Mensho, a Tokyo-based ramen shop that gained a cult following in the Tenderloin when it debuted in 2016, will soon arrive on Oakland’s Piedmont Avenue restaurant row. If all goes smoothly, Mensho’s newest American outpost—a joint project of Marin County native Abram Plaut and Japanese ramen master Tomoharu Shono—will open in late spring.
Even with Mensho’s buzzy reputation, the new ramen bar has big shoes to fill. Mensho will move into the former location of Little Shin Shin, a family-style Chinese eatery that anchored upper Piedmont Avenue for 40 years. As such, Plaut said that updating the 1980s-era kitchen has taken longer than expected. He had originally planned to open in early 2023.
According to Plaut, the menu at the Oakland location will diverge significantly from Mensho’s other two locations in San Francisco. Because it will be next door to the wildly popular vegan cafe Timeless Coffee, Shono-san—as Plaut calls him—is hard at work on a selection of plant-based ramens to complement his tonkotsu, wagyu and other bone broths.
Plaut pointed out that in America, ramen has historically been inextricably—and unfavorably—linked to dorm room instant ramen. “There’s still that reputation or stigma that ramen is unhealthy or salty or fatty. There is a side to ramen that is all those things, but ramen can also be elevated, healthy and gourmet.”
Based in Tokyo, the Mensho Group operates around 10 ramen shops in Japan, along with singular locations in Shanghai, Bangkok and Delhi. Plaut, a Bay Area native, moved across the Pacific for school and became a prolific ramen critic, sampling the traditional soup in more than 3,000 restaurants, by his count. Upon meeting Shono-san, the two ramen experts joined forces to bring Mensho to California.
The Tenderloin restaurant opened at Geary and Leavenworth streets in 2016, and the team followed up with a second outpost called Jikasei Mensho inside Twitter HQ in 2021. Shono-san and Plaut also operate a spinoff called Menya Shono in San Rafael and Union City. Now, Plaut is bringing world-class ramen to yet another Bay Area neighborhood.
Before the pandemic, lines to get into Mensho’s San Francisco flagship spilled out onto the sidewalk, due both to the hype surrounding the ramen and the diminutive size of the restaurant. Plaut told The Standard that the larger space in Oakland will afford Shono-san the opportunity to create a ramen lab where he can experiment with the form.
“I feel like this is going to be the first time that Shono-san can really make full use of his talents,” he said. “I’m excited to show what authentic ramen can and should be.”
Sarah Holtz can be reached at [email protected]