In recent years, Japanese food has emerged as one of the most sought-after cuisines in America, and Americans are becoming discerning—no longer are we satisfied by half-priced sushi rolls or sickly-sweet chicken teriyaki. As with those looking for the most authentic and the best Mexican restaurants in America, diners now seek out only the finest Japanese, from raw-fish temples (we’ve got you covered with the best sushi restaurants in America) to yakitori specialists and of course, joints offering the best ramen in the USA (and yes, we know there are questions about the exact origins of ramen—but no time for ramen wars here). The noodle soups have come a long way since they (like pizza and donut shop pastries) were merely thought of as a poor college student staple. Customized strands and slow-simmered broths ensure that these are as satisfying and slurp-worthy as their Japanese originals. Get ready to tuck into belly-warming bowls of the best ramen in America. Follow Time Out USA on Facebook; sign up for the Time Out USA newsletter
Best ramen in America
The restaurant that sparked Austin’s ramen craze remains the city’s top noodle-slinger, thanks to its extraordinarily intense broth. Former DJs Tatsu Aikawa and Takuya Matsumoto craft a tonkotsu that requires three days’ worth of cook time, resulting in a luscious pork bone elixir that clings to each angel-hair-thin noodle (like many of the nation’s top ramen joints, the custom strands come from revered producer Sun Noodle). Meltingly tender chashu (thin-sliced pork), snappy woodear mushrooms and a marinated egg finish each carefully composed bowl.
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, the house ramen gets some extra-meaty oomph from melting cubes of brisket, which, paired with shredded cabbage and half-sour pickles, toe Jewish deli-novelty without succumbing to kitsch.
Much digital ink has been spilled over Tsujita’s tsukemen: how kurobuta pork bones are simmered for no less than 60 hours to create the dipping broth; how the noodles are thick, toothy, dense; and how ramen is served only at lunch, so that the wait for a seat can fluctuate between tolerable and formidable (unless you’re dining solo, in which case, you’ll be seated at the counter in no more than 15 minutes). Suffice to say, in a rare instance of hype living up to reality, all that ink bleeds true—this is the best tsukemen in the city. This West L.A. spot’s noodle bowl is the one to which you’ll forever compare all others, much to your chagrin. Because after you’ve eaten here, you’ll be resigned to the fact that when the mood for tsukemen strikes, you’ll have no choice but to go to Tsujita. Put your name down. And wait…and wait. It’ll be worth it.
Japan native Kazunori Kobayashi runs a mini ramen empire in the Bay Area, where each spot specializes in a different type of broth. Here, the spotlight shines on spicy stamina in three styles: miso, shoyu and a standout tonkotsu. The sumptuous pork variation is intensely satisfying, amped up with roasted garlic, red pepper threads and Ramen Dojo’s signature chicken gravy—essentially a Japanese meat sauce that’s pure comfort-food gold.
To form the slurp-worthy bowls at his H Street hangout, chef Erik Bruner-Yang sought inspiration from travels across East Asia. While the broths—concocted from a constantly-simmering mother stock—are decidedly Japanese, other components come courtesy of the Nippon nation’s multiple neighbors: China for chewy, toothsome noodles; Bruner-Yang’s native Taiwan for a crispy fried chicken topping; and Korea for one of Toki Underground’s bestsellers, a spicy number infused with the pickled punch of fermented cabbage.
It seems as though you can’t drive in any direction in L.A. without stumbling upon at least one ramen joint boasting about its tonkotsu broth—pork bones simmered for hours to create a viscous soup. Despite all the new shops sprouting up in the city, one of the earliest tonkotsu specialists is still the best. Jinya offers a full slate of pork-based ramen, all of which smack you hard with not only pork, but also what someone there might tell you is an “industrial” amount of dashi (Japanese soup base) and dried fish. Purists can order the Tonkotsu Assari to appreciate the remarkable umami of this soup. For the adventurous, there’s the Tonkotsu Spicy, which stays true to its name. Locations include Studio City, Mid-Wilshire, Santa Monica, Hollywood and Burbank.
In recent years, the Motor City has emerged as one of the country’s top food destinations, with chefs like Johnny Noodle King’s Les Molnar reshaping the local dining landscape. At his diner-turned-ramen-ya, bowls range from the traditional—like a creamy tonkotsu made from boiled-down pig’s trotters and heads—to the delightfully inauthentic Southwest #2, brimming with green chilies, corn, coriander-roasted carrots and fish sauce.
Situated in Denver’s hip LoHi neighborhood, this dinner-only spot slings nearly 2,000 bowls a week, a testament to the popularity of Uncle’s umami-laden offerings. Chef Tommy Lee goes old-school with technique—broths get a requisite 16-hour simmer, noodles come from Sun—but the varieties go beyond the usual shio and shoyu. Instead, there’s the Spicy Chicken built on tahini-soy-chili base and an equally rich Veggie Miso finished with wild mushrooms, snap peas and watermelon radish.
Ramen addicts are a particular bunch, and a bowl that strays too far from the conventional has to be executed perfectly. Matthias Merges’s two Yusho locations serve up bowls of inventive and satisfying soups that are always on point. The standout here is the spin on a traditional tonkotsu bowl, the Logan Poser Ramen, which features a meaty rectangle of crispy fried pig tail and comes topped with a scattering of tobiko flakes that wriggle over the top of the steaming broth. On Sundays, a bowl of ramen of your choice, soft serve and a cocktail will only put you out $20—it’s still one of the best (and least crowded) brunch deals in the city.
O Ya alumni Mark O’Leary—whose Guchi Midnight Ramen pop-ups propelled him to noodle-slinging fame—heads up this perpetually packed Chinatown joint. Tucked away in the basement, you’ll find one of the country’s few in-house noodle machines, a Yamato specimen cranking out springy strands that mingle effortlessly with O’Leary’s deeply concentrated chicken-and-pork-bone broth. The bowl is only available at lunch, but dinner patrons fret not: Shojo’s other dishes—the Asian-style chicken and waffles, in particular—don’t disappoint.