As a recent transplant to New York Midtown, I was sitting alone in the cramped confines of Totto Ramen. Their freshly prepared noodles held my attention. Although I didn’t know what pain was, it was my first experience with a thick, creamy, pork-based soup.
My vocabulary regarding ramen, which I had only ever associated with Instant variety, was nonexistent. I still remember wondering about the cream base and how the noodles became springy.
What is in the marinated egg? Although it was only a brief moment almost ten years ago, the memory reminds me of the vastness of my mysteries and encourages me to continue learning.
We asked experts (sushi chefs, homestyle Japanese chefs, and others) about their favorite ramen spots. It was humbling and enriching to learn from others, even after writing a book about Japanese cuisine.
It has allowed me to discover new ramen recipes, some of which I have already enjoyed and others I will save for my next trip. These chefs and food writers have selected the final picks.
They include a wide range of regional styles, but this is only a tiny part of the ramen-world iceberg. You may find yourself asking more questions after you have read this list.
Chef Richard Kashida’s Tops
Since I first met Richard Kashida 3 years ago, he has been my go-to expert for all things ramen. Jin Ramen is his ramen restaurant on the Upper West Side; he’s also the partner behind Jin Ramen.
His top picks for ramen include more than just the food. They also consider atmosphere and efficiency in business operations. These options range from a popup tent to a Michelin-starred chain in Japan.
New York, New York
ROKC is for ramen and oysters. It also stands for kitchen and cocktails and delivers on all counts. Take a trip across Japan and try ramen styles from Tokyo (with a soy sauce and fish soup base) to Hakata with a kombu or bonito soup base.
Chef Isao Yoneda oversees the program. He was previously with Totto Ramen, a famous Midtown paitan shop that sells ramen. Hide-Chan is known for its tonkatsu.
Angel’s Share alums have made this Harlem casual spot perfect for date nights or group outings with their unusual pairing of ramen and fun cocktails like those served in a lightbulb, conch shell, or smoked in a cloche.
Tonchin is a chain that hails from Tokyo but is not typical. Katsuhiro Sugeno, the brother founders, had over 25 years to perfect their recipes before exporting the concept overseas.
Chef Kashida praises Tonchin for its “awesome presentation and execution” and the quality of each bowl. Tonchin features homemade curly noodles, Tokyo Tonkotsu-style broth, and toppings made from scratches, such as miso or smoked dashi.
You can also finish your meal with kakigori, Japanese shaved ginger, a deliciously plump mound of Japanese ice, and lighter than air.
Yuji Haraguchi’s Tops
Yuji Haraguchi’s Ramen is genuinely unique. He strongly believes in the Japanese no-waste philosophy (mottainai) and uses all the fish from his restaurants, including Yuji Ramen and Okonomi.
The flavorful bones are saved to make a rich fish-based stock that he calls “tunakotsu.” His ramen also won the attention of the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum in Kanagawa, Japan, where he was featured. His ramen choices reflect Chef Haraguchi’s quest to innovate on well-loved dishes and create something new.
Shigetoshi Nakamura, a Japanese ramen chef, was already a star before he arrived in America. Chef Nakamura has so inspired Chef Haraguchi that he said, “Nakamura’s torigara ramen [that]] inspired me to switch my career to become a ramen chef.”
Sarah Gavigan, Otaku’s owner, is a native of Los Angeles who is passionate about ramen. (It is also the first ramen-specific shop in Nashville. Their signature “Tennessee Tonkotsu,” a soft pork confit, clear chicken shoyu, and a vegetarian version of spicy Sichuan Dan Dan noodles, are all featured on the menu.
Tatsuya Sekiguchi’s Tops
As part of the writing of his book Kodawari which explores his classic and thoughtful approach to sushi, I had the great honor of spending hours with Tatsuya Sekiguchi, Omakase Room’s Sushi Master.
Tatsu is a bit obsessed with his craft, spending his off days thinking about and eating sushi. However, he will occasionally indulge in ramen at his favorite restaurants. He evaluates them similarly to sushi: balanced soup to noodles, no flavor overpowering others, complex flavor, delicate delivery.
Ichigoh Ramen Lounge
Ichigoh, a Dallas-based family-owned ramen shop, is inspired by the Japanese concept of Kodawari (passion and dedication to craft). The restaurant’s noodles are sourced from Sapporo in Japan and aged in cedar noodle boxes for at least 5-7 days before being served.
Although the original owner and chef of the shop have passed away, Ichigoh, his wife, and his daughter continue to carry his legacy. Sekiguchi loves their Apple Fennel Shio bowl, which is vegan. His wife Hiroko prefers the Yuzu Shio with chicken broth.
Yohei Ishida, the founder of Ippudo-Ramen Ishida, is its name. It specializes in Tokyo-style shoyu Ramen with clear chicken broth and soy sauce. Clear broths are just as delicious as creamier ones; Chef Ishida hopes to prove it. Chef Sekiguchi calls it “unforgettable.”
Brooklyn, New York
The concept started as a small popup at Ramen Lab, the U.S.A., and has since grown to include two busy locations in Manhattan and a new opening in Brooklyn. Menya Jiro’s history begins in Japan in Kagoshima, where the founders opened the Tsubame ramen shop in 2007.
Many years later, with awards and a name change, it remains a popular spot for its balanced chicken-and-pork soup and homemade noodles. Sekiguchi says that the noodles are not too thick or too thin. They are just the right size, so the soup sticks to each noodle.
Tsukushi, not a ramen place, is a Japanese restaurant in midtown frequented by Japanese chefs after-hours. It isn’t easy to find, as it was once hidden behind a demolished building’s unmarked doors.
In 2018, the restaurant reopened behind a street on 50th Street. Norihiko Mabe, a Hokkaido-style chef, serves a traditional Hokkaido-style Shoyu Ramen.
It is made with chicken broth, topped with thin noodles and fatty roast pork. It’s simple and delicious, not fancy with any fancy toppings. It’s the reason you crave it, says Chef Sekiguchi.
San Francisco, California
Hinodeya is a standout with its delicate, dashi-based Ramen broth. It contrasts nicely with the rich, pork-based competitors. San Francisco, the first and only U.S. expansion of a ramen brand that originated in the Saitama Prefecture (established in 1885), is an expansion.
Outpost. It is light and clear with a “lingering umami” that stimulates your appetite, as Chef Sekiguchi describes. Something is working as it has expanded to three bay area locations in just three years.
Chef Mutsuko SOMA’s Picks
Kamonegi’s specialty soba shop, Kamonegi, serves handmade noodles in Seattle’s Fremont area. Since 2017, Chef Mutsuko Sma has served her homemade noodles in three different styles: Nanban (in hot soup), seiro, and bukkake (in cold soup).
Her passion for her work has quickly spread beyond the Emerald City. Chef Soma was named one of Food & Wine’s Top New Chefs.
Chef Soma describes suika as a Japanese-style izakaya or a gastropub. It has a different philosophy than many ramen shops’ “slurp and goes” mentality. She tells me that she doesn’t often go out, so when they do, I want to take my time and enjoy the experience.
She orders a combination of ramen, including two types: “Hellz” ramen, a spicy oxtail-based shoyu, and oxtail-based miso, as well as appetizers and drinks to make it a relaxing evening out. The guests love the mix of traditional and innovative, including Hamachi kama (yellow cheek), Ma-Po rice cakes, and uni shots.
Seattle, Washington; Vancouver; Brooklyn, New York
Ramen Danbo specializes in Kyushu-style thin noodles made in-house and served with pork-based tonkatsu. The Japanese chain was founded in Vancouver, B.C., in 2005. It is based in Chikushino, on the southern island of Kyushu.
Before entering the U.S., it was opened in Vancouver, B.C. Chef Soma praises it for being “the closest authentic ramen to Japan” and for its flexibility: Diners can choose the size, softness, broth, and umami level.
Locations in southern California: Edgewater, New Jersey; Chicago, Illinois; Seattle, Washington; Honolulu (Hawaii); Boston, Massachusetts; Dallas Texas
Santouka might try to hide in a Mitsuwa Marketplace (a Japanese grocery shop), but the lines make it obvious. You’ll find a long line of hungry diners at any of their locations, waiting to try their silky tonkatsu.
It simmers for more than 30 hours. Upgrade to “Tokusen Toriniku Ramen,” if you’re able, to get a side dish of buttery-soft pork cheeks. It hails from Japan’s Hokkaido and is known for its consistency everywhere. Chefs Haraguchi and Kashida recommended Santouka, as well Chef Soma.
Ooink, a Capitol Hill ramen shop, is known for its commitment to quality ingredients, particularly when it comes to the broth. The base is made from high-quality pork bones and water from streams.
Chef Soma even documented the process of sourcing natural water for his previous ramen popup. He also used unique jugs to collect water for the broth. Chef Soma says, “Every time I eat at Ooink, I can see them improving their product, and I admire that passion.”
Yoroshiku, a modern izakaya, was founded as a traditional Japanese restaurant in 2012. Keisuke Kobayashi, the owner, and Koichi Hamma, the head chef, experimented with traditional Japanese dishes.
They also offer a variety of unique ramen styles. The Fisherman Ramen is a dish that features local clams, octopus, and sockeye salmon. Yoroshiku is like eating at a Japanese mom-and-pop shop, Chef Soma said.
John Sugimura’s Tops
PinKU, a Japanese street food restaurant in Minneapolis, is dedicated to John Sugimura’s grandmother Tsui. She was born in California in the 1920s and survived the Tule Lake internment with her willpower.
The family eventually moved to Minnesota. PinKU is part celebration and part reconnection, and Chef Sugimura brings his twists on classics such as gyozas, hand rolls, and inari.
San Francisco, California; Frisco, Texas
Marufuku Ramen is a Hakata-style tonkotsu restaurant that opened in San Francisco’s Japantown in 2017. It has been serving hungry customers since then. You may be lucky enough to grab a bowl of the limited-edition deluxe chicken paitan.
Only 15 bowls are available each day. What’s Chef Sugimura ordering? “Medium fire tonkatsu, with a few soy soft-boiled eggs and a mound of bamboo shoots!”
Jinya Ramen Bar
Jinya is a national ramen bar chain offering six different broth-based options. It was established in 2000. The name is a tribute to a Samurai soldier who lived close to the community.
Hakata Ikkousha Ramen
Locations in Southern California
Hakata Ikkousha Ramen is located on the California coast in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles. Chef Sugimura said he enjoys “sneaking away and eating alone to feel the joy of food coma.”
You can likewise pick from toppings such as “God’s Fire” or “Black Devil” to add some flavor to your bowl of Tonkotsu. Or, you can opt for Mentaiko Tonkotsu (cod roe) for an entirely new experience in ramen.
Men Oh Tokushima
San Francisco, California
Ramen is all about pork. Any pork addict (expert?) will tell you that ramen is ultimately about pork. Any pork expert (or addict? ) will tell you that Kurobuta pork is the most prized pig breed.
It is the swine equivalent of Kobe beef. Tokushima, located on the island of Shikoku in Southeast Japan, is home to the best Kurobuta pigs in the world and to this small international ramen chain responsible for the soft, fatty, stir-fried Kurobuta pork belly you get in your bowl.
Emily Yuen’s Tops
Bessou is a great place to go if you’re tired of the New York City restaurant scene. Maiko Kyogoku’s chef Emily Yuen and her partner Maiko Yuen combine Japanese and global flavors to create dishes such as “Shiso Cigars.”
It includes Sendai miso, roasted nuts, and their famous chicken karaage, which provides Moroccan spices and a Shiso tzatziki. Her favorite ramen spots are places that encourage creativity and are just as delicious as they are innovative.
Like many other ramen brands, Mu was a popup in 2014. New York Times critic Pete Wells named it as his No. The stars aligned to open a brick-and-mortar store in the former industrial area of Long Island City.
Mu is an American restaurant that serves New York-style ramen. Chef Joshua Smookler, formerly of Per Se, draws inspiration from his Korean heritage and Jewish upbringing.
Brooklyn, New York
You might recognize Ichiran from their “Ramen Focus Booths” solo dining booths. Here, guests are sheltered from any other patrons in a wooden booth that is minimally decorated.
You must fill out a brief written form detailing every detail of your ramen, from the noodle’s texture to the overall appearance. You will serve a bowl of hot ramen within a few minutes. Ichiran makes noodles from scratch.
If you want more noodles, Ichiran offers a particular “kaedama” ordering system that uses a song to alert your server and bring your bowl to your table.
Thrillist contributor chooses
We tapped Trevor Felch from San Francisco and Josh Lurie from LA for the following recommendations.
Tsujita LA Annex
Los Angeles, California
Tsujita was the first to open his eponymous restaurant, which was opened by Takehiro Tsujita, a Tokyo master of ramen. Tsujita opened his first restaurant in Tokyo, Takehiro Tsujita. He then opened a ramen-only annex across the street that specialized in more intense bowls.
Tsukemen is the best choice. It features thick, al dente Sunn noodles, soft-boiled eggs, fat-rimmed Chashu, large mounds of peppery bean sprouts, and tangy, flavorful tonkatsu broth infused with fat pork bits. Add minced garlic and onikasu (red spices) to your bowl to boost the flavor.
Los Angeles, California
A Torrance strip mall has a Nagoya-style ramen restaurant that serves outstanding tantan men. It features spicy ground miso pork and homemade chili oil. The creamy, mildly spicy chicken broth and pork are topped with fish for an extra umami boost.
The rich, thin noodles are enriched with bean sprouts and scallions. Josui, which translates to Japanese as “clean water,” is a ramen broth that will wash over your taste buds.
Hinoki and The Bird
Los Angeles, California
Brandon Kida, the executive chef, debuted his lobster ramen in 2015. Each bowl contained the meat of a whole 1 1/4- 1 1/2-pound lobster. Why not? Century City is home to many lawyers, agents, and influential players who won’t hesitate to place a high price tag.
Chef Kida adds aromatic tare to each order, which includes lobster and chicken broth. This bowl is topped with sweet, extracted lobster meat, crispy wood ear mushrooms, and chile oil—Nori, shaved scallions, and jammy onsen eggs complete the exquisite dish.
Make sure to plan your pilgrimage: Hinoki & The Bird only serves lobster ramen in the cooler months.