Of all the restaurants in Japantown in San Francisco Mifune is the one that feels most like a real family restaurant from Japan. Specialising in family comfort food and good quality noodle dishes this is a great option for a casual date or a small group of friends looking for a drink and some down home Japanese cooking. Mifune is a semi regular restaurant option for us - whenever I'm eating carbs it's one of the first places I want to eat. Mifune was listed in the 2007 Michelin Guide for San Francisco, long since knocked off the list by high end eateries brought by tech dollars but it is in my mind still worth a stop for visitors checking out Japantown.
The decor is like something straight of a Japanese department store food hall bistro. Housed in the bottom of one of the Japantown mall buildings the restaurant is all dark wood, red paint and Japanese woodprints. Small fences provide privacy from other diners making dinner conversation relatively easy despite the restaurant generally being packed.
Imported Asahi $6USD
Import Japanese alcohol is available for sale like Asahi, Saporo and Sake. Importantly this is not the Asahi brewed in Canada which is usually sold in stores in the US and tastes completely different.
Served exactly as you might get them in Japan these crispy potato croquettes are filled with mash potato and covered in panko breadcrumbs. Served on a bed of cabbage with tonkatsu sauce - a sweet sticky BBQ sauce that goes well with meat and deep fried dishes. These croquettes are suspiciously uniform and look like they're made in a factory and possibly imported from Japan like most of the croquettes you can find in stores in Japantown. Don't let that put you off they're delicious and they go great with a cold beer or soda.
Diced cucumber sushi appetiser is okay but not the best - mostly due to inferior sushi rice. My advice is stick to the noodle and fried comfort dishes.
Sukiyaki Nabe $9.80USD
Nabe is a Japanese take on noodle hot pot, this dish comes with Udon, sukiyaki beef and lots of vegetables. A cold salad comes as a set. The beef is good and the Udon is excellent but I find the nabe soup very thin, there are better dishes on the menu. I have a similar complaint with the ramen at Mifune, despite their excellent trade in noodles the broths are too thin to bother with.
Curry soba $7.80USD
Chewy delicious hand made soba noodles are served topped with a beef and vegetable Japanese style curry with pickled vegetables and egg. This is a very hearty dish and more than a bit messy, definitely one to eat on your own or with friends rather than a date you're trying to impress. That being said good quality noodles and thick moorish Japanese curry is a hard combination to beat. Don't expect anything ground breaking in the curry - this is very similar to boxed House curry but it has that delicious comfort food appeal. This dish can also be served with Udon noodles for the same price.
Zaru cha soba $6.50USD
This is not an easy dish to find in the US and definitely one of my favourites to order from Mifune. Buckwheat noodles are made with green tea, oiled and served cold with toppings like scallion, shaved daikon and seaweed. The noodles are chewy and pungent with tea, the dish is very simple but very filling and makes a great option for those looking for plain food. For the gluten free diners it's worth noting that buckwheat is not actually wheat and therefore this is a gluten free option.
Tenzaru Udon $6.50USD
Thick chewy wheat udon noodles are oiled and served cold in a boat covered in tempura vegetables and prawn with a soy dipping sauce and toppings. The Udon is good if you like that texture but pales in comparison to the soba.
Mifune special $8.50USD
This dish is very similar to the tenzaru udon - a half serve of Udon / Soba noodles is topped with vegetable and prawn tempura. A soy dipping sauce is provided for the noodles, mix the wasabi and vegetables into the dipping sauce to your taste. I recommend all the wasabi. This is a great one plate option of all the best of Mifune and at a very reasonable price making it a great option for a mid week meal or pre movie munch.
Tempura moriawase $6.00USD
If you order Tempura on it's own without noodles you will receive a large mixed plate that is more than enough as a meal on its own. A range of vegetables like broccoli, pumpkin, onion, sweet potato, capsicum are provided. Two huge Japanese sweet shrimp (ebi) , a piece of fish and a crispy fried seaweed cracker are also usually included. Actual inclusions vary week to week and seem to be seasonal. For six dollars this is a steal, the batter is always light and the oil fresh.
Daimyo Set Meal (Teishoku) $14.00USD
This set meal really shows the Japanese chefs having adapted to the US market and providing more food than any one person can possibly eat. There are several other set meal options but this one includes a California roll, salad, full plate of tempura and a hot soy soba noodle dish with fish cakes and tea. All of the food is good quality but there really is too much of it and I eat half of most items and then look sadly at the rest. Because of the nature of the noodles and fried batter this is not a dish worth taking home for leftovers. If you are going to order a set meal at Mifune I suggest splitting it with a friend.
Mifune is usually packed to the gills on the weekend, particularly if there is an event on in Japantown. No reservations are taken and a polite but firm queue is formed of hungry diners waiting for a table. If you're starving or have impatient family this might not be a great choice unless you come early or late. The key to their success is good quality simple food churned quickly. This means that you get efficient but possibly icy service. If you dawdle after finishing your meal the bill will be brought and your table cleared before you can say "should we stay for another beer?" My advice is after eating retire to another venue for drinks and conversation.
Mifune have two other restaurants in Japantown - Mifune Don is a casual diner serving rice bowls and Mifune Bistro is an upstairs option with lunch style dishes. Skip these and head to the main restaurant next to Isobune.
Japan Center Kintetsu Building:
1737 Post Street
San Francisco, CA 94115