Best ramen in NYC
The best seats in the house are at the bar overlooking the open kitchen, where husband-and-wife team Joshua and Heidy Smookler operate with sushi-bar intimacy, cracking jokes while shaking pots of just-boiled noodles as easily as tumbler-happy bartenders. Those strands are delicate, but with an al-dente spring and a different variety showcased in each bowl. Most notable is the flagship bowl, built on a broth of oxtail and bone marrow, with some extra-meaty oomph from melting cubes of brisket.
Shigetoshi “Naka” Nakamura, one of Japan’s most widely-recognized ramen toques, dazzled New York audiences at Sun Noodle’s Ramen Lab. After a stint as the noodle company’s corporate chef, Nakamura opened this 18-seat ramen-ya, where he peddles a curry-spiced ramen and signature shoyu variety that employs his famed stock—chicken bones simmered with ginger and a proprietary soy-sauce blend—and a noodle choice of house-made strands or the Sun Noodle standard.
Ivan Orkin has never been one to play by the rulebook—the brash, Yiddish-tongued Long Islander first built his food-world fame in Tokyo, where he stirred up Japan’s devout ramen congregation with his light, silky slurp bowls in 2007. At his flagship Lower East Side restaurant, Orkin more than earns his keep in the ramen circle with seminal noodle-bar standards like his exquisitely delicate double-soup shio, silky dashi-chicken stock swimming with thin rye-flour noodles and tender pork belly.
Calling all solo diners: Take a seat in one of acclaimed ramen chain Ichiran's “flavor concentration booths" and fill out an order form—the kitchen focuses on pork-bone tonkotsu ramen, but you can specify preferences like “flavor strength,” “noodle tenderness” and “fat content." Push the call button and a server will lift the bamboo shade in front of you to deliver your ramen. There's also an adjacent dining room with traditional table service for more extroverted eaters.
The superior strands at this 10-seat educational slurp shop from the Sun Noodle team have been a secret weapon in noodle houses on both East and West Coasts—including NYC’s Momofuku Noodle Bar, Totto Ramen and Hide-Chan, among countless others—for three decades. Ramen chefs from the U.S. and Japan take over the kitchen for three-week residencies, with toques like Tampa's Noel Cruz doling out bowls of spicy abura soba and vegetable ramen.
David Chang's esteemed Noodle Bar is still original, fun and, at times, outstanding. The East Village stalwart made its bones taking the economic savior of college students everywhere—ramen noodles—and making them hot, duding up most of the bowls with sexy yet earthy ingredients like poached eggs and pickled pear, the latter turning the pork broth of the beef brisket nguyen into a spicy fruit tea.
Every night, Okonomi's breakfast-and-lunch ichi ju san sai operation gives way to this 380-square-foot ramen-ya from noodle whiz Yuji Haraguchi, a sit-down offshoot of the chef’s Kinfolk Studios and Whole Foods counters. Bowls include his calling-card bacon-and-egg mazemen or a daily-changing shoyu, or post up to the four-stool counter overlooking the open kitchen for a reservations-only ramen tasting menu.
This sleek outpost of a Japanese ramen chain is packed mostly with Nippon natives who queue up for a taste of “Ramen King” Shigemi Kawahara’s tonkotsu—a pork-based broth. The house special, Akamaru Modern, is a smooth, buttery soup topped with scallions, cabbage, a slice of roasted pork and pleasantly elastic noodles. Avoid nonsoup dishes like the oily fried-chicken nuggets coated in a sweet batter. Long live the Ramen King—just don’t ask him to move beyond his specialty.
Like a traditional Japanese ramen-ya, this narrow, below-street-level noodle joint is designed for quick meals. The specialty here is paitan ramen, a creamy soup that’s a chicken-based variation on Hakata, Japan’s famous tonkotsu (pork) broth. The most basic version, the Totto chicken, is a flavorful, opaque soup bobbing with thin, straight noodles and slow-cooked pork ridged with satiny fat. The real winner, however, is the miso ramen, enriched with a scoop of nutty fermented soybean paste and wavy egg noodles.
Hideto Kawahara, a ramen chef based in the Hakata region of Fukuoka, Japan, oversees the steaming bowls at this midtown noodle shop. The best bowl is the ma-yu ramen, with earthy, crunchy kikurage mushrooms, a sheet of briny nori, raw scallions and bean sprouts, plus bits of carbonized garlic that lend a deep, charred flavor to the pork-bone broth. There’s also a less sweat-inducing option—chewy chilled noodles, served with a side of spicy, sesame-oil-flavored soba broth for dipping.
At this buzzy Brooklyn ramen joint—reminiscent of a less sceney Momofuku with its natural-wood aesthetic, hipster waitstaff and ’90s hip-hop soundtrack—Morimoto vets Jamison Blankenship and David Koon bring their high-end training to Japan’s deceptively complex soul food. The pair has plenty to show for their tinkering: a gorgeous soft egg that spills its yolk into a complex and buttery miso broth; fat, springy noodles bobbing in the comforting soy broth; and a rich yet restrained tonkotsu, vivid with baconlike porkiness.
The usual noodle-bar gimmicks are not part of the equation at Minca. You can’t mix and match your meat and broth; instead, the gleaming East Village soup stop stays focused on 15 simple items. Nab one of the few bar stools overlooking the stoves and dive into light homemade dumplings stuffed with panfried minced pork, followed by chashu ramen, a buttery broth stocked with egg, bamboo shoots and sheets of nori, topped with thin, tender slices of pork.
This 25-seat, noodle-focused counter (jun-men translates to "pure noodle"), tangles up traditional (14-hour-simmered bone broth with chashu) and unorthodox flavors, like an Italian-inflected, uni-bejeweled mushroom mazemen with crumbles of roasted pancetta and a dollop of porcini butter. Tuck into the soups, as well as sides such as a yellowtail ceviche with kimchi jus, at wooden communal tables beneath hanging lights and a reflective tiled ceiling.
The masters of macrobiotics have opened a tiny, vegetarian-friendly ramen shop. Appetizers—such as seitan dumplings—are vegan, while the broths include miso, shoyu (soy sauce flavor) and seafood. The shop's atypical noodles include wheat, white rice, brown-rice, and zucchini styles; and there's a gluten-free option for almost every dish on the menu.