Rai Rai Ken doesn't rank in the ramen leagues of Ippudo or Hide-Chan, but I've still been a faithful diner at this East Village ramen shop for years. It's not the traditional ramen I come for, but the Mapo Ramen, a steaming bowl of midday happiness gently priced at $8.50. A marriage of both Chinese and Japanese dishes, it's an unabashedly spicy dish, with a generous helping of chili-flecked mabo tofu spooned over ramen noodles (always cooked slightly too soft) and the soy-sauce broth. Give it a stir and let the silken tofu, minced ginger, and ground beef mix into the broth, with a handful of chopped scallions on top. It's heartier than your usual bowl of ramen, and the broth is noticeably thicker, almost reaching the consistency of a winter's stew. Complete lunch with golden crisp pork and vegetable gyozas with supple, thin wrappers.
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Rai Rai Ken
214 East 10th Street, New York NY 10003 (map)