It was nearly ten years ago that Momofuku Noodle Bar opened in New York, but it already feels like longer, as iconic an institution as any of the high-low, smart-fusion, upscale-casual restaurant archetypes that have redefined how we eat. A decade later, the crowds are still there, and while you can certainly stroll in some times and grab a seat at the bar, busy nights still bring long waits.
What are some easy-to-get-into, low-key alternatives nearby? Read on to find out.
If Momofuku's wait hasn't deterred your craving for ramen, you have plenty of options. One of New York's best, Ippudo, is a short walk away, but lines there can stretch even longer than Momofuku's. Less good, but good in a pinch, are the bowls of ramen at Minca (go for the garlic) and Setagaya, where the broth is lighter and cleaner than your average ramen.
If you're willing to walk down to Houston Street you can find some excellent ramen in an unlikely place—the second floor of Whole Foods, where Yuji Ramen does creative spins on ramen well worth trying. Yuji Haraguchi is to New York's ramen culture today what Chang started doing ten years ago.
It's not ramen, and not as fancy as Momofuku, but Xi'an Famous Foods makes some of the best noodles in the East Village. Hop in, get some cumin lamb hand-pulled noodles, and hop on out.
More Good Food Nearby
How would you describe the food at Noodle Bar? Korean? Japanese? The Momofuku crew used to refer to it as American, as good a single-word descriptor as you'll find. Or call it Chang-style food—whatever—the point is there's little exactly like Momofuku, but you can find good places nearby that hit similar flavor profiles.
Korean barbecue spot Hanjoo is rarely busy, and if you stick to their icy-cold naengmyeon (cold noodles) and crystal-grilled pork barbecue, you can have a great meal. For something lighter, consider Sao Mai, one of our favorite Vietnamese restaurants in town for stand-out pho, papaya salad, and banh mi (pork buns be damned).
For spicier food there's Somtum Der, an Isan Thai joint best for its spicy chopped meat salads (larb), papaya salad (som tum), and fried chicken. Or try out Ducks Eatery, a small restaurant that combines smoky American barbecue with southeast Asian cooking for dishes like smoky lime chicken wings and crispy pig's ear lettuce wraps.
Where to Drink While You're Waiting
Decided to wait out your Momofuku table instead? There's no shortage of good bars in the East Village where you can bide your time, but here are some of our favorites. 11th Street may be the quintessential neighborhood bar—not too fancy, not a dive—with a solid beer selection and a reasonable prices.
Wine and beer bar Terroir draws legions of fans, but there's usually room for a few more at the long communal table, and I don't mind squeezing in for a glass of wine, beer, cider, sherry, or hey!, mead. But my go-to pre-dinner bar in the East Village is actually the small one at the entrance of Hearth—same drink list as Terroir plus cocktails and a quieter, more civilized vibe.
If you need a bite before your meal, Terroir should do you well, but so can Maiden Lane, an Alphabet City wine bar that's all about premium canned seafood. How good can canned mussels be? Really, really good. Or you can belly up to the bar at nearby Alder for a cocktail (available in half-pours, too) and a bite of Wylie Dufresne's updated bar food (Chinese sausage pigs in blankets, anyone?).
What are your go-tos and Plan Bs in the East Village? Let us know in the comments.