Ippudo’s Renowned Ramen Fails to Impress

The Japanese chain Ippudo falls short in the United States.


Elaine Chen

(Photo by Elaine Chen)

Elaine Chen, Staff Writer

I was watching snow fall outside, blanketing the New York City skyline through the window of Ippudo, a restaurant famous for its traditional Japanese ramen. Taking a spoonful of hot broth and noodles, I couldn’t wait to finally try Ippudo’s world-famous dish — but then I was let down.

Ippudo is “the most famous Tonkotsu (pork broth) ramen shop in the country” and has over 10,000 ramen shops worldwide, according to the Japanese cookbook “From The Source — Japan.”

When Ippudo NY opened in the East Village in 2008, it became the best place for New Yorkers to enjoy a quick bite of Japanese flavor. Daily Mail ranked it first in its America’s Best Ramen Shops list of 2015.

Not only is Ippudo critically acclaimed in the food industry, but it also has the Instagram stamp of approval. Its various toppings — pork belly chashu, boiled eggs, red pickled ginger, scallions and more — create a colorful picture, enticing foodies to take the perfect shot.

After numerous recommendations from friends and seeing my feed filled with images of the famous ramen I decided to try it myself. I visited on a normal weekday evening and found an extremely long line of people in front of the door. After asking for the wait time, I couldn’t believe the host’s words: it was an hour.

I decided to go home, but the long line boosted my expectations for the taste I would eventually experience.

I gave it a second try on another day in the mid-afternoon to avoid the peak lunch and dinner times. I ordered the Shiromaru Classic, which is the original Tonkotsu broth ramen and its signature pork bun.

The pork belly on top of the ramen looked appealing. Even before tasting it, I imagined a bite of rich, tender meat. However, I was disappointed to discover that the meat was flavorless.

I took a sip of the ramen’s famous, silky pork broth, which is known for being cooked for 18 hours in a special soup pot. Initially, the salt content of the broth was rich and smooth. However, the broth became saltier with each sip, indicating that they used a lot of seasoning to add flavor, and it had settled at the bottom of the bowl. Real broth should only use natural flavorings extracted from pork bones by cooking them for a long time.

As far as the noodles, house-made ones should be chewy but soft — Ippudo’s were not chewy at all and even tasted a little bit like instant noodles.

The worst part was the menma — seasoned bamboo shoots — on top. They were extremely stringy and tough to cut. When I took a bite, the fibers got stuck between my teeth.

Pork bun from Ippudo Ramen (Photo by Elaine Chen)

Although the ramen fell short of my expectations, the pork bun rose to the occasion. Glazed with a sweet and spicy sauce and mayonnaise, the seasoned pork tasted fantastic. The meat was soft and tender and the fat lined on the sides melted as soon as I put it in my mouth. Despite pork being a meat generally heavy in grease, it was not oily at all. The bun was light and fluffy, nicely enveloping the pork.

The ramen was not unpalatable but it also wasn’t exceptionally good My expectations were built up by the colorful Instagram posts, the accolades from my friends and the train of people that always seem to gather outside during peak lunch and dinner times. Though Ippudo is a relatively good Japanese restaurant, it could not live up to its given title as the best ramen restaurant in the country.

Email Elaine Chen at [email protected]