The East Village boasts some of the best noodles around. Here’s a brief guide of where to go when you need soba, udon, and ramen right now. By Jessica Allen.
Cocoron specializes in soba, thin, healthy noodles made from buckwheat flour, served hot or cold. You can dip the noodles into a sauce, swirl them about a broth, or eat them plain. Regardless of the preparation, slurping soba is a sign of pleasure. If you want, at the end of your meal you can ask for the sobayu, the water in which your soba was boiled, to mix with any remaining sauce or soup, then drink deeply as a flavorful, B-vitamin-filled finish.
As you’d expect from the name, Soba-Ya serves soba, but we go here for the udon, thick noodles made from wheat flour (about the size and consistency of three or so strands of spaghetti). Generally served hot, udon comes in a soy-based broth, and shares this salty, earthy pool with mushrooms, egg, fish flakes, and mirin (rice wine) and sugar for sweetness. All noodles are made by hand in-house, which helps explain the restaurant’s long lines, still going strong after more than 15 years.
This restaurant calls itself a “ramen factory,” and there is something hypnotic and almost mechanical in the practiced moves of those in the kitchen, boiling noodles, wok-frying, squirting sauce, sprinkling chives, chopping eggs, and assembling the porky, beefy minca sio ramen (pictured). The owner, a Japanese expat, taught himself to make ramen after moving to New York City and despairing of its lack of authentic noodles. Today, he offers a plethora: thick, thin, or wavy, whole wheat or bean, in pork, chicken, vegetable, or spicy broth.
You can’t talk about Asian food in the East Village without discussing David Chang and his Momofuku empire. At the eponymous noodle bar—the first restaurant Chang opened—you can try momofuku ramen (pictured), made with pork shoulder, pork belly, and poached egg, or ginger scallion noodles, served with cabbage, cucumber, and pickled shiitakes. There’s also a gosh-darn-good pork bun and a fried chicken meal for four-to-eight people that must be ordered in advance.
Every day in Japan, Ippudo serves 20,000 customers in more than 40 restaurants all over the country. On Fourth Avenue, it serves slightly fewer, although you might not know it from the wait times or packed dining room. Patrons sit at communal tables, shoveling in noodles by the bowl full. You can top one of Ippudo’s classic ramen offerings with menma (seasoned bamboo), bakudan (house-special spicy paste), or chashu pork. Still hungry? Order kae-dama, an extra bunch of noodles that comes out after you’ve finished your first serving. Just make sure to save some soup.