What kind of manic noodle nut would wait 40 minutes for a bowl of broth and boiled dough? I think anybody might, if it’s from Marugame Udon. A global superstar amongst fast-casual franchises, the Japanese chain’s most recent Downtown Berkeley location has already built up a cult following within just two weeks of soft opening.

I've already spent my two dine-out meals of the week on Marugame—a testament to how it has truly captured my whole heart. I think diners who stake out 15 minutes before the shop’s opening hour probably feel the same. Call us overzealous udon fanatics, but one bite of these bouncy noodles will have you queuing along with us.

The Vibe

Tiffany Chu

Once you step through the door, the line snakes along the outskirts of an open kitchen. Beyond the glass partitions, half a dozen employees are synched up in a never-ending scramble of shaping and slicing dough and cooking noodles by the batch. Past the udon prep area, diners help themselves to a cafeteria-style selection of deep-fried foods and rice balls. The walls are a shade of subdued red, keeping with the neutral wood tones and decor. Suspended light orbs cast a warm glow, adding to the space’s cozy and refined vibe. But of course, more than ambience, the food is what makes the wait worthwhile. 

Kake Udon

Tiffany Chu

This simple classic gets the job done. No frills—just noodles in a dashi-based soup so warming it could revive even the deadest of post-midterm spirits. Each bowl is made-to-order, with the udon taking a 10 second dip in boiling water before slipping into a glazed ceramic dish. Think flash-frying, but in water instead of hot oil. Each strand boasts a springy texture while soaking up Marugame’s savory stock made from Japanese-imported kelp and dried fish.

#SpoonTip: If an order of plain noodles seems underwhelming, dress up the meal by stacking up on sides. At $5.20 per bowl, this option leaves decent wiggle room in the wallet to splurge on some freshly battered protein and vegetables.  

Nikutama Udon

Tiffany Chu

As the shop’s bestselling bowl, the Nikutama Udon is a consistent go-to for newcomers and Marugame enthusiasts alike. Niku refers to the simmered sweet beef piled atop the Kake Udon base, while tama is a shortened term for the hot spring egg topping. One chopstick swipe through the cloud-like egg white lets loose a flow of golden yolk that envelops the sweet and savory ingredients in a creamy coating. It’s a culinary union that’s sure to satisfy with tasteful umami flavor. 


Tiffany Chu

Marugame Udon might be famed for its noodles, but it also reigns supreme in the realms of tempura and musubi. Its tempura offerings cover a lot of ground—ranging from the familiar shrimp and sweet potato to the innovative big chicken katsu and tamagoyaki, or sweet rolled egg. Though deep-fried, the flavor of each ingredient shines through the light and crispy batter shell. The musubis available are no less impressive, with flavors like mentai mayo (pollock roe mixed with mayonnaise), salmon flake, Spam (with or without egg), and crab meat, calling out to every possible craving.

Closing Thoughts

Tiffany Chu

Whether you’re planning a group gathering for 12 or an intimate dinner for two, Marugame Udon is the place to be. With both hot and cold options available, there’s a noodle for every occasion. The chain's Berkeley location is scheduled for grand opening on October 28, 2019, so gear up for the event by getting a head start on taste-testing its all-inclusive soft opening menu.