Eat NYC: The Must-Slurp Ramen List
Ramen is comfort food. It's simple, filling, fatty, and flavorful. You even get to slurp it! On purpose! As an adult! Amazing.
My mother and grandmother raised me on Top Ramen and Cup (of?) Noodles, and then there was college, but only recently did I discover ramen as a Real-People Meal.
*Cue "A Whole New World"*
If you're not yet sold on the stuff, then stop in at one of these places, order whichever version is the House Special, and go to town. I dare you to find displeasure.
Everything I love about ramen -- heck, about eating food -- is embodied here. The original Ramen-Ya is a small 20-odd seat restaurant built into the first floor of a Greenwich Village townhouse. A ramen bar seats 10 (optimistically), and the rest are scattered to a clutter of haphazard tables that servers navigate with practiced grace. More or less. And the ramen itself, simple compared to many offerings in the city but with a depth of flavor most would envy, is delightful.
Meaning, it makes me happy. The natural argument being, "Doesn't every ramen make you happy, Mitch?" Not really, no. This one, however, has a whole lot going for it: noodle texture (thin & firm), tender pork belly (henceforth char siu), perfect soft-boiled egg, and a sumptuous but not overwhelming broth. Oh, and a HUGE wooden broth-spoon/ladle that is so fun. Maybe just me.*
Unavoidable. Ippudo is that rare restaurant that's hyped to the hizzy, lines perpetually out the door, waits over two hours long, all for a whirlwind of a meal that'll land you back outside in 30-45 minutes -- and that's also totally worth it.
Akamaru Modern is the way to go at Ippudo. As the signature bowl, the Akamaru is a tonkotsu (pork-based broth) ramen with thin noodles, topped with a miso paste in addition to char siu, mushrooms, cabbage, and garlic oil. It's a rich, porky, wonderful meal that can't help but leave you happy, between perfect noodles and a superior broth made better by that extra layer of miso. It is also instantly addicting -- I don't know that I've ever eaten anything faster than that bowl, and it is NOT small.
Although maybe even that is on purpose, because the second your dish is dry it is whisked away by one of their ninja-like bussers and your check deposited on the table, your waiter hovering nearby until payment is complete, another ninja standing by with a wet rag. I doubt they would outright ask a table to leave --barring an egregiously long after-meal stay -- but the message is clear: Come. Eat. Leave. Still worth it.
Goma Ichi Ramen's Tantanmen at Ramen Lab (can usually be found in Honolulu, HI)
Sun Noodle is the noodle distributor for nearly every ramen bar in the city, so it makes sense that they would have their own place. What makes their spot extra cool is that Ramen Lab is actually a permanent pop-up bar for famous ramen chefs from all over the world to set up for a couple weeks or a month, and show off their best stuff. It is so New York... and so, so fun.
Get there early or bring reading material and flex those legs, because the bar is standing only and there are just 18-20 spots. Traditional hours are 5-10pm, with lines starting at least a half-hour prior to doors opening. Check the Ramen Lab website for current and upcoming chefs and updated hours, often altered by the residing chef. My visit was lucky enough to be during Goma Ichi Ramen's (Hawaii famous) residence, dishing out spicy tantanmen with minced pork and wavy noodles. Yours could be from anywhere, but it will be one of the best from anywhere.
Admittedly I haven't experienced much at all of Brooklyn's noodle offerings. I mean look at the place, it's fricking huge, and I do get around but I don't get around that much...yet. But from what I've had in Brooklyn so far, Samurai Papa stands out not only for how crazy good their stuff is, but for how crazy different they do it up.
At Samurai Papa you choose between a pork-based or chicken-based broth (both called Bukkake...best get your giggles out now, y'nasty), with several different preparations of each. Your ramen is then served with an intense base and toppings in the main bowl, and a cup of broth on the side, basically allowing you to determine how thick and rich you want your soup to be. It's cool, it's edgy, it's interactive; oh right, it's Brooklyn. And it's mind-bogglingly delicious.
I don't have a picture for Hide-Chan Ramen, and that's because the absolute best time to eat Hide-Chan Ramen is after midnight, and whether it was dark or I was toasty or just way too hungry to worry about #picsoritdidnthappen (or all of the above), believe that it did happen and it did happen so good.
Hide-Chan, located above and (business-wise) under the umbrella of Totto Ramen, is a pretty dang authentic ramen bar, if you're worried about that kind of thing. It's few-frills, focuses on one beautiful broth (pork...notice a trend?), and provides 2/3 of the holy trifecta of Japanese beer: Asahi and Sapporo (missing Kirin), and trust me that nothing goes better with a hot, salty bowl of ramen than a Japanese beer. To top it all off, Hide-Chan encourages you to choose your noodle -- wavy or straight -- and firmness, ranging from very firm to soft.
Gotta love a firm noodle.
If you've been around the block a couple times in Ramen Town, had your tonkotsus, shios, shoyus, bonitos, tsukemens, and enough char siu to constitute several whole swine, you're probably ready for something new. Some of that cutting-edge ramen a place like NYC is supposed to inspire in young, up-and-coming chefs, perhaps. Chinatown's (and Tokyo's) Bassanova Ramen is definitely Level 2.
At this point green curry ramen isn't exactly breaking news, but it's novel enough that you're not seeing it on every block... yet. Bassanova's version, fully titled Tondaku Wadashi Green Curry Ramen for the type of curry, is the acceptable kind of fire in your mouth; that is, fire with flavor. When you find yourself continuing to dip your spoon in for more broth despite the tear trails on your cheeks and sweat building on your brow, you know you've got something great. Between that unique taste, charred char siu, and okra topping the whole situation off, Bassanova Ramen is a brand new ballgame.
Minca is the best because it just does Minca. It's not worried about being authentic, cutting-edge, big time, or turning tables faster than a speeding bullet. Compared to the Ivans and Momofukus and Ippudos of the city, Minca is barebones and uber-casual. They do ramen exactly like it's done in Japan, without shoving it in your face that they do it exactly like it's done in Japan. So I'll do it for them.
The place is cramped, a little dingy, has no AC, and accepts only cash. Five plus cooks stand immediately behind the ramen bar, dropping noodles, applying toppings, stirring bases. One server holds down the front of house with veteran ease. There are zero frills, and that is perfect.
My tsukemen's noodles arrive cold and chewy (on purpose), and the dipping broth on the side is rich and warm. The bottle of Rolling Rock, their cheapest, puddles in the humidity, but still fulfills its purpose of cleansing the palette after each nigh-overpowering bite. My neighbors, rubbing shoulders with me, are strangers, but the cook is quickly befriended with a smiling "Oishii!" It's a scene directly imported from my recent time in Japan, just now in East Village. And it's why Minca is my home base for noodles in New York.
Did I miss your favorite noodle joint? Am I every kind of wrong about Ippudo (I'm not, but to each their own)? Comment below or hit the Contact button. I'm waiting.