For this adventure we got to cross one of New York City’s ramen heavyweights off our list: Ippudo Westside in Hell’s Kitchen. This is the famed chain’s second Manhattan location, with the original opening in the East Village in 2008.
A quick disclaimer before we proceed with the review. I (Julian) used be a ramen cook here. I started when I first moved to the city about two years ago until this past winter. Ippudo is where I started my journey from ramen novice to noodle blogger and I still have a good amount of friends working there. With that being said, I tried to stay as objective as possible when considering the quality of the food and service.
Waiting for a table at Ippudo can be a nightmare. This is the sort of place that attracts regulars and tourists alike. If you come for dinner like we did, you should expect to wait at least 30 minutes (even more on the weekend). Luckily, the bar serves a variety of different sake and the hosts will take your number to text you when your table is almost ready. The bar area is not that big however so it can get pretty crowded and hectic when many folks are waiting. The combination of the music, conversations, and staff enthusiastically shouting out greetings in Japanese makes Ippudo quite loud. It’s more of a problem at night, so if you are easily turned off by loud restaurants make sure to come at lunch for a quieter dining experience. The food is also on the more expensive side for ramen. A basic bowl of tonkotsu (pork broth) ramen costs $15 at dinner ($14 at lunch). Other dishes are similarly priced at levels that seem a bit ridiculous for most places not in New York.
To be honest, those are about all of the negatives. While we could dwell on the legitimacy of making ramen into a high-class food and pricing it as such, the simple fact is that the dishes here are great. We started out with the chicken buns. Although everyone goes for the pork buns (and why wouldn’t you), we thought the chicken buns are better. The chicken is always cooked perfectly so that it’s juicy inside and crispy outside. The sauce has just the right amount of sweetness and kick. Our other appetizer, the karaage fried chicken, was equally impressive. The chicken was perfectly fried while retaining its juiciness and accompanied by fried shishito peppers to munch on in between the bites of meat.
The ramen is what has made Ippudo famous. Its signature style is a Hakata-style ramen, which is pork tonkotsu broth with very thin noodles. Marion ordered the Akamaru Modern (slightly bolder flavor than the classic bowl) and I had the Karaka-men, which is the spicy offering. The soup was fantastic and exactly how I remember it: deep, salty and rich. The miso paste that tops both ramens we ordered adds a good amount of flavor to each bowl. The Karaka has a great level of spiciness – present but not overwhelming. One thing that I really like about Ippudo is how you can customize how hard you want your noodles cooked. They will accommodate you in either direction, from soft to extra, extra hard (about one – three seconds in the boiler). I think this option is very cool and something a surprising number of ramen places in the city do not have available. We both personally like getting the noodles cooked harder than normal so that they don’t become soggy from sitting in the hot soup. The standard toppings that come with these bowls are scallions, kikurage mushrooms, pork chashu, cabbage and garlic oil. All hold up well in the broth and add additional flavor profiles to the ramen. One thing I think the restaurant could improve is the quality of the meat, which is not as out of this world as some other spots. However, they do a good job considering the sheer quantity of bowls that are being served every day. You can add additional toppings like egg, takana (pickled mustard leaves) and the house spicy paste but it will definitely set you back if you decide to go wild with them.
Since Ippudo (mostly) doesn’t make their own desserts, I’m not going to go into that much detail here. Just know that we had a mille crepe from Lady M bakery (photo above) and it was delicious.
Ok, to recap. All of Ippudo’s dishes, especially the ramen are delicious. The intensely flavorful broth and ability for noodle customization make it well worth it. The level of consistency is extremely high – I can personally attest that ingredients are carefully prepped and measured out so that each dish tastes the same time and time again. The servers go through rigorous training in order to be hired and it definitely shows. They are attentive, personable and knowledgeable and always will take good care of you. Since I am a former employee, you should feel comfortable taking my review with a grain of salt.
As an attempt to maintain further objectivity, Marion decided on the starring for this ramen spot. She gave a four and a half stars out of five. The half star deduction takes in to account the high price of one bowl and the quality of the meat in the ramen. However, outside of those aspects she thinks that the ramen is incredibly impressive and the service is amazing. Ippudo definitely lives up to its name and delivers great quality food. It’s a place that every ramen lover (non-ramen lovers as well) should have on their list of shops to check out in the city.