It’s time to talk New York’s best ramen. Since the first craze of the 2000s, the city’s scene has expanded well beyond its original territory in the East Village and midtown, raising the stakes, introducing new styles, and increasing New Yorkers’ expectations. Here, the city’s five best ramen spots as defined by the excellence of their broths, the quality of their noodles, and the thoughtfulness of preparation.
Long Island–born Japanophile Ivan Orkin’s penchant for freewheeling originality works because he marries it to a studied reverence for ramen’s subtler traditions and his borderline-obsessive attention to detail. Before opening in New York, Orkin meticulously tinkered with noodle recipes to find the right texture and flavor, eventually landing on options made with toasted rye flour and a heartier whole-wheat noodle used in Orkin’s brothless mazeman. (There are also tofu noodles for the gluten-averse.) The broths and toppings are no less fussed-over. The highly celebrated, rip-roaring spicy ramen is built on the foundation of a homemade chile mix, and the famed triple-garlic, triple-pork mazeman is as gloriously caloric as the name suggests.
3. Mu Ramen
12-09 Jackson Ave, nr 48th Ave., Long Island City; 917-868-8903
In a city full of creative riffs on traditional ramen recipes, Mu Ramen’s beef-based namesake is unlike any other, suffused with the great New York flavors of half-sour pickles and corned brisket. Experiments like this might not be so successful if it weren’t for chef Joshua Smookler’s intense focus on quality over quantity (the restaurant seats about half as many people as it could actually fit, in an effort to ease the kitchen’s burden). Other options are just as impressive: There’s a regal duck shoyu, clean like consomme, and a killer tonkotsu “2.0,” Smookler’s take on the potent, heady broth made of pork bones and meat boiled for hours. The chef refines it just enough, by skimming off the fat, allowing its concentrated porkiness to come through more clearly.
65 Fourth Ave, nr. E. 9th St.; 212-388-0088 and 321 West 51st Street, nr. Eighth Ave.; 212-974-2500
Since crashing into New York on a tonkotsu tsunami eight years ago, the Japanese chain has weathered the ramen craze, and an ever-growing list of competitors, to remain one of the city’s top. (It’s also opened a second location, as well as a market-vendor spinoff, Kuro-Obi, specializing in chicken broth boiled for hours.) It’s all because the milky tonkotsu is still supremely sumptuous, and its housemade noodles retain the kind of springy bounce that makes them so appealing.
Totto — first known for its Bourdain-approved midtown yakitori shop — made a name for itself in the ramen world by packing a narcotizing amount of chicken fat into its ramen. In fact, this soup is so schmaltzy you might think they cooked down a whole brood of hens for each bowl. The basic offering — which can be ordered classic, spicy, or spiked with miso — is minimally adorned with just raw scallion, a single sheet of nori, your choice of chicken or pork chashu, and some additional shredded chicken. The simplicity allows slurpers to focus on the satisfyingly dense egg noodles and the deeply comforting poultry broth.