This Cafe Has French Toast on Steroids
Lower East Side
Shigetoshi "Jack" Nakamura saw mass success in Japan after opening his ramen-ya, Namanura-ya, at age 22. He debuted his skills in New York in 2015 as the chef-in-residence at artisanal ramen noodle manufacturer Sun Noodle’s Ramen Lab, and earlier this year, he opened his own ramen-ya, a hidden gem right underneath the Williamsburg Bridge.
The torigara ramen, Chef Nakamura's signature, is a delicate broth loaded with deep flavor. A traditional, standard style of ramen, the dish features a chicken-bone broth with ginger, kombu, and fish dashi, which adds a smoky umami flavor. Chef Nakamura adds his signature shoyu (soy) seasoning and tops the bowl with a slice of chashu, spinach, menma, and nori. Nakamura's ajitama (soft-boiled egg) is always served separately. If you're looking for something extra, get an order of the thin-skinned gyoza, which are quite possibly the crispiest in town.
Minca is one of the few ramen joints in New York that pre-dates the full-on craze. The tiny ramen-ya has an extensive menu with around 15 options including chicken, vegetables, and seafood, and a tonkotsu broth, but the best choice is the Minca Sio: a bowl flavored with salt and roast garlic, topped with sliced stewed pork and vegetables. Minca lets you choose from five different styles of noodle for your ramen (thick, thin, wavy, whole wheat, or gluten-free bean), but the wavy noodle grabs the garlic-rich broth best. Don't miss the chef using a blowtorch on the pork chashu to add a nice smoky flavor. If you can’t get in to Minca, head over to the sister ramen-ya, Kambi, on 14th St.
Lower East Side
Long Island-born Ivan Orkin went to Japan to learn the ramen trade and ended up becoming one of the most recognized chefs in the country. When he returned to the states, he opened two ramen-yas in NYC: The Slurp Shop, located in the Gotham West Market in Hell’s Kitchen, and Ivan Ramen on the Lower East Side.
There are several great options to choose from at Ivan Ramen -- including the ultra-heavy Triple Pork Triple Garlic Mazemen with tonkotsu broth, pork belly, and whole-wheat noodles. Should you want to go down a lighter path, order the Tokyo Shio (salt flavor) or the Tokyo Shoyu (soy sauce flavor). Both bowls are served with Ivan's famous rye noodle, as opposed to the typical wheat variety. If you run out of noodles before you finish the broth, just say "kae-dama" for an extra round.
Misoya focuses solely on miso (fermented soybean) broths. If you're new to miso-based ramen, start with the shiro miso, the lightest and cleanest of the flavors, and then work your way up to Misoya's miso curry chicken katsu ramen; the bowl features three massive pieces of crispy chicken, ground pork, egg, fried potato, and pickled daikon radish in a rich miso broth that's balanced by sweet curry.
This is one of the heartiest bowls of ramen in the city, and on top of that, miso broth is traditionally served 10° hotter than all other bowls of ramen.
Hailing from Fukuoka, Japan, Ippudo has become a worldwide name thanks to its pork-bone tonkotsu broth, which is simmered for days -- a traditional and laborious technique that few ramen-yas still dedicate time to. Ippudo is also one of the few ramen-yas to make its own house noodles (not an easy feat).
To best taste the tonkotsu, order the Akamaru Modern ramen: onkotsu soup noodles topped with Ippudo’s secret “Umami Dama” miso paste, pork chashu, cabbage, sesame kikurage mushrooms, scallions, and fragrant garlic oil. Be sure to add on nitamago (soft-boiled seasoned egg) and takana (pickled mustard leaves). Work on finishing your noodles first and leave yourself with a decent amount of broth, so you can say “kae-dama” for some more noodles.
Hell’s Kitchen, Midtown West, Midtown East
What started as one very tiny ramen-ya on West 52nd St has now grown into three exceedingly popular locations. Totto remains a staple in the NYC ramen scene thank to its paitan broth, which is arguably the best in the business. The rich and creamy chicken broth gets paired with a springy, golden, wavy noodle, and topped off with pulled chashu pork and tender pork belly chunks. Be sure to add on a poached egg and Totto's rayu (a chili oil filled with garlic, onion, dried shrimp, and scallops) -- all the flavors blend together so well, and the special rayu (chili oil) adds a kick you won’t get elsewhere.
Ramen Lab is the tiniest ramen-ya in the city, but it’s also the most unique. Owned and operated by Sun Noodles, a noodle maker that works with top ramen chefs to develop unique broth and noodle pairings, Ramen Lab hosts a new ramen-ya guest in residence nearly every month. These ramen masters come from all around the world (Japan, Hawaii, and Italy to name a few) to serve up their ramen creations in the 15-person restaurant (there are no chairs here, prepare to stand). With the kitchen directly in front of you, you can watch your bowl get assembled from start to finish. Most importantly, you're encouraged to ask the chef questions.
In the dead of winter 2013, if you were in the know in New York, you were showing up at a sushi joint on Houston after closing time. From midnight until 4am, chef Ito Shigeru would take over with a ramen pop-up known (to the lucky) as Benkei Ramen. There, Ito served up a very limited menu: seven different bowls of ramen, a handful of appetizers, and a few toppings. Ito quickly developed a cult following, until one day, he seemingly vanished out of nowhere. Months later, Ito’s Benkei Ramen returned to Hill & Dale on the Lower East Side after-hours. But then it happened again. Now, yet again, Ito has reappeared, serving the ramen he’s become known for.
Chef Ito now serves his cult-favorite Benkei menu during normal operating hours at Williamsburg's Ramen Yebisu. To begin your experience, start off with the chashu don. Ito’s chashu is not too fatty and encased in a ring of bark that could match any great BBQ joint. Next, order the Kaisen Ramen, a unique seafood-laden bowl of scallops, crab legs, shrimp, and a giant clam. The noodles are made with a touch of tapeoa, which gives them a slightly smooth and creamy feel and works perfectly with the broth, which has a burst of shoyu in it.
Around the corner from Ippudo West and with a much shorter line, Chef Yasuo Okada's Mentoku serves an extremely unique style of tonkotsu ramen from the Hakata region of Japan. The special pork bone broth takes 15 hours to cook, which gives it a creamy, rich favor.
The bowl to order is the yuzu-kosho ramen with the spicy whipped cream topping, which comes loaded with spicy pork soup noodles, peppery yuzu paste, and pork loin chashu. The broth has a spicy kick to it that gets balanced by the citrusy flavor of the yuzu. The potato-based whipped cream is surprisingly not sweet, but rather a little spicy as well. Whether you’re a vegetarian or not, the matcha ramen is also wroth a try. The bowl, which takes on a shimmering emerald hue from the matcha, is topped with konjak (a black yam cake), menma, mushrooms, soy milk, and green tea soup noodles.
Head to the original Ramen-ya on West 4th and order one of the top two bowls: the Musashi Pork Shio Black Ramen or the Kojiro Chicken Shio Red Ramen. The first features straight, thin noodles in tonkotsu broth, topped with pork chashu, kikurage mushrooms, nitamago (seasoned egg), scallions, and black garlic oil. The other features a wavy, thick egg noodle (great for the broth to cling to) in a salt-based chicken paitan, and is fiery read, a sign of exactly how spicy it really is. Need your ramen fix late-night? Ramen-ya stays open until 3am on Friday and Saturday nights.
Masaharu Morimoto's ramen-ya brings everything you'd expect to find from an Iron Chef. Get the tantan ramen, which has a bright-orange-colored broth that’s comprised of spicy coconut curry, pork chashu, red miso ground pork, aji-tama, and cilantro. The coconut curry with red miso is the star of the bowl, and the noodles have a nice bounce to them. Morimoto and the world-famous Sun Noodle designed a special noodle that doesn’t decompose as quickly as a normal ramen noodle, meaning you can take your time with your bowl. The restaurant also offers the rare opportunity to order just half a bowl, which allows you to order a second and try more.
Owned by the team behind Totto Ramen, and located directly above it, Hide-Chan specializes in Hakata tonkotsu -- known for its cloudy-white color, long noodles, and deep pork flavor with a creamy consistency. You have complete control over customizing your bowl -- from the firmness of your noodle to how much fat you want in your broth (either a lot, aka “Hakata-style” or medium, aka “NY-style”). Be sure to try the Hakata kuro ramen with ma-ru (a small blast of semi-burnt garlic oil). The garlic oil is extremely fragrant and has a roasted, nutty, slightly earthy flavor to it that plays well off of the broth. Hide-Chan is also open until 4am Friday nights to cure your late-night ramen cravings.
Kogane Ramen makes its own homemade noodles fresh daily, the style of which rotates. Currently, it's producing Tokyo-style (which are thin and kinky) and Hakata-style (which are long and thin). The bowl to order is the tonkotsu ramen, with a bone-white broth topped with aromatic black garlic oil, scallions, egg yolk, mushrooms, menma, and pork jowl. The heavy bone broth mixes well with the nutty garlic oil, the noodles are wonderfully elastic, and the crunchy menma and earthy mushrooms add texture and a fresh taste. Still, the star of the show is undoubtedly the pork jowl, which is unbelievably tender.
Astoria now has its fair share of ramen-yas, but Shuya Cafe de Ramen stands out as one of the best for its signature shuya ramen, topped with top neck clams, pork chashu, seaweed, and a flavored egg. This full-body paitan broth is unique in that it’s made from chicken, fish, and clam broth, giving it a strong umami taste. The smoky chashu is buttery soft and the flavors play well together when coated in the slightly briny broth. The flavored whole egg and the noodles are slightly chewy but still cling on well to the broth.
A 15-year East Village staple, Rai Rai Ken has slowly expanded over the years, from a tiny space on East 10th to a much bigger space a few doors down, followed by a second location in Harlem. All this is based around a ramen menu that’s barely changed. That says a lot. Rai Rai Ken is Rai Rai Ken.
The shoyu and shio ramen both come loaded with great toppings: roasted pork, bamboo shoots, boiled egg, spinach, fish cake, dry seaweed, and scallion. If you don’t mind a little extra work, the DIY tsukemen ramen is also delicious, with thick, chewy chilled noodles that you dip into a rich pork and seafood broth. Whatever you order, be sure to add on the crunchy chili oil, which deserves to be sold to the public in jugs.
Long Island City
A few years ago, Joshua Smookler and his wife Heidy opened one of the first ramen-ya pop-ups after-hours in a bagel shop -- and after a glowing New York Times write-up, they mysteriously shut it down. About eight months later, the duo reappeared with a permanent LIC restaurant.
For first-timers at Mu, it’s all about Smookler's take on pork broth, in the Tonkotsu “2.0.” After boiling pork bones for hours, Smookler skims the fat from the broth, resulting in a less greasy and dense concoction than most tonkotsu broths, with a stronger pork flavor. Layered beneath the broth are slightly al dente Sun Noodles that grip the pork well. Toppings include chashu pork jowl, mushrooms, and scallions. Mu also offers a small list of additional toppings including two types of eggs: nitamago (seasoned) and onsen (sous vide). It’s slightly more expensive than other ramen-yas, and the bowls are a bit smaller, but Tonkotsu “2.0” is on the heavier side, which makes you feel like you’ve gotten your money’s worth.
The only thing that could possibly ruin a great ramen experience? Dining with that one vegetarian friend who can’t find anything on the menu to eat. Take that friend to Chuko. Veggie-minded diners have four broths to choose from, including the spectacular Veggie Miso. This rich, white miso broth is hearty with a light pepper flair and comes with floating cubes of tofu, cabbage, bean sprouts, enoki mushrooms, and snow peas. If you're here for meat-based broth, grab the pork bone ramen, which comes with long, thin noodles, chashu, scallions, mushrooms, and a boiled egg. The chashu is loaded with flavor and hardly fatty, and the noodles are fat, golden, and slightly chewy. Two things to note: One, the sake list here is almost as good as the ramen, and two, but be prepared to wait in line (it’s worth it).
At Esther Choi's Korean-style ramen-ya, you'll find two styles of ramen: “brothy” and “saucy,” both of which infuse traditional Korean soups with ramen noodles. The best by far is the brothy kimchi jjigae, which is a kimchee bacon broth topped with braised pork, stewed kimchee, and scallion. The broth is bright orange and thick, with spicy kimchee tang and a smoked-bacon pop that plays off the sweet tender pork. The menu also offers a robust list of toppings, including poached egg and pork belly (both a must with this bowl) as well as a nice selection of kimchee that’s sold in take-home jars (try the daikon).
Lower East Side
Before opening an American spot, chef Takatoshi Nagara ran a Michelin-noted ramen-ya in Tokyo with a childhood friend. That experience has helped make his little LES joint a strong contender for best ramen in NYC after less than a year in operation. Taka keeps his menu fresh with unique weekly specials (like a spicy tomato miso chili ramen or a Christmas-only seafood ramen). On the normal menu, the yuzu shoyu, a white soy sauce-flavored chicken and bento fish broth with a zing of yuzu, is a standout, while the spicy tonkotsu has a slick and creamy pork broth that contends for best pork bowl in the city.
Long Island City
Chef Keizo Shimamoto is every ramen enthusiast’s hero. He's a Japanese-American former computer programmer who left his career in the US to travel throughout Japan, conquering 55 bowls in just 28 days. He then became ramen master Ivan Orkin's apprentice, working out of his Tokyo ramen-ya. After he returned to the States, Shimamoto continued his journey slinging ramen for both Ramen Co and Bassanova. Oh yeah, and he's also the man behind the ramen burger. The next move on his noodle quest was his traveling pop-up, Ramen Shack. At spots like Smorgasburg, Shimamoto was able to experiment with new recipes while continuing to perfect his staples, like his Dirty Shoyu ramen -- a traditional Tokyo-style, soy-sauce-based, broth-infused bowl with a magical paste made out of fried sardine heads.
You can now find Ramen Shack at a permanent location in Long Island City. The façade on the front of the shack is attached to Shimamoto’s commercial kitchen, where you get to watch him in his element, serving eight different kinds of ramen plus three different kinds of ramen burgers. One of the specialty bowls is the The Quiet Storm (a Mobb Deep reference), a rich 13-ingredient broth with a shoyu overtone. It’s topped with slightly fatty pork chashu, spinach, menma, naruto, scallions, and the perfect lava egg that will make for great #yolkporn on Instagram.
The first US outpost of this famous Japanese ramen chain was 10 years in the making. In addition to the 82-seat ramen-ya, the Bushwick Ichiran location has an attached production kitchen where the noodles are made fresh daily. Ichiran is known for its classic tonkotsu broth, as well as those house-made noodles. Here, your ramen can be customized completely to your liking -- you’re able to choose the amounts of dashi, the richness of the broth, the amount of garlic, the spice level, and the firmness of noodle. But the actual act of consuming the ramen here is just as alluring as the noodle soup itself. It’s all about the “Ichiran System” which amounts to dining with zero human interaction in a private "Flavor Concentration Booth" alone, or at a table in the communal dining room.
In the booth, you’ll face a window with a bamboo shade drawn down, and when your ramen is ready, the shade will go up as two arms pop through the window, placing your ramen in front of you (watch the full experience here). The solo dining allows you to focus on the little details that make Ichiran's ramen stand out: the broth is lighter than most pork broths, yet still creamy and full of the umami flavor, and the hiden no tare (spicy red paste) is a complex concoction made of 30 spices simmered to a bright-red perfection. The only downfall here? The ramen is pretty damn expensive, at $18.90 a bowl plus tax (and toppings cost extra).