Country of Origin: Japan
Locations Worldwide: Over 120 in Australia , Canada, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the US
NYC Locations: One in Manhattan's Chinatown and one in Flushing's
Most people don't go to Chinatown looking for Japanese food (especially not during the Lunar New Year) but if you find yourself in the neighborhood with a ramen craving and hand-pulled Chinese la mian won't suffice, Ajisen, near Mott Street's hold-out video arcade, will do in a pinch.
The large room with burnt orange walls, bamboo beams and stylized hanging lanterns is more inviting than a typical fast food restaurant, though the food feels more assembly-line than at other imported ramen chains like Setagaya or Ippudo. Dishes come out fast and in no particular order. Not that Ajisen is trying to attract a serious audience; the blasting techo—ranging from the "Numa Numa" song to a bizarre version of the "Axel F" theme from Beverly Hills Cop—appears to work as an aural repellent for anyone over 30.
Maybe because my expectations weren't very high—Ajisen rarely makes best-of ramen lists and round-ups—the steaming bowl of springy noodles in a cloudy tonkotsu broth was better than I had anticipated ($7.95). The shredded cabbage, dried mushrooms and halved tea egg added interest, but the "tendrous" pork ribs are what made the dish. The three hunks of meat had been braised down to gooey, collagen-rich treats. The porcine fattiness was welcome since the pork bone broth didn't have a distinct flavor beyond salt.
I wouldn't stray into the full-page sushi menu, but if you weren't feeling like soup they also serve a number of straightforward items over rice. The grilled eel ($8.50), glazed in sweet soy, is unadorned and satisfying.
Starters include tidbits like vegetable-heavy gyoza ($3.50) and a list of yakitori that used to include liver and "beef guts." Now, the grilled proteins don't get weirder than fish balls ($5), served off the stick in a similar sticky sauce as the eel.
As is often the case, adhering to a restaurant's namesake offering is usually a good guide. Ajisen Noodles is really about the ramen—served quickly and cheaply.
38-10 138th Street, Flushing, NY 11354 (map)
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