Restaurant Review: When to Go to "Ippudo"

June 27, 2012 3:17 PM EDT | By Anthony Smith
Get out of your seat and go sit at Ippudo. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

There isn't too much that can be said about a restaurant that does it right every single time, so I'll just offer some advice instead: when it comes to Ippudo, New York City's most consistently good and second-most trendy ramen-cum-japas house in town, get there early. We're talking 4:45 PM, while the kitchen prepares for a mob of people to push through its doors at dinner time. Once the restaurant opens at 5 PM, you'll be seated just about immediately. Otherwise, you may have to wait hours-- if they even allow you to get on their waitlist in the first place.

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Unlike its anemic cousin, Ippudo doesn't carry the burden of one man's tragically hip brand-- at least, not in America. Shigemi Kawahara, a man who calls himself the Ramen King, is a noodle celebrity in Japan. Trading inventiveness for soulful takes on the classics, his place serves up ramen with an inventiveness that plays with flavors more common and comforting to the Japanese taste-array than to the American one.

As far as the ramen goes, stick to the Shiromaru Hakata Classic. At a reasonable $15, this bowl is loaded with Berkshire pork loin, mushrooms, pickled ginger, and scallions. We recommend asking for an extra helping of Nitamago (seasoned salt boiled egg) to go with it. The flavor is deep, intense, and most importantly: delicious-- exactly what you think of when you think of an expert's approach to the stuff you boiled up when you were broke in college.

But as flavorful and wonderful as it is, it's lacking in nuance. There's a sort of ham-fistedness to its deliciousness that keeps Ippudo's offerings from getting too sophisticated, in spite of the restaurant's posh interior. We don't fault it for this because that's simply not their mission statement. There is nothing more important than delicious and satisfying food, and they serve that up but good. But when we try the ramen from chefs like Yuji, who is more interested in poetry than plot, it's hard to justify not being able to have it both ways here.

There is no contest: Momofuku's ramen pales in comparison to the golden bowls here. But where David Chang's family does offer very worthy competition is in their pork buns: the non-Milk Bar pork buns that Chang serves up are indisputably god-like: melt-in-your-mouth pork belly in a rich, savory sauce. The ones at Ippudo are spicier, with much of its flavor coming from the mustard-like sauce it comes with, though the belly is cooked every bit as perfectly as it is at Chang's. It's all going to come down to personal preference in terms of which is better. I vacillate between the two, but I usually like Ippudo's more-- only because the mustardy bite of pork here doesn't get lost in the ramen. As good as Momofuku's is, it tends to taste more like everything else on the menu.

The bottom line here is a simple one: go. You can spend under thirty dollars if you play your cards right. The food is delicious, consistent, and satisfying. Just don't be surprised if and when the entire wait staff shouts at you (nice things!) on your way in.

Grade: A-/A

Ippudo NY

65 Fourth Avenue

New York, NY 10003


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