An epicenter of international cuisine, New York City lets you travel the globe through its remarkable diversity of culinary offerings – and Japanese culture and gastronomy are stunningly represented across the city.
The ramen circuit in particular is nothing short of iconic, well-traversed by locals and tourists alike. Read on for a sampling of the city’s best and brightest bowls of noodles, from delicate vegan and vegetarian options to uber-flavorful bone broths brewed for days
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TabeTomo: Best long-brewed ramen in New York City
If you’re looking for atmospheric authenticity, TabeTomo takes the cake. With floor-to-ceiling, window-like doors that open onto the bustling streets of Manhattan’s East Village, you can catch a cool summer breeze while enjoying a satisfying bowl of ramen.
The restaurant’s name pays tribute to its chef, Tomotsugu Kubo, and means “eating buddy” in Japanese – and you’ll find plenty of those here. Everyone from Japanese expats chatting in their native tongue to couples on cheerful romantic dates to gaggles of teenagers catching a bite to eat after school can be spotted in this airy local favorite.
TabeTomo’s claim to fame is a remarkable pork broth, prepared and simmered for a whopping 60-plus hours. This is Jiro-style ramen, so the broth is packed with raw garlic and thick chewy noodles, as opposed to the thin, soft noodles often popular in Americanized kitchens. The place also specializes in tsukemen, in which the noodles are served on the side for dipping, thus allowing them to remain firm while the broth retains its fullest flavor. Phenomenal!
Ippudo: Best sake pairing in New York City
In the early 2010s, as the tasty soup began trending globally, a wave of ramen restaurants flooded the city. Ippudo was one of the earliest surfers of that wave, and it hasn’t wavered in popularity – or tastiness – in the slightest. The pork and vegetarian broths here have truly stood the test of time, and the Japan-based chain now has multiple locations in Manhattan.
Ippudo is famous for its sake pairings with delicious ramen © Ippudo
In terms of quality, Ippudo’s standard sake list is more than up to snuff, and its waitstaff is trained and knowledgable, always willing to offer tailored recommendations. The standard flavor profiles are well represented – light and dry, light and sweet, rich and dry, rich and sweet – but the sweet and tangy citrus-yuzu sake is less commonly seen elsewhere in the city.
Paired with a bowl of salty pork-broth ramen topped with the restaurant’s famed umami paste, a better ramen-sake experience is hard to find. A bite of the salty broth followed by a burst of the sake’s sweetness is epic, and worth the visit for that alone. Vegetarian ramen broths are also on offer and particularly tasty at Ippudo.
Marufuku Ramen: Best pork-belly (chashu) in New York City
If you have lived in either Tokyo or New York City for an extended period of time, or simply have a passion for ramen, you know that not all pork belly slices are created equal.
A special cut of meat known for its ultra-high fat content and perfectly roasted, braised or seared outer layer, chashu is a popular ramen topping that can also be enjoyed over a bowl of steaming rice (then called chashu don). It’s sometimes also called nibuta in Japanese, which translates directly to “simmered or braised pork.”
Marufuku Ramen’s chashu remains a cut above the rest – a far thicker and fattier slice than any other in the city. The restaurant also serves a deluxe version of its tonkotsu with an extra slice of pork belly, which makes for a quadruple dose of chashu to delight your ramen senses.
The atmosphere is also enjoyable, with excellent lighting and a dining room set back from the storefront, so you can eat your ramen in peace apart from the hustle and bustle of 2nd Ave.
Zurutto Ramen: Best chicken-broth ramen in New York City
Ramen served in pork broth is the unspoken default within the New York ramen scene, and vegetarian and vegan options abound at most locations. But the unsung heroes of the NYC ramen world are the chicken-broth offerings sprinkled across town.
A simple, unassuming storefront on boisterous and bustling West 72nd Street, Zurutto is a dimly lit Upper West Side hideaway that’s surprisingly easy to miss. Step inside, though, and you’ll find perhaps the best chicken-broth-only menu in the entire city.
Chicken soup is said to cure all, but Zurutto’s chicken ramen – and its unique atmosphere – bring the phenomenon to new heights. There’s a simplicity and coziness here that’s second to none, from the impeccably attentive and careful service to the steaming bowls of Japanese chicken soup for the soul. Go in the mid-afternoon, after the lunch rush, to experience the peace and calm of Zurutto.
Ramen Ishida: Best vegan ramen
It can be a challenge to find vegan ramen that retains the typical bold, salty, savory taste profile of a meat-based broth. Thankfully Ramen Ishida comes to the rescue, with the finest vegan ramen in New York City and – dare I say – the entire US East Coast.
There are three varieties here: vegan shoyu, served with vegetables and a clear broth; vegan miso, with a miso broth; and spicy mushroom, the big winner. Topped with a spicy mixture of tofu and six kinds of mushrooms – enoki, shimeji, shiitake, porcini, white mushrooms, and morels – it has a broth so rich and savory it’s shocking it doesn’t contain even a dollop of animal product.
The Lower East Side space is charmingly small and low-key with no tables – just casual banquettes with bar stools and one lone man behind the counter making and serving the dishes. If being a vegan ramen enthusiast is wrong, I don’t want to be right!
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