i was indifferent to ramen back in college…we were used to the packaged noodles you buy in Chinatown… and even before college days, there was a thing called cup o’ noodles. Then I moved to NYC back in 2009 and discovered a world of delicious ramen…where broth has so much depth and flavor with unparalleled freshly made noodles. here is a little guide of a few ramen shops in NYC and how they compare to one another…
#1) Ippudo – 65 4th ave (East Village)- in my humble opinion, simply the best ramen in the city. What exactly makes it great? the best bowl of ramen is the Karaka Miso ramen with extra bakudan (spicy paste sauce). This combination and dish alone makes it truly 5 stars. The broth is rich, miso, spicy with much depth…partially due to the grated ball of ginger, lifts the fattiness from the broth, so it’s not too overpoweringly rich. And if you like spicy and miso, this is the perfect combination. Second best is the akamaru modern, which is a pork broth based with a fragrant garlic oil flavor. Good, but does not merit 5 stars. Their appetizers are also fantastic…notably the pork buns, spare ribs, shisito peppers and Yamitsuki Goma Kyuri (Japanese cucumber with seasoned sesame oil dressing). If you have enough room for dessert…they offer the outsourced yet infamous “Lady M” green tea crepe. Heavenly! The downside….this place is always packed and always an hour to 2 hour wait…during peak times.
#2) Totto Ramen – 366 West 52nd St (Hell’s Kitchen) – Very tiny, but super clean. The broth here is a mixture of pork and chicken… so it’s full of flavor. Their char-siu pork is flame grilled… and so are the onions, also another plus… and they give you a small bowl of chili paste so you can make it as spicy at your desire. The downside? I’m a noodles person, so their noodles is definitely not the best, but could be a one time fluke… I went with the Totto Extra Spicy Ramen…the noodles were wavy…and a bit too heavy and starchy tasting (as if they didn’t finish cooking it all the way). Ippudo noodles were way better…. and the broth at Totto was a bit lighter and less saltier…which may be a plus for some…but Ippudo still reigns supreme. The wait is also very long…I think we waited about 1.5 hours!!! Not worth the wait. Oh, cash only.
#3) Minca – 536 5th St (East Village) – A definite hole in the wall joint… that looks like it’s been around the block or two. Minca and Totto Ramen are comparable… with Totto having the upper advantage due to the grilled char-siu goodness meat… but Minca’s broth has a slightly higher advantage without it being too salty, and the noodles were definitely better than Totto Ramen. Much cheaper than Ippudo, but I believe you get what you pay for. The noodles are just a tad starchy. Minca didn’t blow me away, but overall, it was pretty good and has an extensive menu in terms of broth (pork, chicken, mix and miso) and noodle type choices (thin, thick, wavy, wheat and bean). The wait is long, but not as crazy as Ippudo or Totto. Cash only!
#4) Sapporo- 152 West 49th St (Theater District) – Everything was good here…from what I remember. The broth was on the lighter side, because it is made with chicken and vegetable broth, but surprisingly still flavorful. I tried the Sapporo special, with sliced pork and minced pork. The meat I didn’t care for…(too fatty), but it did give the broth a bit more depth. The corn and spinach was a nice touch and the noodles were soft and tender. I like the fact that they have a lot of side options (fish cake, bamboo shoot, vegetables, corn, bean sprouts)…gives the soup different textures. I still prefer the base of pork broth better, but this is a lighter alternative.
#5) Momofuku Noodle Bar – 171 1st Ave (East Village) – The broth here has gone downhill. Lacks umami and depth, and essentially not as flavorful as the other three and at times can be overly salted. I do like the noodles (it’s thin and less starchy than Totto and Minca). I love that they add a soft boiled egg. So the only plus side to this place is the egg and the noodles. The pork meat itself can be a bit under the dry side. Another downside, the portions are also on the smaller scale. I’d skip…unless you plan on getting pork buns.
#5) Ramen Misoya - 129 Second Ave (East Village) – I tried the shiro miso spicy… there are 3 levels of miso broth you can choose from. Kome miso, which is rich and itense, the Mame miso which is sweetest and richest textured, and the shiro which is less intense and sweeter, lighter miso broth. I do like that it’s all miso broth based…but I didn’t find it to be that flavorful… The meat was extremely fatty and the noodles were so-so. Overall, my least favorite out of all the new ramen places I have been to. There is a special called the Ramen snow…which I would advise to pass on… they load it up with tons of butter, corn and Parmesan cheese. Super rich and salty, not a good combination with the miso. Unfortunately my phone died…so I have no legitimate pictures to show.
#6) Yakitori Taisho – 5 St. Marks Place (East Village) – The ramen is a good supplement to their skewers here. Quite simply, simplistic with ginger, scallion and the pork fixings. Not the tenderest of pork…but really, really good food after a late night outing and when you’re craving for something greasy or soup to soak up all that alcohol. Their broth, though one-noted, is salty enough, without being too empowering. The ginger is a nice touch to cleanse the palate.
#7) Kobeyaki - 293 7th Ave (Chelsea) – This place is more of a luncheon spot…and fast food Japanese. They don’t deliver though. Really clean, and the decor and setup reminds me a lot like Chipotle. With that being said…a bowl of ramen is around $8-$9 here…Only one kind of ramen, but if you are craving it and in the area, I’d give this place a shot. The broth here is definitely not bad, but the noodles were so-so.
#8) Ajisen Ramen – 136 West 28th St (Chelsea) – Also another luncheon spot…massive chain, there is about two in the city. Delivery accepted. Average ramen…noodles don’t taste like they are made fresh daily. Quite frankly, it really reminds me of the packaged noodles (slightly better of course). The broth is a bit on the salty side… (but wait…aren’t they all on the salty side?????) I like the touch of the hard boiled egg…but I do not like the minced pork meat here… The only plus side? Lots of varieties to choose from….