Ramen Goes Gonzo

With chefs deploying everything from matzo balls to fried chicken in their Japanese-inspired noodle soups, the age of new-school ramen is making its mark.

  • RamenMain
  • Deli ramen at Dassara (Brooklyn). A Jewish riff on the genre, with schmaltz-enriched chicken broth serving as the base, and toppings including matzoh balls and Mile End smoked meat. Dassara)
  • Shoyu meyer lemon at Ramen Shop (Oakland). A traditional yuzu broth gets a seasonal American twist with citrusy meyer lemon from the Chez Panisse alums at this Oakland noodle shop. Yelp.com/Ashley L)
  • Italian Ramen at Pastaria (St. Louis, MO). It's only natural, right: Bye bye ramen noodles, hello spaghettini. This baby gets topped with hard-poached egg, chicken, Parmesan broth, chili, and basil. CalorieSTL.blogspot.com)
  • Irish Ramen at Noodlecat (Cleveland). In addition to menu regulars like Szechuan ramen and "Roscoe's" fried chicken and ramen, Noodlecat has deployed Irish-style roast beef in its broth. noodlecat.com (Photo:
  • King Crab ramen at Trenchermen (Chicago). This Chicago hot spot has taken the Japanese-Jewish with a pastrami duck ramen featuring mustard noodles custom-made by Slurping Turtle. But perhaps the most interesting rendition they've created was this Mardi Gras special (above left), which transformed king crab gumbo into a noodle soup. trenchermen.com (Photo: Trenchermen and
  • BBQ Tonkotsu Ramen at Ippudo (NYC). The New York outpost of this tonkotsu specialist recently teamed up with chef Peter Colon to create this low-and-slow double-whammy, where Ippudo's tonkotsu shoyu broth is topped with spicy pulled pork, sweet vinegar slaw, pickled chili peppers, and scallions. Ippudony)
  • Chicken tortilla ramen at East Side King (Austin). Chef Paul Qui mashes up Tex-Mex–style tortilla soup with ramen, featuring shredded chicken, corn, tortilla chips, avocado, and cilantro. Qui is always dreaming up new ramen riffs, from Sapporo-bacon miso and squid-ink curry broths, to a hybrid of Korean jigae and ramen. East Side King)
  • Salmon and cheese ramen at Yuji Ramen (NYC). This nomadic New York pop-up (currently doing a residency at Whole Foods) has experimented with all sorts of creative ramen recipes, including bacon-and-egg mazemen and this salmon-and-cheese number, featuring house-cured fish with lemon zest, Sichuan peppercorn, and Camembert. Facebook  (Photo: StomachMonster.Wordpress.com)
  • Banh mi ramen at Sai Sai Noodle Bar (Los Angeles). A sandwich in soup form, with a light vegetable broth floating traditional ingredients from the beloved Vietnamese sandwich, including pickled carrots, daikon, sliced jalapeños, pork belly, and even grilled bread. millenniumhotels.com (Photo: TheMinty.com)
  • Bacon ‪Consommé‬ Tsukumen at Mission Chinese (NYC). Danny Bowien has gone ramen mad lately at his New York outpost, running all sorts of funky noodle specials, including these cold alkaline noodles with trout roe escabeche, Santa Barbara sea urchin, citron, and bacon consommé. missionchinesefood.com/ny (Photo: Twitter/@dannybowien)
  • Creole Ramen at Dassara (Brooklyn). Both chicken and shellfish are combined and served with onion, celery, green pepper, andouille sausage, crawfish, and Crystal hot sauce. Dassara)
  • Johnny Dip ramen at Ikemen (Los Angeles). Another sandwich in ramen form, this one is built with a tonkotsu "au jus" broth that's mixed with green onions and Italian basil. ikemenhollywood.com (Photo: Ikemen)
  • Pozolemen at Oiistar (Chicago). A spin on Mexican-style pozole, topped with shredded pork loin and pico de gallo. Niche Restaurant Group)
  • Ramen Portofino (Pesto Prawn) at Mission Chinese (NYC). Another from Bowien and the Mission squad, taking you from Japan to the Italian seaside to the Lower East Side. Twitter/@dannybowien)
  • California ramen at Zen 6 (NYC). This East Village spot offers a ramenified spin on the California Roll, topping the bowl with avocado, tomatoes, iceberg lettuce, and bell peppers. This item is part of the restaurant's "New York Pop" ramen offerings, which also include oyster-topped ramen and a version with spicy fried calamari. Yelp.com/Lili S.)
  • Roast chicken dinner ramen at Talde (Brooklyn). Roast Chicken Dinner Ramen with thyme, mirepoix, white and dark meat and butter-bronzed skin flavored broth. @DaleTalde)

There’s a distinct paradigm shift that’s taken hold among food obsessives in recent years: Now, when someone says they’re going out for Japanese food, they tend to mean ramen, not sushi. A couple decades ago a few imports like Sapporo could be found in New York, but it was the buzz of the Momofuku empire, as well as the arrival of major Japanese players like Ippudo, that really kicked the craze for noodle-laced soups into high gear—all while the game continued to evolve in its own ways across the country in L.A.

Now, ramen mania has swept the nation, with buzzy ramenya taking hold everywhere from Oakland to Boston. For chefs, it seems as though ramen is the new tacos: an endlessly adaptable canvas to play around with, deploying hot dogs in place of chashu (Mission Chinese), spaghettini instead of traditional alkaline noodles (Pastaria), and smaltz-laced broth inspired by the Jewish deli (Dassara). You could say ramen is in its third-wave, when gonzo adaptations are becoming the new norm, and you’re just as likely to find a bowl inspired by a banh mi as a classic Tokyo-style shio broth.

And before you start crying “foul” about authenticity, think again: Unlike sushi, which certainly has its traditionalists in Japan, ramen is a 20th-century phenomenon there (instant ramen was invented by Momofuku Ando in 1958, though the dish has its roots in China). This means that while there’s certainly a hierarchy of styles—tonkotsu, miso, and the like—ramen hasn’t been strictly codified, and noodle masters in Tokyo and beyond have free reign to unleash their creative impulses. Granted, some of the iterations that have popped up stateside may stretch the definition of ramen a little too far, but tinkering is certainly accepted in the genre.

To get a sense of the new age of ramen in America, we’ve rounded up some particularly intriguing bowls from around the country. Click through the gallery above to see some of the craziest ramen riffs, from Paul Qui’s chicken tortilla ramen to Danny Bowien’s pesto noodles.

  • http://twitter.com/harrisonkeith Harrison Keith

    Cool, if I lived in any of the 3 cities these are found in this would be even a little useful.

  • http://twitter.com/coreywilliam Corey Williams

    Noodlecat is in Cleveland

    • First We Feast

      @twitter-14975079:disqus thanks for the catch. fixed.

  • lazysundae

    Thanks for the linkback! <3 Stomachmonster :)

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