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Why We Love Bonding Over Ramen (And Where to Go)

By: Whitney Meers

When my boyfriend first transferred his job from Chicago to meet me in New York, which I’ve called home for 12 years, I quickly learned he had a borderline obsession with a certain cuisine: ramen. I didn’t know it at the time, but within months I would have tried practically every ramen spot in our Brooklyn neighborhood, sometimes over-ordering on purpose so we could take the extras home to reheat and eat them the next day.

Throughout this experience, we discovered something pretty quickly: ramen is the perfect date meal. There’s nothing more satisfying than enjoying a plate of steaming hot noodles in soup with a Japanese beer except when you’re doing it with the person you love.

Here’s why we love bonding over ramen and where we think you should go on your own ramen retreat.

The Best Ramen Date Night Spots

1. It’s Endlessly Trendy

Ramen spots started popping up in NYC more than a decade ago. If you live in NYC, it’s sometimes hard to remember that other parts of the country are still catching on to the ramen trend. But, even so, it always feels like a modern and fresh experience due to an emphasis on creativity and decor as NYC’s many ramen restaurants work to compete for attention in a leading culinary destination.

The right ramen spot is always just a little bit busier than you wish it were on a weekend night, a testament to the staying power of this easy, casual meal.

rai rai ken nyc

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Rai Rai Ken — East Village218 East 10 Street, Manhattan

Rai Rai Ken — Harlem1467 Amsterdam Avenue, Manhattan

One of NYC’s first ramen spots, Rai Rai Ken has achieved near-legendary status for offering a brothy alternative in the city’s culinary scene. With an emphasis on fresh ingredients and light, tasty food, it’s hard to believe that this joint has been around since 2000 — the original was at a different location on East 10th Street before the main hub opened at its current location. Recall that 2000 was long before the emergence of NYC’s ramen revolution, yet when you visit this place for a casual bite, you could easily mistake it for whatever newly-opened ramen restaurant was recently reviewed by The New York Times.

2. It's Cozy AF

Something about the bold flavors and warm broth of a hot bowl of ramen always helps us relax. Often, ramen is the ideal last stop of the night before you head home, making it that perfect meal to get you in the mood to curl up to Netflix as you watch reruns of The Office while snuggling on the couch. While some less knowledgeable people would argue that this makes it the perfect winter food, we’d say that the perfect ramen is relaxing and cozy any time of year.

suzume nyc

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Suzume — Williamsburg545 Lorimer Street, Brooklyn

In an era where there’s a lot of hype about ramen, this under-the-radar corner restaurant with romantic lighting, homey decor and a very carefully crafted selection of shareable plates and ramen options is a pleasant alternative to rowdier ramen hotspots. Swing by Suzume to sample some shishito peppers before choosing between pork, salmon or tofu ramen and washing it all down with a sochu cocktail.

3. There Are Great Drink Options

Part of the holistic experience of a ramen dinner is the opportunity to enjoy an Asian-inspired cocktail. Not all ramen restaurants serve alcohol, but even the ones that don’t often carry an assortment of teas you can’t find on every street corner.

But, for the cocktail lovers among us, the city’s ramen restaurants often mix American liquors with Asian-inspired ingredients. Some of these restaurants blow us away with concoctions that make use of unusual flavors like elderflower and tea. When you’re enjoying the salty goodness of a ramen dinner, a sweet or slightly sour drink makes for an excellent compliment.

rokc nyc

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ROKC — Harlem3452 Broadway, Manhattan

ROKC focuses on only four things, which are easy to remember based on the name alone: ramen, oysters, kitchen, and cocktails. While this place boasts a delicious selection of ramen, the drink menu here is for the most adventurous taster with options that feature wild ingredients like beet balsamic reduction, sweet potato, and matcha. If you want something truly unusual, try the Cumin / Yogurt cocktail with cumin/dill infused mezcal, yogurt, strawberry jam, and lemon.

4. You Can Choose From a Hidden Gem...

It would be damn near impossible to try to hit every ramen joint in NYC to try to figure out which are truly worth your time. So, every once in a while, you bypass the Yelp reviews and get an insider tip from a chef who knows that one amazing place that’s been around since long before high rents drove all the artists out of the neighborhood. Hit a place like this and you’ll instantly feel like real New Yorkers, part of a secret society of people who have an inside scoop on the city’s ramen-indulgent secrets.

minca nyc

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Minca — East Village, 536 E. 5th Street, Manhattan

This place’s aesthetic is nothing to write home about, but that’s part of what makes it so charming. As a no-frills joint, it’s not the ambiance that drives locals to Minca in droves. Rather, it’s the simply incredible ramen dishes, which the restaurant website describes as “authentic Japanese soul food.” You can choose your own noodle type, including thick, thin, wavy, whole wheat or bean options. All the menu options here are mouth-watering, but we recommend the classic Minca with half pork broth and half chicken broth.

5. ...Or a Worldwide Institution

While competition is fierce between the city’s ramen rivals, some restaurants were able to stake a claim amidst a seemingly endless sea of options. Trying one out means facing long lines of tourists who read about the restaurant in a guidebook or saw it featured on the Food Network. Still, the coverage alone makes you wonder whether it lives up to the hype. So, you grab your partner and endure the crowds to get squeezed in on bar stools to learn what the fuss is all about.

ippudo nyc

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Ippudo — East Village65 Fourth Avenue., Manhattan

Ippudo — Midtown West321 West 51st Street

This wouldn’t be a ramen round-up if we didn’t mention Ippudo. Established in Japan in 1985, Ippudo is a chain with locations in at least 15 countries. It might be the most famous ramen restaurant in the world, and it’s certainly been a hit with New Yorkers, many of them hoping to relive memories of a past trip to — or previous home in — Japan. Ippuddo’s New York restaurants have been open for years, the lines don’t seem to have shortened at this place with a no-reservation policy. Show up early to make sure to get a taste of the joint’s signature Shiromaru classic ramen made with tonkotsu (pork) broth and topped with pork belly and vegetables.

6. It’s Great for an Early Dinner...

We all hate to admit it, but in this busy New York life, we all have days where eating lunch comes second to getting things done. That’s why we’re all for the happy hour dinner date — you know, the one where you text your S.O. during the afternoon with a directive to meet you at a certain place the second they can leave work. Play it right and you can have an appetizer, dinner and dessert and still be home by 8 p.m. to watch The Voice.

totto nyc

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Totto — Midtown West366 West 57th Street, Manhattan

Totto — Hell’s Kitchen464 West 51st Street, Manhattan

Totto — Midtown East, 248 East 52nd Street, Manhattan

While the hours vary at each location, the dinner shift is usually in full gear by 5:30 p.m. Attending a Broadway show tonight? Totoo has the two of you covered and can get you in and out in time to catch Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The restaurant offers a few basic options (chicken paitan, spicy paitan and miso paitan), which can be customized with extra meats and toppings like a poached egg, avocado or barbequed Cantonese pork or chicken.

7. ...Or a Late-Night Snack

In the city that never sleeps, it’s no surprise you can find a late-night ramen spot for a hot meal after a long night out. Sure, you could grab a pizza slice and call it an evening, but your night doesn’t have to end just because you decided to leave the party after getting stuck in a conversation with someone who is 100% certain world is flat. Also, maybe don’t go to that friend’s party next time.

shinya shokudo nyc

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Shinya Shokudo — Midtown East248 East 52nd Street, Manhattan

You know how the first rule of Fight Club is to never talk about Fight Club? As a ramen restaurant that’s only open between 12:30 a.m. and 4:30 a.m., it seems that people are afraid to share too much about Shinya Shokudo lest they spoil the experience for others. Though it’s located in the same space as a Totto Ramen, this cash-only joint is an entirely separate operation run by a different team. Here, you’ll choose from only four ramen options, though there are also a handful of apps and sushi options. The chef here takes ramen seriously, delivering plating each bowl in a highly visual manner that puts the high-quality ingredients front and center.

8. It's Cheap

For a dining experience that won’t break the bank, ramen is usually a pretty good choice. Sure, there are some high-end ramen places out there, but if you’re looking to save a pretty penny, you’ll find numerous spots where you can have dinner and split an app for under $40.

cho ko nyc

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Cho-Ko — East Village59 1st Avenue, Manhattan

It’s hard to find a true bargain in NYC, but if you’re on a budget but craving the savory flavors of a ramen dish, Cho-Ko is the way to go. While not purely a ramen restaurant, the menu here offers a handful of ramen options in a tiny but inviting setting. Nearly all the ramen options are under $10, but if you feel like splurging, then you may as well shell out for the tonkotsu shoyu ramen for $11.50. Pair it with a sake — the Kinsen plum is a steal at $5 a glass.

And if you’ve somehow miraculously been to all of the above spots (or you just want more options), try these:

Momofuko Noodle Bar — East Village, 171 1st. Avenue, Manhattan

Karakatta — Greenwich Village, 230 Thompson St., Manhattan

Ivan RamenLower East Side, 25 Clinton Street, Manhattan

Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop — Hell’s Kitchen, 600 11th Avenue, Manhattan

Ramen ZamuraiWilliamsburg, 126 North 6th Street, Brooklyn

Ramen Zamurai — Park Slope, 52 7th Avenue, Brooklyn

Ichiran — Bushwick, 374 Johnson Avenue, Brooklyn

Ramen Lab — Nolita, 70 Kenmare Street, Brooklyn