In the past year or so of New York City life, I’ve made a small pilgrimage around the city to try some of New York’s finest (and most hyped) ramen offerings. As you’ll see, I’m still missing quite a few notable exceptions (Ganso, Takashi, Chuko, Minca, Yuji, Ramen.Co, and mainstays like Momofuku and Menchanko Tei), but here are my favorites to date, in general order of preference.
Ramen Sanshiro (open late-nite only, 249 E 49th St, near 2nd Ave, Yelp, Google Maps)
In a ramen landscape overcrowded with rich, tonkotsu-driven broth, Sanshiro’s late-night shio ramen is a tremendous breath of fresh air. There’s a nostalgic fragrance to the soup (for me at least), intensely satisfying and full of umami, chicken broth that manages to be flavorful without being greasy or reliant on onions. Running on fumes or adrenaline after a night out, or just getting into the city post-commute, the bowl can conquer a midnight craving without completely destroying your ambulatory capabilities in the way that a heavy dose of pork bone on high heat would. The noodles are half-way between the angelhair’d twirls of Hakata-style ramen and the thick, springy curls, accompanied by a runny half-egg and a slice of deeply caramelized chashu pork.
Hide-Chan (248 E 52nd St, near 2nd Ave, Yelp, Google Maps, website)
Like Ippudo, the noodles here are the distinct Hakata-style, thin and hard, much the way I prefer my ramen most of the time. I didn’t care for the black garlic ramen that I had on my first visit here, but I gave this narrow second-story shop a second chance. On my next stop, I ordered the Kogashi shoyu katsuo ramen, which was deliciously fishy (katsuo is bonito) and light, almost sweet. I added a seasoned egg, bamboo shoots, & chipped garlic (these are good, in moderation) to go along with two fatty discs of chashu. I realize that my top two choices are not tonkotsu-based, but lighter broths are more in my wheelhouse. Perhaps it has to do with a brainwashing from Chinese noodle soups, which predominantly feature lighter broths, but without getting too Freudian in my self-analysis, I just emphatically enjoy a powerfully flavored soup that doesn’t feel like a gut punch of fat.
Mu Ramen (tbd, Long Island City, Twitter, Menu)
Lest I forget my manners, nobody puts baby in the corner. By baby, I mean tonkotsu pork broth ramen, and I don’t know what I mean by corner, but Mu Ramen’s Tonkotsu 2.0 is a pretty tasty version. The broth is a two-day labor of love, with some ridiculously scientific hodge-podge of pork parts (not to say that the Japanese chains’ versions aren’t). My broken-record appreciation for a lighter-bodied tonkotsu is a key reason for why I liked Mu so much – I had room enough after a pork belly steamed bun, some shishito peppers (with yuzu salt), and a bowl of Tonkotsu 2.0 to walk back to the deserted L stop, which is not something I could say with a bowl of Akamaru Modern. The pork jowl makes for a great alternative to traditional chashu, and much preferred (stemming from my early ramen-crazy days in Los Angeles getting fat on Santouka’s special pork) I had a bowl when Mu Ramen was still in pop-up mode in Bricktown Bagels in Long Island City (they are currently prepping a brick-and-mortar location of their own).
Now, there are quite a few other bowls I quite enjoy and have gotten multiple times, since the above places are sometimes a bit hard to reach, especially now that I live in Hell’s Kitchen. They are:
The Akamaru Modern is my go-to order, but I also really enjoyed the Torishio ramen, There’s not much to say about the Akamaru Modern – it’s the quintessential tonkotsu in the city, one that I can have once a week and still greatly enjoy.
Benkei (late night only, 115 Allen St, website, Google Maps)
Another midnight ramen shop set up inside a regular-hours Japanese restaurant (beloved sushi restaurant Ushiwakamaru, and which has now moved over to Hill + Dale), Benkei serves up a small list of premium bowls. The house special is a tonkotsu ramen, but I didn’t order that one when I rolled through. Instead, I got the kaisen shoyu ramen, topped with sauteed crab meat, scallop, clam, and seaweed (with a half-egg and menma). I loved the buttery sweetness of the seafood, especially the crab, as it disintegrated into the soup. I went on a slow night, but the team was pretty lean, so I’m not sure what would happen on a busy night.
Bassanova Ramen (76 Mott St, near Canal, website, Google Maps)
This Chinatown ramen shop’s tondaku green curry ramen is the non-traditional of the bunch, but given my love for peppery Thai flavors, I was pleasantly surprised by how delicious this bowl was. There’s amazing variety in texture, from buttery chashu to crunchy okra to thick, springy, egg-y noodles. They also had a crab mazemen that was pretty delicious.
Hanjan (36 W 26th St, near 6th Ave, website)
Chef Hooni Kim’s spicy ramyun (served after 9pm) is a sweat-inducing exercise in self-flagellation, because the spice is not enough to stop you from devouring the whole bowl. Somewhat akin to that sweet-spiciness from nangmyeon and gochujang that I love so much, the soup is supremely savory – you can tell that as a standalone, without the sinus-pummeling spice, it is perfectly seasoned. So you chase this deliciousness through the thornbushes of chili fieriness, because how can you not?
Totto Ramen (464 W 51st St, near 10th Ave, website)
Spicy chicken paitan – frankly, I don’t understand at all the hype around the small ramen counter, given how ridiculous the wait is at almost all hours. That said, if you can get a seat without an unreasonable wait (probably at the larger new location on 51st Street), the spicy sesame oil that comes with the Totto Spicy Ramen is just as transformative to an otherwise above-average bowl of ramen as the dollop of red miso on the Akamaru Ramen. (I tried the regular chicken paitan and was not crazy about it. The meat was dry, so the broth couldn’t really soak into it in the way that fattier chashu absorbs whatever broth it’s in, and the scallions were half-heartedly chopped.)
Ramen Setagaya (34 1/2 St Marks Place, website)
A clean, simple bowl of shio ramen, with chewy ramen noodles that are sometimes hard to find.
Terakawa Ramen (18 Lexington Ave, near 23rd St, Yelp)
Terakawa’s divey college-town feel isn’t so appealing, per se, but it serves a solid bowl of Tan Tan Ramen, a Japanese play on dan dan noodles, a spicy Sichuan dish with ground pork, scallions, and chilis. Especially on a cold day.
Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop (600 11th Ave, between 45th and 46th St, Gotham West Market)
The hype – is it worth it? I’m still undecided. I prefer Hakata-style and even the chewier thick noodles to rye, which is what Chef Orkin uses at his namesake shop, which first opened as part of Gotham West Market. The soup for the shio ramen (my go-to order) is well-done, nuanced, flavorful, and the roasted tomato and the topping of scallions are both great. Solid, but for the same price, much prefer some of the other bowls listed above.