Friday, December 21, 2007

The Best Ramen in New York City

Or at least, the best I've had.

Let's review. So far, we've been to:

Minca on 5th St. between A and B
Menkui-tei on 54th St. between 5th and 6th
Setaga-ya (haven't written that one up yet) on 1st Ave. between 8th and 9th
Menchanko-tei on 55th St. between 5th and 6th
Ippudo, on 4th Ave. and 10th St., which wasn't open at the time I originally wrote this. More on them later.

There are actually two "ramen districts" in NYC - one around the East Village, another lesser-known one in midtown. The midtown restaurants are actually more authentic, and less trendy.

This is Menchanko-tei, again. We went back, just like I said we would, and this time I got the Hakata ramen.

It's pretty much exactly what I want from ramen. Pork bone-based broth that's rich but not too thick or salty, then your basic thin, firm but not too firm noodles, pork, scallions and a couple other vegetables I can't quite identify. There are a lot of noodles in there too - I was stuffed after eating it. It's not piled high like the bowl I had at Yo! Teko-ya in Tokyo (go on, click that link if you haven't seen it, it's pretty awesome), but it's still pretty full up with food. The pork was nice and tender, not too fatty, the vegetables all crunchy - not like they'd been sitting in the broth for weeks.

My wife got the miso ramen:

Now, about Ippudo, which seems to currently be the ramen shop with the most buzz. And in some ways, I can see why. The dining room is very trendy - which Menchanko-tei most certainly isn't. Ippudo's broth is maybe slightly richer and more flavorful. I'd say overall they were pretty equivalent.

But there are a few things I didn't like about Ippudo: the noodles and the quantity of ingredients. Also, no gyoza! This is a sin. (In fact, their menu overall is pretty simple, not that that's necessarily a negative.) Their noodles are obviously dried - they were still dry when they were served to me, and they never fully softened. (Menchanko-tei's may be dried as well, but I couldn't tell if they were.) And both my wife and I only got two small pieces of pork in our soup, and hardly any vegetables. Their ramen is basically just broth and dried noodles. It tastes really good, but it's a little unsatisfying in the end. And all that tips the scales in Menchanko-tei's favor.

But Ippudo is most definitely the best ramen in the Village area. If you're down there and don't feel like trekking up to midtown, hit Ippudo.

A little backstory on ramen broth: there are different types of broth, some of them more or less popular in different regions. Hakata ramen is popular in Hakata, Fukuoka, of course. Tokyo is more of a shoyu (soy sauce base) town. Miso's popular up north, around Sapporo. It's also my wife's favorite, even though she's from the Tokyo area. Most of the ramen restaurants in New York will do all types of ramen broth, although not all equally well. I'm basing my qualitative judgments on Hakata ramen, although my wife has agreed with my rankings.

Every time we go to a ramen shop in New York, we seem to do a little better. Our first time out was a huge disappointment. But each successive restaurant has been at least as good and in most cases better than the last. If you do go to Menchanko-tei, just make sure you order something on the menu that's actually called "ramen" - their own special noodle dishes, while good in their own right and also ramen (just their own style), aren't really what I expect from traditional ramen noodles.

UPDATE: If you've been here before, you know that Menchanko-tei had a problem with their liquor license for a while. That's sorted now. The beer is back!

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:26 PM

    IPPUDO - you will love it. Go there!


About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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