The culture of cooking in Japan is often defined by rules and tradition. Sushi, for example, had been around since the ninth century before famed sushi chef Jiro Ono hit the big screen. But ramen, one of the relatively newer additions to the Japanese culinary compendium, is an exception.
The wheat noodle dish served in a flavored, salted broth was introduced to Japan from China as recently as the early 20th century. As restaurant cooks experimented with different broths and toppings, one clever inventor developed instant ramen noodles, which hit the market in 1958. The rest, as they say, is history. (History you can learn more about at one of the three ramen museums in Japan.)
Recently, ramen has become a crossover star in the United States, going from convenience food C-lister to culinary headliner. Dorm rooms stocked with instant ramen have given way to hole-in-the-wall ramen restaurants with lines out the door and Japanese ramen shops such as Afuri and Mensho began opening up spots stateside.
For American chefs, the ramen craze hits the spot. Maybe it’s the culinary history combined with the freedom to get creative or maybe it’s just the fact that it’s a quick, hot meal after a long day. Either way, even multi-Michelin starred chefs can be found slurping a simple bowl of ramen when they’re off the clock.
In that spirit, we asked a few of our favorite chefs for their choice ramen spots in the U.S. Read on to find out where the discerning palates go to slurp.
Nick Anderer, executive chef and partner of Marta and Maialino in New York City and Williams Sonoma Chefs’ Collective member
His Pick: Nakamura in New York City
“Jack Nakamura makes the cleanest, most delicious, chicken based broth for his classic shoyu-style ramen which I order every time. He also pays tremendous attention to detail in his non-ramen ingredients, including the soft boiled eggs marinated in soba sauce, and the super-thin-skin gyoza.”
Melissa King, Top Chef season 12 finalist, Chef-Owner at MK Eats & chef at Elle Cafe in Tokyo, Japan
Her Pick: Ramen Yamadaya in San Francisco
“I like Yamadaya for their Kyushu style ramen — the noodles are thinner and straight. I order the Yamadaya Kotteri which comes in an insanely rich and creamy tonkotsu broth topped with black garlic oil. It reminds me of Kyushu Jangara in Harajuku, a ramen shop I frequent whenever I’m in Tokyo.”
Adam Richman, Host of Travel Channel’s Secret Eats with Adam Richman
His Pick: Ippudo Ramen in New York City
“I love Ippudo in New York, specifically the akamaru modern ramen. The broth is complex, they have fantastic noodles, and they have all the traditional additions: the poached egg- onzen tamago, mustard greens-Karashi takana, bamboo-menma and so on. They also have great pork buns and really terrific service. The one drawback is that the wait is long, but the ramen is worth it.”
Matt Bolus, executive chef at The 404 Kitchen in Nashville
His Pick: Otaku Ramen in Nashville
“Chef Daniel Herget created amazing traditional ramen adding a touch of local and Petsamo flare to some. Otaku is just a block away from The 404 Kitchen and we often find ourselves ordering takeaway ramen after service. You can taste the time and attention that is put into the broths. Otaku is loved by locals and a don’t-miss for visitors.”
Mei Lin, winner of Top Chef 12 and Williams Sonoma Chefs’ Collective member
Her Pick: Daikaya in Washington, D.C.
“My favorite ramen at Daikaya in DC is the the shio ramen. It’s super clean and has wok fried bean sprouts and snow peas. You get the broth with the flavor of the “wok hay” and you don’t feel like you’re going to fall into a coma afterwards.”
Joshua McFadden, chef and owner of Ava Gene’s, co-owner of Tusk and co-founder of Submarine Hospitality in Portland, OR
His Pick: Noraneko Ramen in Portland, Oregon
“I really dig this place. It is under the bridge in an industrial area that feels perfect in its place and the broth satisfies the soul.”
Mathew Jennings, executive chef and owner of Townsman in Boston and Williams Sonoma Chefs’ Collective member
His Pick: Minca in New York City
“For me it comes down to the broth. Dank. Sticky. Full of collagen, deeply rich and warming. Damn. I want some now.”
Gabe Kennedy, Winner of ABC’s The Taste and Host of Dinner Spinner on The CW
His Pick: Minca in New York City (again!)
“No pretense at Minca, just a great variety of ramen noodles, phenomenally rich bold broths, and tasteful accompaniments. The magic happens right in front of you with care, and is served piping hot. I go for the spicy pork with the corn (the veggie rocks too), it transports me to the mountains of Japan in an instant, it is always a surprise to step back onto the wild streets of NYC.”
Tell us: What are your favorite ramen spots?