A few months ago, I tried out Ramen Tenma, another name that always seems to pop up on South Bay ramen 'best of' lists. If you are literate in Chinese or Japanese, you'll notice that the characters that make up the word 'Tenma' are the ones for 'sky' or 'heaven' and 'horse' -- which in Chinese apparently translates to Pegasus. And seeing as how I haven't studied Japanese since high school (I stopped right before qualifying for AP Japanese because by that point the class had mostly creepy-yellow-fever-manga-anime addicts left...), I have no idea what 'tenma' means in 日本語. Regardless, Tenma also happens to stand for "Tasty Enjoyable Ramen Made for All", a mantra I can certainly get behind.
Anyway those are your fun facts for the day. Let's get on with the good stuff, shall we? Location: in true San Jose fashion, this restaurant is tucked in - you guessed it - a strip mall!
In heeding its egalitarian motto, the interior of Ramen Tenma is as unpretentious as it is small. With about six tables and an exposed kitchen, there isn't too much space to maneuver. But no need, because as you're seated, there will be plenty to take in and observe on the walls surrounding you. Taped onto the walls are sheets of printer paper that either have Sharpie'd cartoon sketches or QUIZZES! Quizzes that you answer for free toppings!
I answered two quizzes correctly to score free pieces of nori for the table. Following which, I was reassured that my liberal arts education was a worthy investment. I ordered the Bonito Ramen, which was an egg noodle ramen dish in a shoyu (soy sauce) broth topped with nori, scallions, a soft-boiled egg, a lean slice of pork, and bonito flakes. Bonito flakes (a.k.a. katsuobushi) are the dried, fermented, and smoked shavings of tuna that have an extra salty, umami taste and add brilliant texture to ramen. And as if their deliciousness wasn't enough, they also dance! When placed upon hot foods, the wispy flakes appear to move by orchestration of the steam. Dining and entertainment? I'm sold.
Overall, solid dining experience with tasty ramen mostly in the $10-11 range (prices include tax!). Ramen Tenma is a good choice to temper the occasional ramen craving, especially if you haven't got the patience for Kotetsu or Orenchi. With such reasonable prices, chances to score free toppings, and short wait times Ramen Tenma is an upstanding establishment that truly delivers on its promise to offer Tasty Enjoyable Noodles Made for All.