Over the past few years, there’s been a revolution in real ramen, big steaming bowls of impossibly rich broth, springy noodles, and countless add-ins, finally making its way across the Pacific in a big way. And from San Francisco to Baltimore, Minneapolis to Boston, there are some truly mind-blowing bowls of ramen out there. These are the best ramen shops in America.
#25 Noodlecat, Cleveland
Cleveland’s first ramen house, Noodlecat, opened in 2011 with renowned chef Jonathan Sawyer (of Greenhouse Tavern fame) at the helm. Ramen here is made with in-season, sustainable, and locally-sourced ingredients, and Sawyer worked on perfecting his noodles with Ohio City Pasta. Want traditional ramen? Opt for the Pork Miso, Shio, or Hokkaido ramen. But if you’re looking for something out of the ordinary, the smoked beef brisket, crispy beef short rib, or buttermilk fried chicken (with maple, hot sauce, and fried chicken skin, naturally) ramen will knock your socks off.
Image Credit: Flickr/ Stu Spivack
#24 Ken Ken Ramen, San Francisco
This Mission gem serves bowls of ramen carefully crafted by chef Takahiro Hori, in traditional varieties like tonkotsu (with black garlic, sesame oil, wood-ear mushrooms, pickled ginger, roast pork, and a whole soft-boiled egg, only available on Tuesdays and Wednesdays), miso, shoyu, shio, miso veggie, and even a vegan ramen. Noodles are made with flour imported from Hokkaido, and be sure to get there early because they don’t take reservations.
Image Credit: Flickr/ luisc
#23 Johnny Noodle King, Detroit
The team behind this Detroit newcomer hails from Vietnam to Eastern Europe, so while there’s plenty of Japanese influence in its creative and delicious bowls of ramen, it’s pretty obvious that they’re not afraid to stray from the norm; the miso ramen contains chicken thigh; the red curry ramen contains coconut powder, cauliflower, lime, and zucchini; and the Southwest ramen contains shredded pork shoulder, honeycomb tripe, fennel, and basil. Flavorful, well-balanced, and a whole lot of fun, this is a welcome addition to Detroit’s dining scene. Make sure you snag one of the six counter seats for a view of the gigantic cauldrons of boiling both, which is made fresh throughout the day.
Image Credit: Yelp/ Muthy H
#22 Chuko, Brooklyn, NY
The brainchild of three self-proclaimed “ramen geeks,” Chuko, located in Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights neighborhood, has the art of classic ramen-making down to a science. Options include the classic miso and soy varieties, as well as a vegetarian one made with market vegetables and one made with kimchi. All come with your choice of roast pork, steamed chicken, or ground pork.
Image Credit: Flickr/ Robyn Lee
#21 UniDeli, Minneapolis
Located smack-dab in the middle of a sprawling 40 year-old Asian grocery store called United Noodles, UniDeli is one of Minneapolis’ best-kept culinary secrets. A few varieties of ramen are on offer daily, but it’s best experienced on Monday evenings, when ramen wizards Sophear Ek and Jason Dorweiler take over the kitchen and serve some daring ramen, like the fiery tantanmen, black garlic-slicked tonkotsu black, and bowls enhanced by the likes of kimchi, caramelized onions, and roasted pork cheek. When a full-time ramen shop finally opens in Minneapolis, don’t be surprised if Ek and Dorweiler are the ones behind it.
Image Credit: Yelp/ Kara D
#20 Inaka, Boston
The ramen boom has finally made its way to Boston, and this eight-table Allston ramen and donburi shop is leading the charge. Served in a large bowl with a huge wooden spoon, the ramen here, which comes in varieties like shoyu, miso, yakibuta, and a cold hiyashi chukka, comes loaded with thick slices of pork and is rich without being greasy.
Image Credit: Yelp/ Lala I
#19 TenTen Ramen, Baltimore
This attractive restaurant immediately upped Baltimore’s ramen game when it opened earlier this year, offering four classic ramen varieties: tonkatsu, shio, miso, and shoyu. Topped with all the usual accompaniments like chachu, bamboo, bean sprout, nori, and scallion, it can also be served spicy. If you’re in Baltimore and eager for a crash course in classic ramen, TenTen is the place to go.
Image Credit: Yelp/ David C
#18 Biwa, Portland, Ore.
Biwa has been creating delicious bowls of ramen and other homestyle Japanese fare since opening back in 2008, and it’s still as good as ever. The kitchen in the signless, cozy space no longer makes its noodles from scratch (an improvement, as they’re now more consistent), and their signature ramen, made with both chicken and pork stocks, doesn’t fall into any of the major categories but is delicious in its own right. Egg and chashu top it off, and add-ons include melt-in-your-mouth pork shoulder, spicy ground pork, seaweed, and fried shrimp.
Image Credit: Yelp/ Suzi Edwards Alexander
#17 Ramen-San, Chicago
This River North den of noodles and beer takes its ramen very seriously, but the atmosphere is lighthearted and fun. Three broths (tonkotsu, shoyu, and shiitake) furiously boil away before being seasoned with black garlic, kimchi, or spicy miso and loaded with Tokyo-style wavy noodles from Sun Noodle and topped with chashu Berkshire pork, katsu fried chicken, or 18-hour smoked brisket. Topped off with molten egg, spicy sesame oil, seaweed, and fried garlic, you’ll be so entranced that you just might forget about that mug of Asahi. You probably won’t though.
Image Credit: Yelp
#16 Hapa Ramen, San Francisco
This Embarcadero ramen shop pops up next to the Ferry Building a couple days per week, and fuses the classic with the modern while using locally-sourced, organic ingredients. Award-winning rising star chef Richie Nakano keeps it simple while turning out one of the best bowl of ramen you’ll find anywhere, called the Big Daddy Ramen Bowl. What’s in it? Tonkotsu, a poached egg, veggies, slow-cooked pork belly, and, for good measure, fried chicken.
Image Credit: Flickr/ Ben Metcalfe
#15 Ramen Jinya, Los Angeles
There are a few locations of this Tokyo import in L.A. these days, a testament to its high quality and to the ample crowds that are still forced to wait for a table on weekend nights, but the original Studio City location is still the place to go. There are no gimmicks here, just big bowls of dashi-spiked ramen in varieties like black and white tonkotsu and spicy chicken ramen topped with pork chashu, egg, and your choice of more than 20 add-ons including chicken wontons, fried onion, butter, and chicken chashu.
Image Credit: Fernando Medrano
#14 Shin-Sen Gumi Hakata Ramen, Los Angeles
This mini-chain differentiates itself from the pack by allowing you to completely customize your ramen, which only comes in one variety, Hakata-style tonkotsu, with custom-made noodles that are thinner than usual. You have your choice of noodle hardness, thickness, and richness of broth, oil strength, and toppings, so it may take you a few visits before you settle on the perfect bowl for you. Not that that’s a bad thing.
Image Credit: Flickr/ Ed Kwon
#13 Ramen Shop, Oakland, Calif.
Looking for a good reason to wait nearly two hours for a table at a restaurant in Oakland? Look no further than the Ramen Shop, where your patience will be amply rewarded with three varieties of ramen from a team that includes Japanese transplants as well as vets from Chez Panisse. The signature Hokkaido Miso Ramen, with ground pork belly, soy-marinated egg, leeks, roasted Japanese eggplant, and peppers, is as close to fine dining as ramen will ever get.
Image Credit: Flickr/ T
#12 Asa Ramen, Los Angeles
Open since 2007, this little ramen shop in a Gardena strip mall is still going strong thanks to the high quality of its ingredients as well as its thick and unctuous kotteri shoyu ramen, which is as good as anything you’ll find in Japan. Noodles come from an artisanal Bay Area purveyor, and their salt ramen, made with chicken, fish, and pork, is a study in balance.
Image Credit: Flickr/ ThyKhueLy
#11 Ramen Tatsu-Ya, Austin
A thing of cultish devotion, Tatsu-Ya is a jewel in Austin’s ramen crown. One of Bon Appétit’s 50 best new restaurants of 2012, Tatsu-Ya also happened to be the first brick-and-mortar ramen shop to open in the city. The brainchild of two former D.J.s, the 38-seat restaurant is fun, energetic, and soulful, serving bowls of ramen that people line up out the door for. The original tonkotsu is the best way to first experience the restaurant, with chashu, egg, mushrooms, and scallions, but shoyu, spicy, and veggie varieties are also available, along with tsukemen, or dipping ramen. There’s plenty of room to get a little crazy, though: toppings include self-pressed garlic, grated parmesan, and fried Brussels sprouts.
Image Credit: Flickr/ Jay Raz
#10 Yamadaya, Los Angeles
Like pork? Then Yamadaya, with its triple-strength, 20-hour kakuni ramen is for you, with a giant slab of melt-in-your-mouth pork belly that takes the whole thing up to 11. With a handful of locations in Los Angeles as well as outposts in San Francisco and San Diego, Yamadaya is a ramen-lovers’ ramen shop, with shio, shoyu, paigu, and four varieties of tonkotsu ramen on offer, as well as toppings including corn, chili sauce, kakuni pork belly, chashu pork, and paigu pork loin. Did we mention that this is a great place for pork lovers?
Image Credit: Flickr/ Daremoshiranai
#9 Hiro Ramen House, Philadelphia
Philly’s best ramen shop, Hiro claims that it’s on “an endless search for the soul of Japan.” They’re certainly getting pretty close, as the ramen here is out of this world. There’s porky shoyu ramen topped with torched-to-order pork belly, toothsome noodles, marinated egg, chili paste, and soy sauce, a vegetarian option with corn, cabbage, and nori, and a special bowl that changes a couple times a week and consists of basically whatever chef/owner Dan Zhao can dream of, which is certainly a whole lot of fun.
Image Credit: Yelp/ Elva B
#8 Daikokuya, Los Angeles
This Little Tokyo landmark introduced many Angelinos to the glories of ramen, and now with a few additional locations, it’s still one of the top spots in the city for a big bowl of porky goodness. Appealingly grungy and with lines as long as ever, when you find yourself finally perched on a stool or nestled into a booth you’ll never want to leave. Their daikoku ramen, creamy, infused with soy sauce, and topped with Kurobuta pork belly chashu, marinated egg, bamboo, bean sprouts, green onions, and sesame seeds, is classic ramen perfection. Want it to be richer? Ask for kotteri, which has some soup extracted from pure back fat added. Now that’s luxury.
Image Credit: Flickr/ Kevin Ly
#7 East Side King at Hole in the Wall, Austin, Texas
You might have heard of chef Paul Qui thanks to his Top Chef win and his eponymous Austin hotspot, but the guy can also make one heck of a bowl of ramen. What started as three food trucks has now expanded to include a full-time brick-and-mortar location as well as a pop-up (that’s been going on for two years) out of the kitchen at one of Austin’s most legendary bars, Hole in the Wall, and only this location serves ramen. Qui is firing on all cylinders here: his Sapporo Beer Miso Ramen contains chicken and pork dashi, white miso, chashu pork, and beer foam; the Chicken Tortilla ramen is a play on tom yum soup with braised chicken thigh and avocado; and the kimchi pork ramen has a chicken and pork dashi, braised pork, fried tofu croutons, and kimchi. Want to think way outside the bowl? Opt for one of their specials, like the squid ink ramen made with fried calamari, tomatoes, fried potatoes, curry powder, and Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Image Credit: Yelp/ Nick H
#6 Ivan Ramen, New York, NY
Ivan Orkin is one of those rare chefs who found his calling in the cuisine of a far-off land; in this case, Japan. He took the Tokyo noodle scene by storm and then returned back to his hometown to spread the gospel, and spread it he did. At his narrow Lower East Side shop, you can get the full Tokyo ramen experience; opt for the Tokyo Shio ramen with pork chashu, egg, and roast tomato if you want to go authentic, or if you’re looking for something spicier go for the red chili ramen with dashi, chicken broth, minced pork, smashed egg, and rye noodles.
Image Credit: Flickr/ Robyn Lee
#5 Momofuku Noodle Bar, New York City
The ramen shop that started it all, chef David Chang’s acclaimed Noodle Bar is still going strong, and still serving one of the best bowls of ramen you’ll find anywhere. The classic Momofuku Ramen comes with pork belly, pork shoulder, and a poached egg; the Spicy Miso Ramen is loaded with smoked chicken, a poached egg, and sesame; and his Hozon Ramen is made with scallions, chickpeas, and kale. Fun fact: The restaurant’s namesake, Momofuku Ando, was the inventor of instant ramen.
Image Credit: Flickr/ T
#4 Slurping Turtle, Chicago
Chef Takashi Yagihashi is one of the country’s leading Japanese chefs (you may remember him from Top Chef Masters and Top Chef Duels, and he’s turned his attention to Japanese comfort food at the casual and fun Slurping Turtle. There’s no Japanese dish that’s more comforting than ramen, and they certainly don’t get short shrift here. Three different bowls of ramen are available, all made with homemade noodles: Red Miso (with roasted chicken, bok choy, scallions, and sweet corn); spicy Tan Tan Men Ramen (with pork meatballs, chashu, and pork miso); and Tonkotsu (with chashu, bok choy, pickled mustard greens, braised mushrooms, and chile oil), and they all showcase Takashi’s trademark deft hand and eye for balance. Washed down with beer and sake, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more fun dining experience in Chicago.
Image Credit: Flickr/ Bing
#3 Totto Ramen, New York, NY
There are three locations of Totto Ramen in Manhattan and one in Boston, and they still can barely keep up with demand. What began as a tiny second-floor restaurant back in 2003 is now a certifiable juggernaut, largely thanks to its legendary Paitan Ramen: homemade al dente noodles in a rich chicken broth simply topped with roast pork, scallion, onion, and nori. Today nine ramen options are available, including ones topped with miso and ground pork, spicy sesame oil, or spicy fish, and you can also customize your own with more than 15 toppings.
Image Credit: Yung Sok Yun
#2 Tsujita, Los Angeles
The best ramen shop west of the Mississippi, Tsujita is a Japanese import that brought every ounce of medium, or soft (opt for the hard). Topped with sliced char siu and all the traditional add-ons, it’s unctuous, creamy, complex, comforting ramen perfection. And if you’re looking for even more concentrated flavors, go for the tsukemen, plain noodles served with reduced broth for dipping.
Image Credit: Flickr/ Eric Chan
#1 Ippudo, New York City
When Ippudo founder Shigemi Kawahara opened the restaurant’s first location in Fukuoka City, Japan in 1985, most ramen shops were not much more than glorified food stalls, dingy holes-in-the-wall geared toward late-night revelers. But his plan was simple and revolutionary: to open a restaurant that guests wouldn’t mind bringing a date to, one that also happened to serve a stellar bowl of ramen. The concept took Japan by storm, and today there are locations across Asia, in London, and two in New York. When Ippudo opened its first New York location in 2008 it was just as revolutionary, and played a huge part in changing New Yorkers’ (and Americans’) perception of what ramen is and could be. Their authentic Hakata Tonkotsu ramen takes two days to make, noodles are made fresh daily, and bowls are kept in simmering water so the ramen stays hot. Five ramen varieties in total are available, and they’re all about as authentic and chef-driven as it gets. The Akamaru Modern ramen is topped with miso paste and garlic oil, the spicy Karaka Men is topped with hot spices and minced pork, the Tori Ramen is made with clear chicken and pork broth and topped with minced shiso onion and arako chile pepper, and the soy sauce and vegetable-based Shoyu ramen is topped with bean curd, wasabi, tempura flakes, and wasabi-infused oil. If you can brave the lines, a bowl of ramen at Ippudo can be a paradigm-shifting experience.
Image Credit: Ippudo
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When you hear the word "ramen," what's the first thing that comes to mind? If you're like most of us, it's probably a polystyrene cup filled with the salty instant noodles that you ate way too much of back in college. But over the past few years, there's been a revolution, and real ramen, big steaming bowls of impossibly rich broth, springy noodles, and countless add-ins, has finally made its way across the Pacific in a big way. And from San Francisco to Baltimore, Minneapolis to Boston, there are some truly mind-blowing bowls of ramen out there. These are the best ramen shops in America.
First things first: What, exactly, is ramen? While it's also popular in China (where it originated), in Japan ramen is nothing short of a cultural icon, and it comes in dozens of varieties. Ramen noodles typically are made from wheat flour, salt, water, and an alkaline mineral water called kansui that gives the noodles a yellow hue and firm texture. Noodles can be thick, thin, hard, soft, straight, or wavy, but at the end of the day they need to have a perfect chew and serve as a vessel for the broth.
The most common ramen styles are tonkotsu (rich, creamy, and made from pork bones), shoyu (soy sauce), shio (salt), and miso, made with miso paste and chicken, pork, seafood, or vegetable broth. Each region in Japan has its own signature style, but just about all of them fall under those categories. These broths typically boil away for hours, developing a rich flavor and texture that only time can create. Recipes are usually closely guarded, but just about all of them also contain kombu (kelp), mushrooms, and onions, and they're certifiable umami-bombs.
Finally, toppings. Technically, a bowl can be filled with just broth and noodles and call itself ramen, but that's only half the fun. Just about every bowl of ramen contains a slab of roast pork called chashu along with a soft-boiled egg, and other typical add-ons include sprouts, scallions, dried seaweed, garlic, and even corn and butter in some variations. But the possibilities are endless; some ramen shops even toss in a big chunk of fried chicken!
So what, exactly, makes for a great bowl of ramen? To answer that question, we reached out to some of the country's leading authorities.
Ivan Orkin, the chef behind New York's cult favorite Ivan Ramen, compared a perfect bowl of ramen to a great sandwich. "Like you can't just throw a bunch of stuff onto a roll and call it a sandwich, you can't just throw a bunch of stuff into a bowl and call it ramen," he told us. "The toppings should make sense. Like with any composed dish, it needs to be planned out."
Bill Kim, the chef at Chicago's popular Urbanbelly, added that "there needs to be layers of flavor" in a great ramen, and that the noodles "need to be chewy, and also need to pick up the broth and transport it and all of its flavor to your mouth."
"The perfect bowl of ramen needs to be hot, like scalding hot," Peter Colon, the kitchen manager at New York's Ippudo, added. "It also needs to have fresh noodles, and it needs to be balanced. Whether it's shoyu, tonkotsu, or shio ramen, it's difficult to achieve the right balance of flavors. It can be too strong, too bland, too oily. The broth needs to constantly be cared for in order to strike the perfect balance."
Ramen is certainly having a "moment" right now, enjoying a popularity that's reserved for only the trendiest foods. There's a certifiable "cult of ramen," populated by the chefs that are pushing ramen to its limits and also by the fans who will wait hours in line for the best bowls around. It's also crossing culinary boundaries, best signified by the "ramen burger" invented by Keizo Shimamoto, which replaces the bun with crisp-fried ramen noodles and was a monster hit from the day it was first sold at New York's Smorgasburg last year.
"Foods that make you messy tend to gather a cult following, and ramen is definitely one of those foods," Orkin said. "It's fun to eat; you can slurp it up and make a mess. And like any messy food, like crabs or ribs, once you allow yourself to get a little messy you end up smiling every time."
If there's one sign that ramen is really having its moment, it's the fact that great new ramen shops are opening all the time, in some places you might not expect. In order to assemble our ranking of America's best, we reached out to leading culinary authorities throughout the country to ask what their personal favorite shops are (sticking to restaurants that specialize in ramen and noodles instead of, say, sushi bars with one bowl of ramen on the menu), and we supplemented those suggestions with ramen shops featured in local reviews and pre-existing regional and local rankings. We then took that list of more than 100 shops from across the country and built a survey, with the shops separated by region. We invited our group of trusted panelists, made up of chefs, bloggers, journalists, and other culinary authorities, to vote for their favorites, and more than 30, including the Los Angeles Times' Jonathan Gold and our fleet of city editors, cast their votes. In the end there was one clear winner, but the top shops aren't all found in ramen hotspots like New York and the Bay Area; there's great ramen all over America, from Philadelphia to Detroit.
A wide cross-section of shops made our list. In Austin, a Top Chef champion is serving wildly creative bowls of ramen out of the kitchen of one of the city's most legendary bars. In Chicago, a popular hangout is topping their long-simmered broths with katsu fried chicken and 18-hour smoked brisket. And in Minneapolis, two ramen wizards are serving varieties both classic and daring out of a 40-year-old Asian grocery store.
Ramen is one of the trendiest foods in the country today, and even though it has centuries of history behind it, it's one of the least intimidating foods out there. In fact, digging into a big bowl of it with some friends and a mug of cold beer is about as laid-back and fun as it gets. Read on to learn which ramen shops are America's best.
Check out the slideshow above for the best ramen shops in America.