Manhattan’s East Village is the domain of David Chang, the Momomuku chef-owner who has caused a sensation at three restaurants thanks to his vibrant flavors and streamlined aesthetic. Chang set the NYC ramen standard when he opened Momofuku Noodle Bar in 2004. He clearly deserves credit for helping to popularize the Japanese noodle soup in Manhattan, but “Ramen King” Shigemi Kawahara quickly established ramen dominance (ramenance?) by opening a branch of Ippudo in 2008. During a recent visit, Ippudo outshined Momofuku Noodle Bar on almost every level possible. My only complaint: there isn’t a branch of Ippudo in Los Angeles.
Kawahara opened the first Ippudo on October 16, 1985, in Fukuoka, Japan. “The Ramen King” now has 34 branches across Japan, specializing in tonkotsu (pork based) ramen.
Ippudo sells ten varieties of ramen, including soy bean paste ramen (Miso), salt flavored ramen (Tori) and soy sauce flavored ramen (Shoyu).
Akamaru Modern ($13), the original tonkotsu features a rich pork broth supercharged with Ippudo’s special sauce (more like a paste), miso paste and a slick of black garlic oil. The bowl also contained an intensely flavored slice of Berkshire pork, cabbage, onions, kikurage and scallions. The intensity of flavors was unrivaled in any of my prior bowls of ramen.
As you’re nearing the bottom of the ramen bowl, just say “Kae-dama” and your server will bring you another ball of noodles for $2. We opted to skip the extra noodles and just order more dishes, which turned out to be a good move since Ippudo’s non-ramen dishes were equally mind-blowing.
Hirata Buns (2 for $8) were steamed buns filled with a choice of pork or chicken. That’s an easy decision given the pig’s clear dominance over the chicken. The lacquered sheets of melt-in-your-mouth pork belly paired amazingly well with clam-shaped buns that were fluffy and supple.
Hirata Chicken Wings (5 pieces for $10) were remarkable: crisp-skinned and doused in a sticky, lip-stinging black pepper sauce. The juicy wings were served with a square dish of pickled vegetables that cut through the richness of the sauce.
Los Angeles has dozens of ramen options, but no bowl has ever been as impressive as Ippudo’s Akamaru Modern. Their other dishes were also best-in-class. Ramen King, if you’re listening, Los Angeles could use your regal ramen, pork buns and wings.