Fast Food International: Jinya Ramen Bar
Country of origin: Japan
Locations worldwide: Ten in Canada, Indonesia, Japan and the US
NYC locations: One, in the West Village
The shiny new midtown branch of Ipuddo may be garnering the most recent ramen attention, but it's not the only Japanese import worth talking about. In fact, there are a lot of similarities between the two. Both serve Hakata-style ramen characterized by pork-based tonkotsu broth and thin firm noodles. Also like Ipuddo, you'll get the shouted welcome upon entrance. Unlike Ipuddo, you probably won't have to wait in line for the privilege.
Tonkotsu Black is JInya's signature ramen, and the most expensive at $14. Black refers to the tar-colored garlic oil that's drizzled in the corner and permeates the cloudy broth with its charred, nutty flavor. The well-striated slices of pork belly chashu and creamy-yolked sweet-soy egg—the sleeper hit of the bowl—both add plushness to an already rich broth filled with tangles of springy noodles, just shy of al dente. Nori, green onions, fried garlic, and wood ear mushrooms round out the toppings. Definitely in the premium priced category, the portion is solid, neither overwhelming nor skimpy.
Personally, I don't find a good reason to stray from the pork broth (there are three other versions: original, spicy and spicy miso) other than for variety's sake. The chicken-based soups are lighter, certainly, though if sampled side-by-side the chicken chashu will seem bland in comparison, more like breast meat than the purported thigh. This spicy ramen ($12) was Japanese spicy, which translates to just a tingle of heat, and it had a slight vinegary flavor that evoked Doritos the more you slurped.
While the emphasis appears to be on ramen, the large bowls of soup only make up a fraction of the menu. There is also a section of small plates (I refuse to call them tapas, as labeled), sushi, and a list of robata items, none wildly exotic, to be grilled. The Shrimp Toast ($8) is representative of the snacks. Lighter and fluffier than Chinese shrimp toast, these flaky slices piled up like an edible Jenga structure come with the most Japanese of condiments, sweetish mayonnaise.
No one ever said why isn't there more truffle oil in tempura, let alone Brussels Sprout Tempura ($6), but the distinctive aroma doesn't detract from the battered-and-fried nuggets and their dipping salt.
Jinya has only been open a few weeks and remains under the radar. For average ramen eaters, which I count myself among, it could prove a viable alternative to the more mob-scened venues. I would be curious to hear how the aficionados think it compares to higher-stature Ipuddo.
About the author: Krista Garcia is a freelance writer and reformed librarian. Being obsessed with chain restaurants and Southeast Asian food, she would have no problem eating laska in Elmhurst and P.F. Chang's crab rangoon in New Jersey on the same day. She blogs at Goodies First.