If you’ve ever been broke, instant ramen has most likely been an integral part of your diet. It’s flavorful (gotta love that MSG), filling, and you can get six meals for, like, a dollar. But over the past decade or so, the ramen scene in NYC has exploded, so you’re excused if you can no longer imagine water, noodles, and a packet as a dish. Of course, the real thing costs a heck of a lot more money — some places charge upwards of $16 a bowl. Totto Ramen (366 West 52nd Street; 212-582-0052), on the other hand, offers its paitan for less than $10.
With frequent hour-plus (probably two-plus, on a Friday or Saturday night) lines, each of the place’s three locations draws the crowds for its own authentic version of the soup. There’s a reason it’s commonly included on lists of the best: It’s that good.
Depending on whom you ask, you’ll hear a different answer for which ramen to order. None are extraordinarily pricey; however, the paitan is definitely the most affordable.
Very different from the ubiquitous tonkatsu (a rich and heavy pork-based stock), the paitan starts with long-simmered hot chicken broth, and it’s lighter and brighter than its porcine counterpart. It’s filled with straight wheat noodles, made in-house, then topped with nori (stiff sheets of seaweed), scallions, and onions, and finished off with your pick of chicken or pork as a protein.
And ringing in at just $9.75 per bowl, it’s a great deal — as long as you can handle the wait.