Is it cold outside? Do you crave something warm and hearty that will help you get ready for a cozy nap? Well, a bowl of Ippudo ramen might just be the thing for you.
Style: Fukuoka-style Tonkotsu ramen Overall rating: 7.4/10 tasties Location: Astor Place, Manhattan, NY
A little history
Ironically, the first bowl of Ippudo ramen I had was not in New York, and I didn’t even know it was an Ippudo ramen when I was eating it. I was visiting my twin sister who was working in Roppongi back in 2004, and Ippudo was the first place she took me to eat ramen. I couldn’t read the sign in front of the shop, but I remember the big red bowl, the most delicious broth I’d ever tasted, and the softest piece of chashu I’ve ever chewed (yes, that pun was intended). And rightly so. The owner of Ippudo won the ramen master title from the famous (mostly in Asia) game show TV Champion with his original Hakata style ramen all the way from Fukuoka.
What we ordered
The first time (in Roppongi) and the first time back at their East Village branch, I ordered their signature bowl, the Akamaru ramen (pictured above, $14 for lunch, $15 for dinner). The Tonkotsu broth is made from pork bones simmers with miso and sake resulting in complex, savory flavors that are enhanced by Ippudo’s secret “Umami Dama” miso paste, which is too intense to eat by itself, so you’re best mixing the dollop into the bowl to achieve the ultimate ramen broth that awaits. Each bowl also has a tinge of roasted sesame oil in it to whet your appetite. I usually like adding a bit of freshly ground sesame (the grinder is right on your table) for the aroma. I remember the Roppongi branch had unlimited kimchi bean sprouts as a condiment, but we did not have that same luxury in New York. The soft, springy, thin noodles freshly pulled right in the shop served as a good vehicle for delivering delicious broth into your mouth. The chashu was soft and impregnated with intense flavors, melts into a burst of happiness in your mouth.
I’ve also tried the Shiromaru Hakata Classic ($14 for lunch, $15 for dinner). It’s just not nearly as good as the Akamaru Modern, and I definitely would not recommend this for a first-timer, as you might have a misconception of what Ippudo can achieve. Although still quite good, the broth doesn’t have the help of the “Umami Dama” miso paste and really is not as good as it can be. The pork chashu is lean and a bit too chewy for my taste.
The inferior Shiomaru Hakata Classic
Another time, I tried a special ramen of the day at lunch for $13, which was somewhat similar to the Karaka Men, which they have regularly for both lunch and dinner. It boasted the original tonkotsu broth with a special blend of hot spices (hence the angry-looking broth), which really gave just a tiny bit of almost unnoticeable heat. Came with cabbage, kikurage mushrooms, and scallions.
One-time only ramen of the day!
I’ve tried Ippudo’s appetizers a few times, but I don’t think anyone went to Ippudo for their appetizers. The most popular one would probably be the Hirata buns for $9 – soft, airy steamed buns wrapped around a piece of pork chashu dripping with sauce (you can also get chicken for $9, or eggplant with eringi mushroom if you’re a vegetarian for $8). The buns were pretty good, but its main purpose was to keep me calm while I wait for my ramen. Otherwise, I have not been impressed with Ippudo’s appetizers, which were rather pricey (ranging from $6 to $15 for small portions) and unimpressive (nothing I would die to eat again).
What else is on the menu?
Don’t come to Ippudo for a full Japanese cuisine experience, as it focuses mostly on ramen and otherwise offers largely overpriced appetizers. It has a nice list of pricey sake as well (definitely cheaper if you buy a bottle from the various Japanese stores in East Village, or step into another Japanese restaurants and order a cup).
Price range: $20-40/person with tax and tip
Most ramens range from $14-$17. Price tag goes up quickly if you start ordering drinks (at least $11 per glass of sake) or appetizers (small portions ranging from $6-$20). Dinner adds $1-$2 to lunch prices.
The East Village branch presents a similar feel to the Roppongi branch, with ramens in glass cases and an overall modern, minimalist vibe, which I can imagine serve as a hip spot for drinks at night. Most servers speak with thick Japanese accents and everyone will yell “Welcome!” in Japanese as the hostess walks you in.
Might be the best Japanese ramen I’ve ever had, but the overpriced appetizers distract from their true mission.
Keeps to the decoration and style of the original store. Will transport you to downtown Tokyo if you let it.
Food is pretty quick (15-20 minutes per bowl of ramen). Servers are attentive – you will never be without water, bowls are taken right after you’re done, and bills come promptly when asked.
Menu variety: 5/10
Don’t waste a trip unless you want to eat some really good ramen. Try elsewhere (the nearby St. Mark’s/Astor place) if you want other types of Japanese food.
Your option is quite limited as a vegetarian, but you can get their one vegetable based broth ramen if you’re really hungry (the wasabi shoyu ramen). Otherwise, get ready to nip on appetizers made out of some cucumbers, some peppers, or the tried-and-true steamed edamame.
Two convenient locations, one on the lower east side and one in midtown west, help you avoid taking the crosstown bus if you don’t want to. The westside location is a few blocks from multiple subway lines (C, E, N, Q, R, B, D, E, 1). The east village location is also only a few blocks from the N, R, 6.
Value for money: 8/10
The ramen is heavenly, and totally worth the high teens price tag you will be paying. This only applies to ramen – avoid drinks or appetizers if you want to keep your bill reasonable.
Overall rating: 7.4/10 tasties
Ippudo NYC East Village: 65 4th Ave (between 9th and 10th street), New York, NY 10003
Access: a few blocks from the N, R, 6.
Phone: (212) 388-0088
Store hours: M-S 11AM-330PM for lunch, 5PM-1130PM for dinner. Sunday 11AM-1030PM (does not close between lunch and dinner)
Ippudo Westside: 321 West 51th Street (between 8th and 9th Avenue), New York, NY 10019. Phone: (212) 974-2500
Ippudo World: Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Sydney, Taiwan, China, Malaysia, London, Singapore.
We hope to provide an alternative to Yelp’s extortions against small businesses, one restaurant review at a time. Please share if you find this helpful, and feel free to leave comments to help keep our reviews up to date
Follow me @juneshowell and on medium
A few more days
A final Hi meeting
The local neighborhood bar has a quiet time between six and nine. It is a place that specializes in coffee, beer and seasonal menus. There is just enough of each for a satisfying snack and effective buzz. After the time when the laptop lids close and before the social gatherings start -- there is a sort of twilight*. Often this time is a fugitive ground rife with creative inspiration and meditative work -- of the kind that results in personal reward.*twilight may refer to civil, nautical or astronomical variety depending on your social or terrestrial condition
A man positions his mouse on the edge of his browser window. He clicks, holds and drags the viewport first left then right. The content of a video game promo micro site responds and adapts to the available space. To the man, this is more delightful than the game itself.
A man laboriously moves his piano down three levels onto the subway platform. Classic vocals and strided chords -- he played so well I swore he was blind. Oblivious to the heat on that August stage, he was most in touch with his audience -- whom he elevated with his music.
A woman should do exactly as she pleases no matter what a man may think.
As the Dalai Lama once said, "It is a time when there is much in the window, but nothing in the room."
"No one understands me," she said. Her grandmother was silent for a minute. It seemed she was searching for an answer in the star speckled sky. "But no one understands anyone in this world, darling. We are all unique. It is what gives us a sense of wonder."