The results from our Most Instagrammed Dishes surveys in L.A. and NYC couldn’t be more clear: Angelenos wild-out over vodka punch bowls, New Yorkers would rather eat pizza than photograph it, and—above all else—ramen has unrivaled social-media star power. Not only does the Japanese noodle soup rank within the top ten in two major cities with strikingly different dining cultures, but it also reappears multiple times on the polls.
Despite its camera-ready qualities, ramen is working through its second-wave of relevance in the U.S., having skyrocketed from obscurity to ubiquity in less than a couple decades. How does ramen’s cultural cachet change if someone like Momofuku founder David Chang—largely responsible for accelerating the trend in NYC—pens a letter declaring that the movement is dead, done, and over? Whether you side with him or not, the saturation of ramen shops is a remarkable phenomenon when you compare it to where we started: on the school playground, tearing open packs of raw instant noodles.
Overshadowing its seemingly tamer cousins udon and soba, ramen is not only an intense source of pride for Japan—which erected a museum back in 1994 dedicated to its history—but it has become a serious pursuit for chefs on American soil. Following the success of Japanese-based imports like Ippudo and Jinya, it is no longer shocking to see shops popping up in Minneapolis or Miami.
Part of the appeal is democratic: the ramen-making process is highly sophisticated, requiring tools like alkaline gauges, yet it yields an entirely accessible product. If sushi is the classical symphony that inspires reserved tones of awe, then ramen is the elbow-flailing punk show, where bowls are noisily slurped in a state of reckless fervor.
Others are drawn in by the scope and complexity of the subject. On paper the the formula reads straightforward: broth, tare, noodles, and toppings. But hundreds of regional varieties in Japan alone—from cloudy, bone marrow-laced tonkotsu, to lard-insulated shoyu—require an intense form of scholarship on the part of its devotees. It is no wonder, then, that ramen critic Hiroshi Osaki instituted a ramen database, or that Lucky Peach’s very first issue included a thorough break down of the different styles throughout the island.
While some fans remain hung-up on vague ideas of authenticity (do schmaltz or pesto even belong in the equation?), ramen itself is a relatively modern invention that took off in the early 1900s. The emergence of the tsukemen dipping style, for instance, proves that there is wiggle room for sub-genres to grow in new directions.
It’s easy to get lost in the labyrinthine world of ramen—which is why we assembled a group of noodle-minded chefs and slurp-happy enthusiasts to kick-start your broth adventures. Rather than piece together some purported completist itinerary, our goal is to provide a survey of experiences—in both the U.S. and Japan—that will bring you just a tad bit closer to understanding the dish in all its glory.
Here is our esteemed panel:
- John Birdsall, James Beard Award-winning food writer; @John_Birdsall
- J. Kenji López-Alt, Managing Culinary Director at Serious Eats and creator of The Food Lab; @TheFoodLab
- Jon Broida, former professional chef, owner of Japanese Knife Imports in Los Angeles
- Jerry Jaksich, chef and co-owner of Ramen Shop in Oakland, CA; @ramenoakland
- Ivan Orkin, chef and owner of Ivan Ramen; @ivanramen
- John Lee, sous chef at Ramen Champ in Los Angeles; @lestomac
- Chris Jaeckle, chef at all’onda in NYC; @cjaeckle
- Chris Schonberger, editor-in-chief at First We Feast; @cschonberger
- Jonathon Sawyer, chef and owner of Noodlecat in Cleveland, OH; @chefsawyer
- A-Trak, world-renowned DJ; @atrak
- Justin Meddis, chef and co-owner of Rose’s Meat Market & Sweet Shop in Durham, NC; @SaltandSugarNC
- Brette Warshaw, editor at luckypeach.com; @BstarWarshaw
- Hans Lienesch, founder of instant noodle review site ramenrater.com
- Paul Qui, chef at QuiAustin in Austin, TX; @pqui
- Josh Lurie, founder of FoodGPS; @foodgps
- Ken Oringer, chef and co-owner of Toro, Uni, and several other Boston-based restaurants; @kenoringer
- Richie Nakano, chef at Hapa Ramen in San Francisco, CA; @linecook
- Neil Armstrong, globe-trotting DJ; @djneilarmstrong
Let the slurping commence!
Where: San Francisco, CA
Address and phone: 2293 Mission St (415-202-6333)
Birdsall says: “Forget that bullshit about authentic regional styles. The thing you need to know about ramen is that it’s a simple formula, like a three-part chord progression (broth-noodles-toppings), but with an almost endless range of values. There are certain chefs—and Richie Nakano, of Hapa Ramen in the Mission, is one of them—who see the complexity latent in simple formulas as a stimulus. This opposition between simple/not simple produces a tension that is, how do I say it, fucking fascinating. I sat at Hapa’s bar last week and ordered tonkotsu, and received a bowl with milky broth and a couple of pale slices of toroniku, pork jowl, on top. When I chopsticked things around I pulled out Doritos-colored noodles, made from a machine that sits in the dining room like a presence, with just enough Korean chile to summon a ghostly kind of capsaicin warmth. I chased that heat in the broth, too, through deep bores of a honeycomb structure that must have taken a hell of a long time to build, under jowl with a condensed and cooling grain like tuna belly. Was it authentic? Yeah—to the imagination of a chef designing a disciplined new ramen vernacular.” (Photo: Aubrie Pick)
Where: Harlem, NY
Address and phone: 3183 Broadway (646-559-2862)
López-Alt says: “It’s not just that the bowls of broth at Jin ramen up in Harlem are fantastic—they are (especially that miso broth)—and it’s not just that their noodles are a textbook example of the chewy bounce that good ramen noodles should have. It’s not even that their chashu is always fatty and tender, their marinated eggs perfectly runny, or even that they have the best damned chicken karaage I’ve had on this side of the Pacific. More than any of that, Jin has that feel of a true ramen joint, and I don’t mean that it simply imitates a crammed-under-the-train-tracks Tokyo-style ramen joint (it is crammed under a train track, but that’s beside the point). Jin is the kind of ramen shop where when the waiters and cooks call out irashaimase as you walk through the door, it actually feels like a true greeting. It’s the type of place where if you want a quick bowl of noodles to down while you catch up on some reading, they’ll bring it to you quickly, quietly, and efficiently; but if you’re up for a more social experience, they’re just as likely to tell you about the new special as they are to ask you about when your grandfather is going to stop back in for a bowl of soup. Ramen is an inherently contradictory experience: at once a ruthlessly efficient meal that manages to be comforting and soul-soothing all the same. Like the very best ramen-ya, Jin ramen embodies this spirit of the bowl into their entire operation, and while I no longer live in Harlem (or even New York), it will always feel like my neighborhood ramen joint.” (Photo: Jin Ramen/Facebook)
Where: Sakata, Yamagata
Address and phone: 2-1 Higashinakanokuchimachi (+81 234-22-0166)
Broida says: “Los Angeles has long been home to thriving Japanese culinary scenes, and none more prominent right now than the ramen scene. Over the past few years, ramen shops have popped up all over the city, from Silver Lake to Chinatown to Venice. But what Los Angeles lacks is variety. While Japanese diners enjoy hundreds of options, running the gamut from rich and fatty, to light and refreshing, we find ourselves debating which tonkotsu version we want to try tonight. So what are we missing out on? In Sakata, a small city in the Tohoku region of Japan, the local favorite is something very different, even by Japanese standards. This region is known for its wonton men—a light type of ramen, featuring thin-skinned dumplings alongside in-house made noodles, all sitting in a broth made from fish, chicken, pork, veggies, and soy sauce. My favorite of these places, Mangetsu, has been around since 1960. Hidden under the rather simple toppings—chashu, negi, and menma—sit some of the most delicate, pork wontons you will ever have. Small balls of lightly seasoned pork are wrapped in skins so thin, you can read a newspaper through them. As the wontons melt in your mouth, the hand-made noodles offer a bit of texture and chew. The broth, a translucent, light chestnut color, has more in common with a bowl of chicken-noodle soup than it does with the rich, gelatinous pork bone broths we often see here. As you take a sip, your palate is greeted by a light smoked-fish flavor, not unlike the smokiness you can expect from a good katsuobushi. The backbone of the stock is clearly the chicken and pork, the flavors of which ride through on the finish—all while being guided by the subtle fermented salinity of the shoyu. It’s satisfying, but not overwhelming, and the subtle smoky fish flavor makes you feel at home in the small costal city of Sakata.”
Address and phone:
Jaksich says: “The only music Jun Furukawa plays at his tiny ramen-ya is the Rolling Stones. But the real star-power at Men-Eiji belongs to the unusual fish-blended tonkotsu, which I think happens to be the best in Hokkaido. The first time I tried it I was actually working at another ramen joint, and my ramen master accompanied me on the two hour train ride to Sapporo. Men-Eiji was receiving a ton of press, especially for its in-house noodles produced every morning. It was somewhat awkward to eat the perfect bowl in front of him. I couldn’t stop talking about it on the ride back, and it actually put a strain on our relationship. After many follow-up visits to Furukawa’s shop, I finally mustered up the courage (backed by a few beers) to beg for employment. He accepted my plea, and I soon had a behind-the-scenes look at what makes his place tick. For the broth, Furukawa incorporates a blend of high-end anchovy, flying fish, and mackerel which steeps in a tonkotsu-paitan combo (he also uses 50 more pounds of pork femur and trotters than we normally do at Ramen Shop). Up until this point, I had only sampled miso, shoyu, and plain tonkotsu, and my eyes were finally opened to deep, complex flavors. I could no longer think of ramen as some late-night munchies food. I still try to mimic everything he embodies. The noodle machine we have in our shop is actually the same one that I trained with while working at Men-Eiji; he was nice enough to sell it to me once I returned home. His life is dedicated to ramen, and that switch is never turned off. He even smiles when he takes out the garbage bag full of discarded pork bones.”
Where: Little Italy, NY
Address and phone: 70 Kenmare St (646-613-7522)
Orkin says: “When I decided to come back to New York and open Ivan Ramen, I spent quite a bit of time pondering exactly what form it should take. My shops in Tokyo are simple affairs. They sell a handful of ramen selections, one rice option, and one kind of beer. That’s it. And I reveled in this style. Do one thing really well, hone your skill, focus on the same thing over and over again. This is something that is fundamental to ramen shops in Tokyo. You’d be hard pressed to find a ramen shop in Tokyo with more than 12 seats. What this does for the diner is it lets them experience ramen at it’s essence with no distraction. And when the bowl is empty the experience is over. Ultimately I chose to open two shops here that veer more towards an American style, with more space, more choices, and more distractions. I’m very happy with my direction and distractions. But I still love this simple style in Tokyo.
That’s why I was so excited when my friends from Sun Noodle opened Ramen Lab. It is the first of its kind to my knowledge to open in New York. It is a pure, Japanese ramen shop. You walk through the door with one purpose and one purpose alone: to slurp a bowl of noodles. It has to be one of the smallest stores in NYC, restaurant or otherwise. There is a counter with no seats. (While this is very common in Tokyo, referred to as Tachi Gui, literally Stand and Slurp, this may be the only one in all of America.) There is no one to talk to, there aren’t a ton of selections that require explanation, and there’s no wasted movement or wasted time. Order the Torigara Shoyu ramen, and when your order arrives, it’s obvious that there is nothing else to do but dive in and start eating. And it’s great that there are no distractions because what you get is an outstanding bowl. This lighter style has yet to make a major mark here in the U.S., but it’s very popular in Japan, especially in Tokyo. It’s flavor is a bright and clear chicken with deep shoyu (soy sauce) flavor. Perfectly cooked pork belly is rolled in the classic style, with noodles that have the perfect texture, aroma, and chew for the soup they were expertly paired with. It doesn’t smack you in the face with salt and fat; rather, it has just the right balance of all its parts to be a textbook example of a properly balanced bowl.
This should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the history of ramen in Tokyo, as it is delivered to you by Shigetoshi (Jack) Nakamura—a ramen legend in Japan. Nakamura san is the owner of Nakamura Ya, a ramen shop in Kanagawa, the region that is next to Tokyo and is home to Yokohama. Nakamura Ya opened when the ramen boom was in its infancy in Japan, and Nakamura san—with his signature shio ramen—helped popularize ramen with his awesome food and what would become his insanely flamboyant style of “yu kiri,” or shaking water from the ramen basket. While this sounds trivial, up until this time ramen was anything but sexy. But with the arrival of Nakamura san and his infectious smile and charisma, ramen was on the way to becoming ubiquitous throughout Japan. Few Americans know the importance of Nakamura San. So for a truly authentic ramen experience, get yourself over to Ramen Lab. Wait in line, stand at the tight counter, and when your ramen arrives, focus on the bowl, and experience eating ramen at the hands of a master.” (Photo: Ramen Lab/Facebook)
Kitakata Ramen Ban Nai
Where: Costa Mesa, CA
Address and phone: 891 Baker St B21 (714-577-2947)
Lee says: “Kitakata reminds me that even though I was growing tired of the tonkotsu ramen trend in SoCal, I still have much to learn and experience. What makes this Costa Mesa ramen shop great is the the broth: pork, chicken, and sardine-based, with shoyu seasoning and a generous helping of thinly sliced pork-belly chashu. The broth itself is flavorful but light enough that I would eat it often and not tire of it. The noodles are wide and flatter than normal ramen noodles, with a higher water content resembling something akin to a typical Chinese noodle or udon. The Kitakata-style ramen is something unique in SoCal’s ramen landscape, and as far as I know, no one else is serving a broth like this. It makes running errands in Orange County worthwhile.” (Photo: Kitakana/Facebook)
Address and phone: (+81 3-3463-3667)
Jaeckle says: “My essential ramen experience is Ichiran in Tokyo. There are two things that are most interesting about it. First, you choose your own adventure because you select from a vending machine. You start with the essential things—garnishes, noodles, the broth, and an egg. Then you choose the qualities of the broth—full- or medium-bodied, spicy or mild. Second, you sit in a booth by yourself: It’s just you and your bowl of ramen, and it forces you to be engrossed in the food in front of you.” (Photo: Crunchybottoms)
Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum
Address and phone: 2-14-21 Shin-Yokohama, Kohoku-ku, Yokohama 222-0033, Kanagawa Prefecture
Schonberger says: “Japan has both an Instant Ramen Museum and a Cup Noodles Museum (side note: Japan is the best), where you can go to learn about inventor Momofuku Ando and the world’s most brilliant non-perishable foodstuff. But for a bucket list-worthy eating experience, take the train about an hour from central Tokyo to Yokohama, where giant green bowls mark the entrance to the Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum.
The term museum is a little misleading—it’s really more like the world’s greatest food court, with outposts of nine famous ramen-ya from around the country, all representing different regional styles. The theme-park staging is meant to evoke Tokyo in 1958, which is the year instant ramen was invented. In the U.S., this type of concept would probably result in phoned-in copies of venerable institutions, hastily set up as a publicity move (imagine a food hall with cut-rate versions of Nathan’s Hot Dogs from NYC, Portillo’s from Chicago, Lafayette Coney from Detroit, and so on). But Japanese restaurants don’t play like that, so what you get are legit operations all congregated in one convenient (and admittedly claustrophobic) space.
If you’re an American trying to see how Japanese tonkotsu compares to the stuff in the States (*raises hand*), you’ll want to beeline for a place called Toride, which is based in Tokyo and was started by a former lieutenant of the famed Ippudo empire. Maybe the theatricality of the experience played into my excitement, but I’d struggle to name a better bowl of ramen I’ve eaten ever in my life. Three main reasons: The broth hits the perfect balance of richness, complexity, and mouthfeel (on the thinner side) to keep you interested all the way through to the final slurp. The ultra-thin noodles can be cooked to seven levels of firmness (one of which basically involved dropping uncooked noodles into the steaming soup). And finally, the care taken with each of the toppings really makes a difference—incredibly flavorful spring onions (grown specially for this particular ramen), plus firm and crunchy mushrooms that had clearly been added at the last moment rather than left to get soggy. The pro move seemed to be ordering the kaedama, which is an extra serving of noodles used to soak up the remains of the soup. I’ve been dreaming about this ramen ever since.
When you’re done, queue up for the next ramen joint and hope you’re hungry again by the time you reach the front. Hopefully you have a next-level smart phone with Playstation games on it like everyone else in line. (Tip: If you go on the museum website, you can get pretty accurate wait times for each of the ramen restaurants inside.)” (Photo: Chris Schonberger)
Ivan Ramen Tokyo
Address and phone: 3-24-7, Minamikarasuyama, Setagaya-ku (+81 (3)-6750-5540)
Sawyer says: “Six years ago when we wanted to open Noodlecat, it was important for my wife Amelia and I to experience ramen first-hand. On our huge list of ramen spots to dine at, the two at the top of our list were Rokurinsha on Ramen Street in the JR Tokyo Station, and Ivan Ramen Tokyo. The tsukemen at Rokurinsha inspired us to serve shredded pork with our ramen in Cleveland instead of the traditional chashu. For Ivan’s joint, we had to have the famous handmade rye noodles. I enjoyed mine mazemen style; it was the first time I saw cheese used in ramen! Having read Ivan’s story, along with being former New Yorkers ourselves, we found it fascinating to have traveled around the world to experience New York-style ramen. We arrived early and waited 40 minutes until the doors opened—resulting in three bowls of ramen for two people, and great conversation with ramen chefs.” (Photo: Ivan Ramen/Facebook)
Jinya Ramen Bar
Where: Studio City, CA
Address and phone: 11239 Ventura Blvd (818-980-3977)
A-Trak says: “Jinya is the Tokyo-based import that resides in a Studio City strip mall—as do most good things in the Valley. Not only does it serve stellar bowls of marrow-infused tonkotsu, but it also played a crucial role in popularizing ramen in Los Angeles nearly five years ago. The black tonkotsu bowl is the epitome of rich, porky indulgence: thick slabs of chashu, bolstered by garlic chips and oil. There are other spots in the city that hog the limelight, but it’s nonetheless important to pay your respects to an OG institution.” (Photo: Jinya Ramen Bar/Facebook)
Where: Oakland, CA
Address and phone: 5812 College Ave (510-788-6370)
Meddis says: “I have worked in a few Japanese-influenced kitchens, and the thing I love most about the food is its range of flavors—things like dried fish, seaweed, matcha, or buckwheat that you won’t typically find in American cooking. Ramen combines a lot of those flavors in complex ways. That being said, I have had my share of ramen in many different shops, but the theme I’ve noticed is this: a lot of places strive to differentiate themselves, but don’t stray far from a similar flavor profile. That same reasoning doesn’t apply to Ramen Shop, a two-year old restaurant in Oakland, CA founded by three former Chez Panisse employees. What makes this place stand out is its rotating roster of bowls: one week it could be a veggie Meyer lemon shoyu broth with broccoli di ciccio; or wild-nettle tsukemen with asparagus and mustard greens; or even spicy garlic shrimp miso ramen with leeks and bok choy blossoms. Bowls are built around what’s fresh at the farmers markets, and don’t follow any scripted formula. It’s the closest thing you can get to a true Northern California-style ramen. Their operation also stands out. Ramen Shop is spacious, unlike most places, and has a bar where you can sip on Japanese whiskeys and other mixed drinks; don buri bowls and Monterey Bay squid fried rice are in many ways just as tempting as the actual soup. Back when Jerry Jaksich and I were working at Nojo, before he opened Ramen Shop, he had me taste his Dungeness-crab ramen (how Bay Area of him!). It was like no other bowl I had ever come across; it was really thick with such an intense crab flavor. I still think about this bowl when I try and come up with new flavors for our own soup, like a green-garlic bowl we offered during the springtime. These guys are really pushing the limits of what we consider ramen to be.” (Photo: Ramen Shop)
Where: East Village, NY
Address and phone: 129 2nd Ave (212-677-4825)
Warshaw says: “There is a little restaurant on Second Avenue, near St. Marks, down the street from Ippudo and Rai Rai Ken and Momofuku Noodle Bar, with a sign promising THE POWER OF MISO. MISO IS JAPAN’S TREASURE. Inside, there is harp music and a TV screen playing a video of a man making ramen in a dark kitchen. (Who is he? Where is he? Is this a live cam?) This is Misoya, the surprising home of some of the best ramen in New York City. I first ate at Misoya during a twenty-four-hour ramen death march I conducted in anticipation of the launch of Lucky Peach’s website. It came immediately following the opaque bowl of fat that is Ippudo ramen, which tasted good but made me feel like I had covered my body in Chapstick (in a bad way). The ramen at Misoya—the mame miso with vegetables, in particular—was different; fatty, yes, but bright and balanced and filled with enough vegetables to make it feel even somewhat virtuous. Plus, the menu, with all of its exclamation points and photos, was an education in fermented soybean: along with mame, the darker, sweeter miso, there’s kome miso (which they describe as “standard”) and shiro (a sweeter, lighter miso). But a warning to food pervs: the staff doesn’t have much of an interest in chatting. There are no soliloquies about the number of hours they simmer the bones, or where the soybeans grow, or even what kind of miso they like best. You are forced to sit back and listen to the spa music and eat your ramen, peacefully and happily, in this strange, quiet oasis.” (Photo courtesy Gabriele Stabile)
Lienesch says: “The Cup Noodles instant ramen variety is definitely a different, yet essential, experience for any noodle fan. The idea of make-your-own ramen was invented by Momofuku Ando (founder of Nissin Foods Co.) back in 1958. Upon seeing Japanese businessmen put chunks of the dry noodle blocks in foam cups with boiling water on a flight in 1971, the Nissin Cup Noodles was born. The noodles themselves are not boiled but ‘steeped’ like tea. They’re portable, which is a nicety, and can be enjoyed pretty much anywhere. The foam cup of noodles is a ubiquitous item here in the United States now, with flavors such as chicken, beef, shrimp stocked in nearly grocery store aisle. Japanese varieties (which also come in shoyu, tonkotsu, and shio, like their ramen-ya cousins) have many features, including narutomaki, kamaboko, and tempura. Exotic spinoffs of them come out quite regularly, and are designed to suit the tastes of specific communities: Chilli Crab flavor in Singapore, Tom Yum flavor in Thailand, Gallina and Bolognese in Brazil. But, by in large, the most fascinating ones I’ve had the chance to sample were from Japan, a country in which 400 new varieties of instant noodles come out annually.” (Photo: Cup Noodle/Facebook)
Address and phone: 12-3 Okazaki Tokuseicho, Sakyo-ku (+81 75-752-8234)
Qui says: “On our most recent trip to Kyoto, we discovered that it was a pretty normal thing to sell chicken karaage and ramen as combos in the same establishment. We went to this place Karako and had one of the best fried chickens I’d ever tasted. The place was pretty janky compared to the rest of the city. You basically got free, help-your-self ‘service’ snacks, like pickled vegetable and other room-temperature dishes. The negi ramen chicken combo was delicious.” (Photo: Tripadvisor)
Tsujita LA Artisan Noodle Annex
Where: Los Angeles, CA
Address and phone: 2050 Sawtelle Ave (310-231-0222)
Lurie says: “When Takehiro Tsujita announced he was opening an Annex across the street from his hit Sawtelle Boulevard restaurant, Tsujita LA, it seemed likely that he would just replicate the ramen that was already drawing daily waits at lunch. After all, creating one great bowls of ramen is no easy feat. However, what he brought to Tsujita LA Annex was pretty different from what Angelenos already grew to love. The Annex’s tonkotsu broth is so rich that it’s bobbing with sizeable flecks of pork fat. Fat-rimmed chashu, a mountain of peppery bean sprouts, and a runny soft-boiled egg all add textural contrast. If you like your ramen spicy, spoon on pungent minced garlic and onikasu, fire-red chile flakes. After dialing in the Annex’s ramen, he even added a variation with miso. Is this ramen better than Tsujita LA’s classic tonkotsu ramen across the street? That depends on your threshold for pork fat and bean sprouts, which are both plentiful. However, I commend the owner for striving for new greatness, instead of just pumping out more bowls of what already worked.” (Photo: Tsujita/Facebook)
Address and phone: Yoyogi, Shibuya 151-0053 (+81 3-6413-8480)
Oringer says: “This is the place for tsukemen broth in Tokyo. I first discovered it when I noticed the huge line outside one day while I was walking past. Anytime there’s a big crowd for food, you’ve got my attention. Rather than your usual grungy ramen shop, Fu-unji is a bit more clean-cut. The chefs wear chef jackets, and servers take your order while you’re standing in line. This way once you sit down, your food arrives really quickly. The other great aspect is that they ask how many noodles you want, which you can dictate by the gram. It’s all the same price, they just like to avoid waste. As for the actual ramen—I love the rustic garnish, just a sheet of nori (instead of say, a chiffonade), the really tasty noodles, the pieces of tender pork, and a thick sauce that somehow doesn’t feel too heavy. They use this smoky, dried-fish powder that gives it a really great umami boost, which sets this one apart in my book. It definitely helped inspire the late-night ramen we offer at Uni.” (Photo: Yelp)
Where: Berkeley, CA
Address and phone: 2130 Center St (510-665-1969)
Nakano says: “I like the ramen at Ippuku because it’s stripped down and beautifully simple. It’s just noodles, broth, scallion, and a little shredded chicken. The broth is this super-deep shio chicken broth. It’s just a handful of ingredients and isn’t overdoing it in any area, yet it manages to soar far above the sum of its parts. It’s an important bowl of noodles because it isn’t tonkotsu or anything that’s trendy in ramen now. You could eat it everyday, it doesn’t fatigue your palate, and it’s satisfying in a way that most other bowls of ramen aim for but often miss.”
Address and phone: 4-22-11 Ebisu, Shibuya,150-0013
Armstrong says: “Ramen’s popularity has soared in America over the past few years—so much so, in fact, that you can even find a ramen-ya in the unlikely place of Jersey City where I dwell. And while additions like yogurt or chorizo to the broth suit American palates—including my own—actual ramen in Japan is a much simpler affair; the approach is much more methodical and focused. One of the places that captures this spirit best is a shop called Chorori in Shibuya. You can score a bowl for a mere 600 Yen (about $5), which is why the prospect of paying $15 for ramen in the states seems almost ludicrous. My order isn’t fancy either: Just a simple bowl of shoyu with chashu, menma, bean sprouts, and snow peas. The noodles have that chew you want, and they’re cooked to be firm until the very last bite. And then there’s the kicker: chopped, slightly fried scallions that they add on top to give it a sweet, smokey flavor. They’ve been in business for over 20 years in the fiercely competitive area of Ebisu, so they must be doing something right.”