Why Come Here? See how good ramen can be
Ramen might be the hottest dish in NYC right now, and I don’t just mean when it comes fresh out of the kitchen. Authentic Japanese imports and late night bowls are popping up all over town with waits in the hours to slurp a bowl of broth noodles. I have to admit, until recently I couldn’t understand what all the commotion was about. I had nothing against ramen per se, but for me it was still a 59 cent college penny saver meal and the few versions I has tried around the city did little to allay that feeling. Therefore the multi hour wait for a $14 bowl at ramen flagbearer Ippudo long had not appealed to me. But as a food blogger in New York, I felt an obligation to check it out. And now that I have, the mystery of Ramenmania has been revealed.
Ippudo, a popular ramen chain in Japan, ignited the current ramen craze when it first opened its doors in New York five years ago. Despite it’s age and the arrival of numerous competitors, the restaurant has only gotten more popular. Whereas one hour hour waits were once the norm, you can now expect to have 2.5 hours to kill between arrival and seating. Fortunately, the staff will take your number and text you when your time has come, giving you plenty of time to enjoy the East Village’s numerous drinking establishments (Continental – home of the infamous 5 shots for $10 – is just around the corner…)
Once you are seated you’ll see that the back dining area is not as large as the bar area up front may have led you to believe, which is part of the reason you waited so long. That said, they do a great job of packing in the slurpophiles with most seating at either communal tables or a counter. While sharing a table with four strangers can be a recipe for an awkward meal of flying elbows and TMI, the careful spacing of seats generally makes this a non-issue at Ippudo. The decor is so perfect I can’t imagine a ramen shop any other way: moderately lit with Japanese characters and empty ramen bowls perched on the walls, trees flowing from the middle of tables, an open kitchen and dried noodles inside the bar.
When it comes to the food, your first decision upon reaching a table will of course be which ramen to order. If you’re a ramen rookie as I was, I suggest opting for one of the two most popular: the Askamaru Modern and the Shiromaru Hakata (and get the extra pork option). Keep in mind they have a system called “kae-dama” where if you eat all your noodles, you can get a whole new ball dropped in for a mere $2. So plan accordingly when slurping your broth. Yet despite the fact the ramen is what brought you here, don’t forget to start out with some of their killer apps (you’re probably starving by now anyway). Some of the city’s best pork buns and sishitos await and would be a shame to miss out. My rundown of what I’ve tried is below:
Pork Buns Because pork is the one thing you can’t have too much of at any given meal, these meaty, tender buns in soft, semi-sweet buns are a must order. They are serious contenders for the city’s best and if you’ve only had them at Momofuku, you definitely need to give these a try.
65 Fourth Avenue (9th & 10th Sts.)
New York, NY
Note: There is another larger location at 321 West 51st Street that purportedly has the same food and shorter waits.