#1: Hidechan (30/35 points)—Hakata Ramen ($9.50)
Noodles: 8/10 The house-made thin, straight variety are best when requested “firm.” They come slightly al dente, and soften as you make your way through the bowl.
Broth: 9/10 Near perfect. Creamy and intensely porky, you can order it in three levels of richness. The richest is the best, and comes with bits of flavorful and tender pork fat floating on the surface.
Pork and Toppings: 4/5 Not too many toppings come standard (you can order extras), but the braised pork is amongst the best we tried. Tender and moist with a very mild (read: not overpowering) marinade.
Overall Satisfaction: 9/10 It’s a rare ramen joint that feels authentic, yet classy. The digs are nice, but the joyful bowl of broth just asks to be slurped.
#2: Ippudo (29/35 points)—Shiromaru Hakata Classic Ramen ($14)
Noodles: 9/10 House-made thin, straight noodles are the best I tasted. Tender enough to slurp, but with a satisfying bounce and full flavor.
Broth: 8/10 The standard Tonkotsu broth has excellent pork flavor, but could be a touch richer and thicker. The spicy version is a definite improvement.
Pork and Toppings: 3/5 The pork loin served in the standard soup is on the dry side (upgrading to pork belly is a better option), but the egg is perfectly cooked and the pickled ginger offers a sharp, authentic touch.
Overall Satisfaction: 8/10 Raucous and fun, the atmosphere is classic Ramen-ya all trendied up. A full selection of appetizers and snappy service upgrade the place from fueling station to date-worthy restaurant.
#3: Totto Ramen (29/35 points)—Paitan Ramen ($9.25)
Noodles: 8/10 The same excellent fresh-made noodles they serve at Hide-chan. Perfectly cooked, and flavorful.
Broth: 8/10 The only chicken-based broth I tried, I was afraid it’d stand out as weak compared to the pork. I needn’t have worried—it was as rich, thick, and full-flavored as the broth at its sister shop Hide-chan.
Pork and Toppings: 4/5 Tender roasted pork belly gets a quick smoky hit from a blowtorch before hitting the bowl. The onsen tamago (simmered seasoned egg) is salty and delicious.
Overall Satisfaction: 9/10 Of all the counter-service ramen-ya in the tasting, this was the cleanest, friendliest, and the most Tokyo-esque experience you’ll find in New York.
#4: Setagaya (25/35 points)—Gyolou Ramen ($10.50)
Noodles: 5/10 Both the standard thick wavy noodles and the oddly fettucine-like thick noodles were undercooked, with slightly starchy centers. Better than overcooked, at least.
Broth: 7/10 Not the thick, pork-based tonkotsu broth, but a thinner salt-flavored broth with a ladle-ful of flavorful pork fat added to the bowl. It’s savory and vegetal—lighter than your average ramen.
Pork and Toppings: 5/5 The best sliced pork belly of all. Grilled and smoky, it melts in your mouth. Chopped garlic and blanched cabbage and bean sprouts make this one of the heartier topping sets we tried.
Overall Satisfaction: 8/10 The broth is as clean tasting as the minimalist, brightly lit decor. Friendly service, and no problems giving you your food to go (our three winners won’t allow it).
Setagaya: 34A St. Marks Place, New York NY 10003 (map); 212-387-7959
#5 Momofuku Noodle Bar (24/35)—Momofuku Bowl ($14)
Noodles: 6/10 Fresh wavy style noodles made in California are cooked a little too soft—bordering on mushy by the time you finish the bowl.
Broth: 6/10Refined and heavy on pork flavor, but somehow seems too sterile. No fat or creaminess to speak of.
Pork and Toppings: 4/5 Excellent well-seasoned and generous shredded pork shoulder, though the braised pork belly was slightly dry. The slow-cooked egg is a neat (if overplayed) trick, and the runny yolk adds some sorely needed richness to the broth.
Overall Satisfaction: 7/10
Total: 23/35 A decent bowl of soup, but Momofuku’s true pleasures lie in its side dishes and seasonal specials, like the tasty fried ham buns we tried.
#6 Ramen Kuidouraku (23/35 points)—Shio Ramen ($8.50)
Noodles: 7/10 The noodles are not homemade, but plentiful and well cooked.
Broth: 5/10 Like Setagaya, they specialize in salt and soy flavored broths, both of which are a little thin and salty.
Pork and Toppings: 4/5 Very fresh toppings with a healthy tangle of scallions, crunchy pickled bamboo shoots, and fatty braised pork belly.
Overall Satisfaction: 8/10 Great if you're into lighter ramen styles. Super friendly service, and a nice open view are a welcome change from the dark hole-like space typical of other ramen-ya
Kuidouraku: 141 1st Avenut, New York, NY 10003 (map); 212-529-2740
#7: Zen Restaurant (20/35 points)—Tonkotsu Ramen ($8.50)
Noodles: 4/10 Very soft, not much better than high-end dried brands.
Broth: 7/10 Rich and creamy, with glistening pools of pork fat on top. Well seasoned.
Pork and Toppings: 3/5 The sliced wood ear mushrooms and bamboo shoots were a little tired, but the pork belly strips were excellent—tender and not too sweet. The egg was way overcooked.
Overall Satisfaction: 6/10 Surprisingly good ramen from a second-rate sushi joint, though service was extraordinarily slow—a full 25 minutes from the time we walked in until we got our ramen.
Zen Restaurant: 31 St. Marks Place, New York, NY 10003 (map); 212-533-6855
#8: Menkui Tei (18/35)—Tonkotsu Ramen ($7.50)
Noodles: 5/10 Thick, wavy, and a little overcooked.
Broth: 6/10 Rich with a distinct vegetal flavor. It was a little thin and salty.
Pork and Toppings: 3/5 The eggs were well cooked, but the pork loin was unforgivably dry.
Overall Satisfaction: 4/10 The space is garishly lit and about as inviting as a high school cafeteria (I only got to sit at the nerdy table), and a one-bowl-of-ramen-per-person minimum was strictly enforced by the brusque waitress even in a restaurant that was 70% empty (we had to get ours to go). Still, the ramen is plentiful and cheap.
Menkui Tei: 63 Cooper Square, New York, NY 10003 (map); 212-228-4152
#9: Menchanko Tei (17/35 points)—Hakata Ramen ($8.50)
Noodles: 6/10 Perfectly cooked noodles, but a little starchy.
Broth: 4/10 Creamy and rich with a promising sheen, but the overpowering flavor of pickled ginger is distracting.
Pork and Toppings: 3/5 More of the hot pickled ginger and some relatively dry pork.
Overall Satisfaction: 4/10 Dark, dreary, and a little dingy, it’s better than most midtown offerings, but not a very strong bowl of noodles.
Menchanko Tei: 131 East 45th Street, New York, NY 10017 (map); 212-986-6805; menchankotei.com
#10: Rai Rai Ken (16/35 points)—
Noodles: 6/10 No real complaints—standard fresh wavy noodles are a little bland, but cooked perfectly well.
Broth: 4/10 No tonkotsu broth was offered, but the shio (salt) flavored broth was one dimensional and extraordinarily salty with a slight chemical aftertaste that reminded me of over-extracted bonito flakes.
Pork and Toppings: 2/5 Way overcooked egg and dry pork that was too sweet and salty. The aroma of fish cake reinforced the odd fishiness of the broth.
Overall Satisfaction: 4/10 It’s got the dark, cave-like atmosphere right, but the stools nailed to the floor are uncomfortable and the counter-style service is unfriendly.
Rai Rai Ken: 214 East 10th Street, New York, NY 10003 (map); 212-477-7030
#11: Minca (16/35)—Basic Pork Broth Ramen ($9.50)
Noodles: 5/10 Thick or thin noodles come slightly overcooked, but flavorful.
Broth: 3/10 Whoa, garlic overload! Bitter, burnt garlic flavor that would be more at home in a Chinese restaurant. Tastes fine in its own way, but definitely not what I look for in a bowl of ramen.
Pork and Toppings: 4/5 Great pork belly with a subtle marinade and ultra tender fat. Egg borders on overcooked, but has good shoyu flavor.
Overall Satisfaction: 5/10 Waitstaff is genial and efficient, though it’s funny to see the Japanese waiters trying to communicate with the Chinese chefs (from whom, perhaps, the broth takes its inspiration). The gyoza were the best we tried.