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Underground Ramen’s Mainstream Moment

With top chefs getting in on the game, it’s time to rethink the way you ramen.

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In a city full of pervasive food trends, it is safe to say that ramen has outlasted its allotted 15 minutes of fame and secured a spot in New York’s permanent culinary culture. But lest you think this is safe old dorm-room ramen, the latest and greatest versions involve such gourmet twists as smoked salmon, poached eggs and gooey French cheese. Here’s a roundup of our favorite spots to nosh the wildest noodles in town.

Jin Ramen, Harlem

Chances are, wherever there are hungry college students, a ramen joint will follow. Just a couple blocks from Columbia University, Jin Ramen is a far cry from the instant noodles found in dorm rooms across campus. Unlike the usual in-and-out service of other ramen destinations, the space invites you to relax and hang for a while with your dining companion. The most notable ramen here is the shiro ramen—it’s delicate yet complex with accents of yuzu pepper that round out the taste with a perfect hit of acidity.

Shinobi Ramen, Bushwick

As we all know, every hipster neighborhood needs its very own adorable Japanese spot. What Shinobi delivers on cuteness, it brings ten-fold in delicious ramen. The restsaurant’s signature soy sauce-based broth is an infectious mix of slow-cooked chicken and vegetables. Be sure to get there early—the space, which boasts a single communal table and a limited amount of barstool seating, tends to fill up fast.

Bozu, Williamsburg

There’s little that gets New Yorkers as excited as the phrase “secret midnight menu.” Yet surprisingly, Bozu’s late-night transformation from Japanese tapas restaurant to ramen haven is still Williamsburg’s best-kept secret. Catering to hungry masses partaking in the neighborhood’s ever-growing nightlife scene, Bozu’s intimate joint is the perfect place to unwind at the end of the night. We recommend the buttery miso ramen, topped with a soft-boiled egg, scallions, and corn.

Ippudo, East Village, Midtown West

No NYC ramen roundup would be complete without an Ippudo shout-out. Unlike most of the limited-seating spaces on this list, here diners have some breathing room. Located in the East Village and Times Square, Ippudo New York marks the popular Japanese chain’s first restaurants in the states. What separates their ramen is their top-secret “Unami Dama” miso paste that gives the broth its unusual but extremely satisfying bold flavor.

Yuji Ramen, Lower East Side

Yuji’s Ramen is unlike any bowl of noodles you’ve ever slurped down. The restaurant’s mazemen-style ramen is not served in broth, but coated in sauce and mixed with some truly original toppings. Our favorite is so unconventional that it’s almost blasphemous. The salmon cheese mazemen is topped with cured salmon, Camembert cheese, lemon zest, and Sichuan peppercorn … and it is intoxicating. Hey, sometimes it pays to color outside the lines, right?

Totto Ramen, Midtown West

Whatever this 20-seat restaurant is doing, they’re doing it right. We’ve seen, with our own eyes, people waiting outside for over an hour in 10 degree (F) weather for a table. The most popular dish is the totto spicy ramen, a standout for those who crave heat. Quite unusually for a ramen restaurant, Totto is open for lunch (a typical ramen broth slow cooks for up to 12 hours).

Ivan Ramen’s Slurp Shop, Hell’s Kitchen

Its hard to think of a ramen spot in recent memory that has gained more notoriety and acclaim than Ivan’s. If you are looking for a classic ramen, this is not the place. While the ingredients used are traditionally Japanese, the execution is highly unusual, and highly delicious. Their classic shiro ramen is dusted with powdered katsuobushi, a dried smoked bonito (tuna), which adds an intensity that demands attention. Ramen’s place in Japan’s culinary history encourages Japanese chefs to add their personal twist to the traditional dish, much like the diverse and regional methods for preparing pizza in the United States. Ivan Ramen’s Slurp Shop might just mark New York’s tipping point from traditional ramen to more innovative approaches.