Soup's on. Noodles, too. New Yorkers are now slurping ramen as good as it's ever been, and it's only getting better. If this sounds like old news, it's because local standards have been on the rise for several years thanks to a range of worthy arrivals, from Kyushu's Ippudo to Hokkaido's Santouka, and from Jin Ramen in Harlem to Dassara in Brooklyn. What's new is the quickening influx of promising newcomers—and the unprecedented attention they're getting. One thing that hasn't changed is ramen chefs' experimental bent, evident in an unexpected dash of rye in the noodle dough, a topping of fresh lemon and black pepper, or a hamburger made with fried-noodle "buns." Reinvention is a constant for this enduring fusion food that's evolved through improvisation. Here are seven of the city's current contenders.
A unique, complex green curry broth is the trademark soup at this first U.S. outpost of a shop in Tokyo's Setagaya ward. Another specialty is slow-brewed tondaku pork broth (above), offered with or without a funky base of dried seafood. In an unlikely but refreshing variation that we're told is big in Japan, it can be ordered with a topping of thin-sliced lemon and freshly ground black pepper.
76 Mott Street (between Canal and Bayard streets), Manhattan
This Japanese barbecue house made its name with beef from every part of the steer, so it's no surprise that its ramen (above) is built on a deeply flavored, long-simmered beef broth instead of the more common pork or poultry. Unique toppings include crunchy beef intestine and tender, slow-braised beef belly. This is a night owl's nosh, served after midnight on Fridays and Saturdays by reservation only.
456 Hudson Street (between Morton and Barrow streets), Manhattan
A short time ago, uptown Manhattan was unpromising territory for ramen seekers. No longer—this Morningside Heights shop made its mark last summer with its signature chicken broth (pictured, with spicy chicken-and-kale ramen), joining West Harlem's Jin Ramen in nudging Manhattan's center of ramen gravity a few miles north. Yasha's spicy wings are worth a visit, too, as is the live jazz on Friday nights.
940 Amsterdam Avenue (between W. 106th and 107th streets), Manhattan
Ivan Orkin, the American ramen whiz who made good in Tokyo, follows up his well-received stateside debut in Hell's Kitchen with his hotly anticipated downtown flagship, opened just last week. Look for agreeably nutty noodles with a touch of rye in dishes like brothless mazemen with pork and garlic, plus an expanded menu of sides like monkfish-liver dirty rice and a crisp scrapple waffle with cabbage and apple (above).
25 Clinton Street (between Houston and Stanton streets), Manhattan
Chef Joshua Smookler, who cooked at Per Se, crafts rich yet refined pork broths that got Chowhounds' attention in pop-up engagements at venues that included a bagel shop. The New York Times noticed too, and its rave in March swamped the mom-and-pop business with reservation requests, bringing the pop-up service to a halt. Smookler has since signed a lease and aims to open his own restaurant by July.
Opening at 12-09 Jackson Avenue (between 48th Avenue and 47th Road), Long Island City, Queens
Except for reservation-only groups, Chef Yuji Haraguchi isn't serving ramen yet at his two-week-old Williamsburg spot. But his track record—established under the Yuji Ramen brand at weekend food bazaars and two Whole Foods outposts—promises ramen and mazemen in unorthodox flavors like cured salmon with Camembert (above), as well as freewheeling ramen tasting dinners. For now he's keeping things simple, offering daily-changing sets of three seasonal dishes and soup.
150 Ainslie Street (between Leonard and Lorimer streets), Brooklyn
Chef Keizo Shimamoto, a Japanese-American whose mission is to merge the food traditions of his dual heritage, succeeded big-time with his wildly popular ramen burger. But at heart he's a ramen obsessive, trained at Tokyo's Bassanova (see above), and that's the focus at his month-old downtown shop. The opening menu explores regional variations on tonkotsu pork broths, based on Shimamoto's travels around Japan. And yes, he's slinging ramen burgers, too.
100 Maiden Lane (entrance on Pearl Street), Manhattan
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PHOTO CREDITS Top image and tondaku ramen from Bassanova Ramen / Facebook; spicy beef ramen from Takashi / Facebook; spicy chicken ramen with kale from Yasha Ramen / Facebook; Ivan Ramen photo from Ivan Ramen / Facebook; Mu Ramen photo from Mu Ramen / Facebook; cured salmon–cheese mazemen from Okonomi's Yuji Haraguchi by Flickr member Shinya Suzuki under Creative Commons; Ramen.Co photo by Mark Hokoda