Bowled Over

The lowdown on three Japanese-born ramen shops

San Francisco has bragging rights to a lot of great eats.

Still, at the local outposts of three Japanese chains, the South Bay and East Bay have a slurpable lock on traditional ramen.

Ringer Hut This chain with a location in San Jose is considered the champon, aka "blend," champion. Its namesake, Nagasaki champon ($7 to $9.70, depending on size), features peppery white broth with cabbage, shrimp, fish cake and pork, as well as a mound of springy noodles. (The noodles, made daily here from flour milled in Japan, are exceptionally fresh.)

Santouka Ramen A chopstick's throw away is this shop in the Mitsuwa Marketplace, whose founder was inspired by the movie Tampopo. Try the signature tokusen toroniku ramen ($12 for a large), which comes with a side plate of succulent pork jowl.

Ajisen Noodle Enjoy a variety of soup-based ramens at the Fremont location of this Kumamoto-born chain, including unusual bowls like beef curry, umi (a blend of tonkotsu and fish broths) and tender pork ribs (pictured; $10 for a regular size). A consolation for San Francisco diners: A branch of Ajisen Ramen opened this summer at the Westfield San Francisco Centre.