Uni creme udon, TsuruTonTan. Photo: Joji Uematsu
Winter is an ideal time to noodle around NYC and slurp up steaming bowls of ramen and other belly-warming Asian specialties. Noodles feed the body and soul, a cross-cultural comfort food that’s easy on the budget. Our roundup features compelling Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese and Korean riffs on the genre, with sure-footed dishes conceived by ambitious dreamers and first-generation Americans. Chopstick skills come in handy, but there’s usually a fork in the house if the mastery eludes you. See some of our favorites below.
Courtesy, Chao Chao
171 Ave. A, East Village, Manhattan
At the first crunchy bite of a spring roll bundled in a lettuce leaf and stuffed with glass noodles, pork, carrots and shiitake mushrooms, it’s evident Chao Chao is not just another East Village Vietnamese restaurant. (Meals here end in regret, with patrons knowing future spring rolls elsewhere will pale in comparison.) Egg noodles tossed with beef cheeks, coconut flakes, scallions and shrimp paste are another eye-opener from Stephan Brezinsky, the executive chef and co-owner along with his mother, Kimxuan Brezinsky. She grew up primarily in Saigon and inspired him to start cooking at a tender age; the crazy-good spring rolls are her recipe.
Photo: Erich Hehn
37-15 Broadway, Astoria, Queens
District Saigon is a destination in Astoria for pho, a fragrant, long-cooked, clear and complex Vietnamese broth served with heaping portions of fresh rice noodles. Customize yours with smoked, soft brisket or slices of free range chicken; you can go all-vegetarian too. Lam and Michael Lien—father and son—are side by side in the kitchen at the modern, attractive spot. They also tinker with rice vermicelli dishes and serve up thick, chewy garlic noodles dappled with a generous amount of lump crab meat.
Great N.Y. Noodletown
28 Bowery, Chinatown, Manhattan
Chinatown’s Great N.Y. Noodletown lives up to its billing in so many ways. The brightly lit hole-in-the-wall is authentic, has quick service, features countless filling noodle options and stays open from 9am to 4am. What’s more, it’s cheap, so it makes little matter that it’s cash only. Enjoy beef chow fun with flat rice noodles, big strips of beef and lots of flavor and texture. Hong Kong–style lo mein with ginger and scallions is totally delicious and inspired David Chang to use it as the mother sauce at Momofuku Noodle Bar.
Courtesy, Ippudo NY
Ippudo New York
321 W. 51st St., Hell's Kitchen, Manhattan
It’s hard to talk about great ramen in NYC without singling out Ippudo, which has locations worldwide. The Hell’s Kitchen branch is just as popular as the original in the East Village (65 Fourth Ave.), with a convivial bar up front where beer and sake dull the pain of waiting. The wait is always worth it, not only for the welcoming cheer from the kitchen staff but for phenomenal Japanese soul food. Akamaru ramen is heady with hearty pork broth, but resist drinking it all right away—pay $2 for an extra serving of thin noodles by saying, “Kae-dama, please.”
Photo: Gabriele Stabile
Momofuku Noodle Bar
171 First Ave., East Village, Manhattan
David Chang gets credit for hatching the new-wave noodle craze after his Momofuku Noodle Bar caught on like wildfire in the East Village back in 2004. Since then he’s built a Momofuku empire and cofounded the cult magazine Lucky Peach. His original wood-clad spot is still sensational, with communal tables and a long bar built around an open, stainless steel kitchen. The signature ramen rocks, bobbing with pork belly, pork shoulder and a poached egg. The brothless ginger scallion noodles (an homage to Great N.Y. Noodletown) with pickled shiitake mushrooms, cucumber and nori are more subtle and eminently satisfying.
Momosan Ramen & Sake
342 Lexington Ave., Murray Hill, Manhattan
Masaharu Morimoto has more than a dozen innovative, glitzy Japanese restaurants in the US and overseas, but Momosan offers simpler pleasures. It’s still chic, but more of a fast-casual concept and convenient to Grand Central Terminal. Ramen is the focus, its noodles springy in any of the four soup varieties. Tantan has the creamiest broth, a Malaysian-accented medley of spicy coconut curry, red miso, pork chashu and ground pork. In 2016, the Hiroshima-born chef published Mastering the Art of Japanese Home Cooking, which includes straightforward advice for perfecting soba and udon noodles—good news for those who will want to make them on their own.
12-09 Jackson Ave., Long Island City, Queens
Joshua Smookler, a Per Se vet, goes far beyond the call of duty at Mu Ramen, cooking broth for 20 hours or more, making noodles in-house and rotating menu items, giving ramen fiends new reasons to head to Long Island City. His creative genius surfaces in cacio e pepe-style ramen taglierini with uni, pecorino cheese, black pepper, butter and smoked egg yolk. Another invention combines chicken broth and noodles with the richness of foie gras dumplings. The small, tasteful space fills up fast so plan accordingly (seating is first come, first served) and bring cash (credit cards not accepted).
Photo: Phil Kline
366 W. 52nd St., Hell's Kitchen, Manhattan
Marked by red lanterns, the Totto Ramen location in Midtown West is a bustling, subterranean joint that’s fun for lunch and dinner, but be warned that it’s often packed with regulars by 6pm. The noodle shop opened in 2010 and has since spawned several spin-offs, from Boston to Taipei. There’s also a somewhat less-crowded Hell’s Kitchen branch (464 W. 51st St.), giving theatergoers another option for a quick, pre-curtain repast. Dial up the heat by ordering spicy paitan ramen, a deeply flavored chicken broth with roasted pork, fiery sesame oil, scallions, bean sprouts and nori.
Photo: Joji Uematsu
TsuruTonTan Udon Noodle Brasserie
21 E. 16th St., Union Square, Manhattan
Utterly transformed from when the bi-level space housed Union Square Café, TsuruTonTan is a lustrous tavern dedicated to udon noodles. This is the first American outpost of a Japanese chain, with an intimate bar, counter seating and a sunken dining room. Soft yet chewy noodles are made in-house, a blank canvas to soak up uni dashi broth, for instance, topped with a cluster of briny uni, shiso and nori. (That particular dish is served chilled and is delicious in any season.) Oversize ceramic bowls and giant spoons lend drama, as does the wide-ranging, illustrated menu. Top sellers are flagged, a helpful guide.
159 Graham Ave., Williamsburg, Brooklyn
It’s rare to find Taiwanese fare in NYC outside of Flushing, so Brooklyn’s Win Son is a welcome exception. Also rarely found are danzi noodles (not to be confused with dan dan noodles), tangled with minced heritage pork, scallions and fresh herbs in a rich, brown, spicy puddle fortified with garlic and topped with a single seared shrimp. They deserve fame. The plant-filled storefront on an East Williamsburg corner is the first venture from partners Josh Ku, of Taiwanese descent, and chef Trigg Brown (ex-Upland), who also tosses together seductive sesame noodles with oyster mushrooms and peanuts.