I've been asked to write a post of my "top five" ramen shops in America for The Asia Society. So here goes...
If you know me, then you know ramen rules my life. So when I was asked to compile a list of my top 5 ramen shops in the United States, then you know that this was no easy task. In the past six years I've probably slurped more bowls of ramen than any other American, including "a dream ramen journey" throughout Japan, spanning 21 cities and 55 bowls in 28 days, but there's still very much that I need to learn about this freakish noodle dish. I initially moved to Japan to study how to make ramen because there wasn't much I could consider "quality ramen" stateside, but with the "ramen boom" finally crossing the Pacific, there are several shops that deserve recognition. So here goes. In no particular order, being that I've split my time between New York and Los Angeles (when not in Tokyo) for the past year, here is a list of my top 5 ramen shops that I can't do without.
Totto Ramen - New York, NY: When it comes to authenticity, meaning which shop mostly resembles a traditional ramen shop in Japan, Totto definitely comes the closest. From their long lines crowding the minimal sidewalk to their cramped counter encouraging an elbow-to-elbow slurp, Totto brings Tokyo to New York in true ramen fashion. Specializing in a "tori paitan" broth, which just means boiling-the-dickens-out-of-chickens, Totto's ramen is a welcome change to the more dominant tonkotsu (pork broth) ramen that has recently taken America by storm.
Dassara Ramen - Brooklyn, NY: Ramen is a food without boundaries, meaning as long as it contains noodles and soup and tastes good do what the f**k you want! Dassara is the perfect example of a shop that uses this so-called "spirit of ramen" mentality. Their specialty, a ramen stock made with lamb, definitely pushes the boundaries of what "American" ramen should be about. And it tastes f**king good!
Tsujita LA - Los Angeles, CA: Tsukemen. What is tsukemen? If you don't know, then Tsujita LA will get you acquainted with it faster than you can "go Hollywood!" "Tsuke" means touch and with "men" meaning noodles, tsukemen is basically noodles that you touch with soup. Separated at ramen birth, a fattier noodle is traditionally dipped into a thick soup broth that sticks with flavor. The soup is a key player, but with tsukemen the noodles always take the lead. Sun Noodle to be exact.
Foo-Foo Tei - Hacienda Heights, CA: My neighborhood ramen shop. Everyone needs one of these. I might be biased because I spent a whole month slurping every ramen on the menu (31!), but this place is legit. Stuck in the most unlikeliest of locations for any restaurant, hundreds still flock here daily to experience ramen heaven. Best ramen shop in LA? You can determine that on your own, but this is where I directly head whenever I'm back in my hometown.
Shoki Ramen House - Sacramento, CA: A ramen geek who decided to take a chance and open his own shop and share his passion with ramen to whomever had the nerve to slurp. Sound familiar? No this is not a story about me, but it is a reminder that the power of ramen is deep, very deep. Shoki is probably the first ramen shop in America to really bring the passion of ramen to Americans the way the Japanese have been doing for decades. Believe it.
The Aviary - Chicago, IL: In the most unlikeliest of locations, exquisite ramen appears in minimal fashion with the utmost respect of its surrounding gastronomical libations--molecular ramen to be exact. A non-ramen shop that does ramen has been the craze in Tokyo lately and The Aviary represents this craze in America the best. Price should not be a factor when admiring these mini bowls. Just drink, slurp, and get drunk. And enjoy the ramen hangover.
See the actual article here.