In the great You Es of Eh, we often think of Japanese food as merely sushi and and edamame and forget about a super duper important, tasty part of it: ramen. Big bowls of chewy noodles in hearty pork or chicken bone broths topped with slices of tender and flavorful barbecue pork, ramen is definitely one of my favorite foods (along with pizza and cookies). My most favorite ramen place is Totto Ramen in Midtown West but I have yet to write a legitimate blog post about it because I am waiting until I get a new camera (SOON!) so I can do the place some justice (my photos now are horrible so don’t judge by the link)! For now… I present to you two other ramen places. One not so good and one pretty good. Minca Ramen Factory*
536 E 5th St
(between Avenue A & Avenue B)*
New York, NY 10009
Kambi Ramen House*
351 E 14th St
(between 1st Ave & 2nd Ave)
New York, NY 10003
That bowl of ramen up there is from Minca, though you can barely tell the difference between Minca and Kambi’s ramen because they are sister restaurants and serve very similar looking ramen (emphasis on “looking”) Shigeto Kamada opened Minca in 2001 and subsequently opened Kambi in 2004, serving ramen made of pork bone and chicken bone broths and have expanded into the less traditional dipping style. Many of my friends and certainly random reviewers have rated Minca as one of the best ramen places in New York which makes me seriously question my own taste buds. I tried Minca with some out-of-town friends because they, like many, had heard that it was great and that we “should get there early because the wait will be forever.” Forever in this case was about 10 minutes. Ramen in this case was a 3 out of 5 AT BEST. I was probably there on an off day because the reviews just don’t match up at all to what I had. Noodles at Minca were decent: chewy, thick and eggy tasting, but the pork and chicken mixed broth was so salty I almost wanted to rinse out each bite in water. A.W. is a very slow eater and because of her turtle speed, the starch from the noodles ended up simmering into the broth, making the broth this big goopy thing. Not sure if this is a sign of weaker noodles or if A.W. just needs to eat quicker. Barbecue pork was fatty and tender but had zero flavor. Egg was nothing compared to Ippudo’s glowing orange gooey yolk. Yes, at about $10.50 a bowl, you’re paying $5 less than you would at Ippudo but Ippudo also offers crazy cool modern Japanese ambience while Minca is simply a small noodle shop. Not that I have anything against small noodle shops. Totto Ramen is THE ultimate small noodle shop; it is super long and narrow and eaters typically slurp up their bowls in under 15 minutes and peace out. Pricing at Totto is about the same as Minca but quality is 10x better.
Okay, this one is from Kambi (also $10.50). See how the bowls look pretty much the same? Upon closer inspection, you’ll find that the barbecue pork here looks a little more tender. Noodles are about the same quality (chewy, thick and eggy – this is the wavy noodle of course) but broth is so much better/less salty. It’s rated half a star lower than Minca on Yelp (3.5 compared to 4 – a big difference!) but tastes so much better. And I think Kambi has a nicer set up. There is a long, high wooden table by the window where you can eat family style under warm lighting.
Since I come to Kambi much more frequently (it’s much closer to me than Totto is, otherwise Totto would be my one and only), the last time I went I tried one of their specials. It was a spicy kimchi broth dipping ramen. Your noodles and toppings come on the side and you are expected to dip your ramen into the broth for each bite. This keeps the noodles consistently al dente. As you can see, toppings are pretty much the same (same lame-ish egg) but the broth is very different from the traditional. It was much thicker, almost like a paste, and was so flavorful in all the right ways. If you like kimchi, you’ll like this savory, sweet, and slightly sour broth.
Here’s a closer look at the noodles. Not bad right? When served without broth, they retain their bounciness and obviously do not taint the broth the way A.W.’s bowl was tainted at Minca. Though Kambi is not the best in the city, I would say that it offers up some solid, decently priced ramen that is a good choice when craving a bowl of hearty soup noodles, particularly when you want to avoid the lines at Ippudo and the trek (and lines) to Totto.
*Also, doesn’t “House” just sound better than “Factory” too? I’d rather have my food come out of a house than a factory, that’s for sure.