dough and bustling about.

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We ordered two bowls of nikutama udon (Large $12.95 and Regular $11.45) and one large bowl of tonkotsu udon ($13.95). While the portion sizes matched the cost, the quality of the udon was laughable when compared to Costco’s instant udon bowls. 

The nikutama consisted of udon noodles bathed in kake sauce broth, served with “sweet flavored beef” and a “hot spring egg.” The sweet-flavored beef was reminiscent of Costco’s Kirkland Signature beef bulgogi, but was less substantial and satisfying. Despite our best efforts, most of our beef remained untouched by the end of the meal. 

For me (Ella), the egg was a welcome contrast to the thick noodles, but quickly vanished into my soup once I started eating it. 

For me , the egg was very runny and collapsed quickly into unattainable bits. It had an unsettling texture, and gave me flashbacks to when pollen allergies get the best of me and I sniff so hard that snot catapults into my throat.

Meanwhile, the broth was overwhelmingly soy-saucy, which became less and less desirable as we drank more and more of it. As time progressed, the udon became soaked in kake sauce (soy sauce, miri and dashi), making it more and more unpleasant to suck up. 

What saved us was their “homemade” matcha latte ($4.50). Not too sweet and with a strong matcha flavor, the (delicious) latte was used to rinse our mouths of the soy-saucy aftertaste. 

We tried the tonkotsu udon next: the udon noodles were submerged in pork broth, and came with chashu pork (braised pork belly), miso ground pork, garlic, a seasoned egg, and spicy chili oil. Upon first bite, the broth was flavorful and not overly spicy. However, as time went on, the broth tasted more gravy-like than soup-like. 

Don’t lose hope: it is still worth going to Marugame Udon for the bustling, Asian-market vibes, the elevated experience and the chance that you might see the familiar face of a classmate at work.

The udon noodles themselves did not live up to the “melt-in-your-mouth” standard we were expecting after reading the raving reviews on Yelp. In fact, there was quite a lot of effort put into chewing. 

As someone who eats Costco instant udon quite often, I (Ella) thought the level of udon would rise up a notch at Marugame, but I was disappointed by the soy-sauce diluted soup and merely edible noodles. The noodles were kind of hard, reminding me of when I don’t wait for my instant udon to fully soften in the hot water.

However, I (Eva) thought it wasn’t bad. Udon is good because udon is udon. How much better can it get anyways?

But perhaps we are the wrong people to review this restaurant: we’re not udon connoisseurs. One of us is a frequent instant udon eater. The other is a self-proclaimed tofu enthusiast who is still peeved that they ran out of the kitsune flavor (which had aburaage: sweet fried tofu). 

On the bright side, complimentary toppings included green onions, ginger and tempura flakes. The green onions definitely added necessary flavor and texture. 

From the eye-catching tempura display, we added shrimp ($2.25), squid ($2.25), zucchini ($1.95) and tamagoyaki (a sweetened Japanese rolled omelet, $1.95) to our plates. The tempura can be a hit or miss, depending on whether it was freshly fried or sitting under the heat lamps for a while.

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  • The tempura display consists of shrimp, squid, zucchini, tamagoyaki, sweet potato, big chicken katsu, potato croquette, chicken, mushroom and fishcake.

  • The tonkotsu udon (large size).

  • How to order at Marugame Udon.

  • The menu. Vegan udon (served with vegan broth and topped with ground soy marinated in lemon and ginger) and Chicken Katsu Curry (white rice or udon topped with classic curry broth and crispy chicken katsu) were also options not shown on this menu.

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There was no getting around it: the squid and shrimp tempura were just bland. The zucchini tempura was strangely squishy in an off-putting way. But the tamagoyaki tempura was easily one of the best items we ordered: crunchy and freshly fried, with an unexpectedly pleasant and subtle sweetness, we devoured it.

Besides the long wait, the service was surprisingly fast and simple. We appreciated the enjoyable concept of the restaurant: part self-serve, part theater kitchen. 

Don’t lose hope: it is still worth going to Marugame Udon for the bustling, Asian-market vibes, the elevated experience and the chance that you might see the familiar face of a classmate at work. And like any restaurant at the City Center, it makes for an exciting environment to hangout and eat with friends.

Our recommendation food-wise? Go to Costco, buy a box of Nongshim instant udon and a container of Kirkland Signature bulgogi, and create your own udon concoction. It tastes better – and costs about $5 less per bowl.

Our final thoughts: it was a good experience – but the food was not worth the money, time nor stomach space.