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Austere in its whiteness: #1 on Chuko’s menu, “pork, scallion, egg, mustard green,” also known as Limited Order Ramen, due to the limited quantities available every evening.
Update! Read our 2015 edition of the ten best bowls of ramen in New York
It was a chilly afternoon with a stiff west wind as I stood in front of Ippudo earlier this week. Where were the crowds I’d encountered on every previous occasion? Maybe it was the cold weather and threatening rain that had driven them away, or maybe, in the aftermath of New Year’s, not so many people were ready to blow $25 or $30 on lunch. Either way, I was able to walk right in, sit down, and enjoy a stupendous bowl of noodles, with a broth the likes of which I probably won’t see again in my lifetime.
Within a half-mile of Ippudo, you can count nine places either entirely dedicated to ramen or serving ramen as a major portion of their menus. How did this humble noodle, which migrated from China to Japan before coming here, become so huge? And is it finally declining in popularity after a three-year run as the city’s favorite starch. (OK, maybe pizza is still bigger.)
Here, without further ado, are our ranked nominations for the best bowls of ramen in the city. Please feel free to disagree.
10. Limited Order Ramen at Chuko — Started by two former Morimoto veterans, this ramen parlor has sent the venerable noodle twirling in a decidedly hipster direction. The broth is ghostly white and frothy and the pork tastes like bacon, and the entire roster of ingredients is austere in the extreme. This bowl scores high points for novelty and purity. 552 Vanderbilt Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-576-6701
9. Mayu Ramen at Terakawa Ramen — This is the darkest and stormiest bowl of ramen in the city, the pork broth laced with garlic cooked almost to a cinder, a plethora of other ingredients, like wood-ear mushrooms and bamboo shoots, crowding the bloated ramen. You won’t go away hungry from this unusual bowl. 18 Lexington Avenue, 212-777-2939; 885 Ninth Avenue, 212-307-0170
8. Momofuku Ramen at Momofuku Noodle Bar — This bowl lays claim to being one of the inspirations behind the current ramen boom. That said, the soup shows the touch of an ambitious chef, featuring two kinds of pork (roast belly and shredded shoulder), flowers of fishcake, whole sheets of nori as if stolen from the sushi bar down the street, and a science-cheffy egg. The bowl flaunts its noodles prominently, while other places hide them beneath the surface. 171 First Avenue, 212-777-7773
7. Chashu Ramen at Rockmeisha — This Japanese gastropub hidden in plain sight off Sheridan Square cultivates a 1950s wrestling theme, and you’re likely to see Gorgeous George tangling with a Japanese wrestler on the monitors. More important, only one ramen is offered, with no fussy options — this is pub grub at its Japanese best, based in a murky pig-foot broth that tastes like it’s been boiled for three years. Plenty of pork, too. 11 Barrow Street, 212-675-7775
Momofuku Noodle Bar was at least partly responsible for the current ramen craze.
6. Minca Ramen at Minca — This place is very old in East Village ramen years, and incites fierce loyalty with its choice of five types of noodles, multiple broth options, and comparatively low prices. The signature bowl features a powerful soy broth, a tea-boiled egg, kelp, and thin noodles. 536 East 5th Street, 212-505-8001
5. Spicy Miso Ramen at Ramen Setagaya — No better repast as the winter winds whip the East Village than this spicy bowl of miso ramen. The medium-weight miso is earthy and gritty, the level of heat higher than you’d ever expect, and the kernels of corn a cooling component. Anneal your innards with this soup and you won’t regret it. 34 St. Marks Place, 212-387-7959
4. Powder Snow Ramen at Ramen Misoya — The pork dropped into your soup is exceptional here, where three types of miso, each associated with a city in Japan, underpin most of the ramens. The restaurant boasts, “Our broth is made with pork born, chicken bone, garlic, ginger, and seaweed kelp.” While grating Parmesan on top of ramen and throwing on a big pat of butter isn’t unknown, here it’s done with greater success, making a really memorable bowl of noodles. 129 Second Avenue, 212-677-4825
3. Tabata Ramen at Tabata Ramen — The signature soup at this new Hell’s Kitchen noodle parlor features cooked and toasted ramen in the same bowl, with a novel broth thickened with coconut milk and soy powder. Chicken nubs as the protein and raw purple onions are further evidence of the kinkiness of this formulation. You’ll find yourself going back a few days later for a second serving. NB: Location behind the Port Authority may be one reason for prices almost 30 percent less than most ramen parlors in town, with no diminution in quality. 540 Ninth Avenue, 212-290-7691
2. Shiromaru Hakata Classic at Ippudo — Pork bone broth highly emulsified, and a shade of beige that simply didn’t exist before. Noodles slightly firmer than most and thinner, and pickled ginger is an important component of the flavor package. But the premises threaten to overwhelm the noodles, and the Valley of Blackened Trees and Wall of Bowls have become bona fide East Village landmarks. 65 Fourth Avenue, 212-388-0088
Off-price Ramen Tabata, behind the Port Authority
1. Chicken Paitan Ramen from Totto Ramen — This obscurely located shack on the far west side of Midtown is invariably mobbed. It specializes in a Cantonese-influenced broth made with chicken and pork bones, and soft, straight, or slightly wavy noodles. This is a great choice for lovers of delicacy and subtlety in ramen. Shown with two rather unusual toppings — one a hot pepper condiment (shown in the soup), the other soy-marinated avocado. Weird and wonderful! 366 West 52nd Street, 212-582-0052
Totto Ramen’s tiny interior