In the past year, I’ve visited enough ramen joints to be confident enough to say that Ippudo has the best ramen. Ever.
Well, in New York City, at least.
Ippudo, established in 1985, opened its first U.S. branch here in the East Village back in 08′. There are 43 branches in Japan where the founder, Shigemi Kawahara, is dubbed as the “King of Ramen.” Just like how we have hot dog eating champions and a TV show dedicated to pitting a man vs. food (literally), there are televised ramen cooking competitions back in Japan. Kawahara won it in 2006. + Shiny star for Ippudo’s resume.
Ippudo is no joke. Downstairs, ramen noodles are laboriously made by hand. The place is famous for their ‘Hakata Ramen’ (originates from Hakata, Japan). Hakata Ramen is characterized by its white, thick soup that is made from Tonkotsu, or pork bones. This is where the best ramen are differentiated from their inferior peers. It’s the broth that makes the true difference. Yes, noodles are very important, but part of the ramen experience is drinking the broth at the very end. Of course, this is ironic for me to say as I never drink mine since I hate soup.
This is the spoon that you eat the ramen with. Duh.
Ippudo defines ramen as “a cosmos created in a bowl.” The basic broth consists of prok, chicken, beef, or seafood. It’s then seasoned with soy sauce, salt, or miso. The noodles are made of flour, eggs, kansui (an alkaline water). See their website for more details.
So enough about ramen basics. On a Monday afternoon around 1:30pm, Stick and I walked into a 10-15 minute wait at Ippudo. Who would have thought there was a recession! We were seated within the 15 minutes somewhere in the way back where mirrors align one side of the wall and a sequined framed piece of art aligned the other. The server came immediately and brought us water. It took Stick awhile to decide what he wanted but eventually he settled for a lunch set.
Most of the ramen is priced at $13, but for an extra $3, you can get a lunch set which includes a small salad and a) Mentaiko (spicy cod roe) over rice; b) Roast pork over rice; c) Fried chicken (spicy) over rice; or d) grilled eel over rice. Guess what Stick picked!!
Just an important side word. That side salad may look like your average salad but it’s not. The wasabi dressing on that is phenomenal [widens eyes].
Karaka Men ‘the original tonkotsu’ soup noodle with special blended hot spice, served with pork belly chashu, kikurage, cabbage, onion, minced pork & scallions ($13/16)
The ramen came soon after. I ended up going with the spicier version. Have you ever had Shin Ramen? It’s that Korean DIY ramen. The flavor reminds me of Shin Ramen, but it’s much more intricate. The broth looks orange, but when you’re fishing for the noodles with your chopsticks, the broth swirls into a murky pale yellow/brown color. It’s spicy but so flavorful at the same time. In other words, the broth isn’t flavored by the spiciness. That just merely enhances the true flavor of the broth.
What I love most about Ippudo is their noodles (despite me talking about how important authentic broth is). It’s cooked al dente, and despite sitting in that sweltering hot broth, it never gets soft or soggy. There’s enough in there to fill you up, but you end up asking yourself whether you should order extra. The chashu, or pork belly, is tender and slightly salty. I’ve read that it’s worth splurging on the side chashu for an extra $3 as it’s different from the one that they serve in the broth.
Stick went with a more traditional broth, though he thought he was trying something exotic and crazy. I guess if you use the Japanese name of any ingredient on your menu, you can sound exotic. This is a much more mellow broth. It’s what I’d crave for if I were sick. Sort of like your Japanese version of chicken noodle soup.
At the end of your meal, if you’re still hungry and still have some broth left, you can say “Kae-dama, please” to your server, which translates to “a ball of noodles please.” That will set you back $2, but worth every penny if you ask me.
I almost forgot. At the end of the meal, they serve you a nice, hot mug of steamy green tea. What a nice gesture.
Minus the wait (this place is always teeming with long lines, especially on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights), this place is definitely worth coming back to. I wouldn’t exactly call it cheap, but $13 is still pretty cheap for a quality meal in NYC. Oh and I heard from Angela that the appetizers are amazing, especially the Hirata buns. Guess I have to make another trip back to try them!