last weekend, hubs and i found ourselves with a hankering for ramen. we found ourselves at minca on friday evening, and then at ippudo for brunch the next day. i guess you could say it was an opportunity to host our private “battle of the ramen” culinary event. we’ve been to ippudo many many times before, but last friday was our first time at minca. we were delightfully surprised that we could turn up to minca at around 7pm without having to face a 45-90 minute wait, which is typical at Ippudo at certain times of day. yipee! the staff seated us immediately at the ramen counter, where we had front row kitchen-side seats.
minca isn’t a slick joint like ippudo. it’s bare-boned: a few wooden tables, chairs — some which precariously wobble, and charming surrealist art (yes, charming, is that an oxymoron?). the kitchen isn’t gleaming in stainless steel and spotless — but they’ve managed to earn a sanitation grade of A, unlike ippudo, which oddly enough got a B. you aren’t greeted with a boisterous いらっしゃいませ (irasshaimase), but that’s all fine with me. the waitresses wear cheery knitted berets and go about their business quickly and efficiently. when you’re seated at the ramen counter, sometimes the chef just hands you your bowl of ramen or appetizer directly.
each of minca’s ramens comes with 5 noodle options. unlike ippudo, they don’t make their noodles in-house but rather order them from a supplier in San Jose, CA. hubs got his ramen with thin noodles, and i selected the wavy noodles. there are several broth options at minca. i don’t remember them all. as it was our first time, we opted for their “classics”: a pork and garlic broth, and a pork, chicken and garlic broth. both of our ramens came with incredibly tender slices of pork loin. my pork and garlic broth (pictured above) was really rich and heavy. don’t get me wrong, it was delicious, but it’s not something that i could drink very much of given its richness. hubs’ pork, chicken and garlic broth was like a diluted version of mine. the next time i go to minca, i wanted to try their “experimental” ramen — it’s basically whatever the chef decides to serve up that day — as well as #14 on the menu, which was a ramen with chunks of slow roasted pork belly and shredded cabbage.
while waiting for our ramen, we ordered 2 appetizers: a daikon radish salad with sesame dressing and shrimp gyoza. the radish salad is light, refreshing and you get a mountain of it. really great value for about $6. the shrimp gyoza is imho an unsung star of the show.
ippudo has got a much more extensive appetizer menu than minca. and our all time favorite is . . . the cucumber salad. it’s a japanese cucumber artfully diced up and dressed with sesame oil, sugar, and red pepper. totally refreshing and divine. their grilled shiso peppers is another favorite as well as the hakata buns.
unlike minca, ippudo has only got one type of noodle, which they make in-house. if you head downstairs to use the facilities, you can see their noodle team hard at work, some of the time. their noodles really are spectacular. i can’t quite describe them, but they are noodles that have the feeling of being freshly made and having a bit of artisanal soul — even though they now utilize a noodle machine rather than having them entirely handmade.
hubs ordered their special kumamoto tonkotsu ramen (top in red bowl), which is ramen in a salt flavoured tonkotsu broth. i got their tori ramen (white bowl above), which is ramen in a highly concentrated chicken broth, because i wanted something lighter following minca’s rich broth the night before.
having consumed both bowls of ramen in a back to back fashion, i will say that minca gets a thumbs up for their incredibly tender pork slices, and that ippudo takes the cake for the “handcrafted” nature of their noodles. both make really excellent broths that i have a hard time judging them apart.
we shared out meal at ippudo with a few other ramen crazed friends. as i mentioned my intention of doing a review on the two ramen joints, they all chimed in that i should really eat at hide chan, totto ramen, ramen setagaya, and kuboya to round out my battle of the ramen coverage. so much ramen, so little time. . . stay tuned for more!
536 E 5th St (between Avenue A & Avenue B)
New York, NY 10009
Daily: 12 noon-11:30pm
CASH ONLY – $15-$25 pp
65 4th Avenue
New York, NY 10003-5220
Mon-Thu 11am-3:30pm, 5pm-11:30pm
Fri-Sat 11am-3:30pm, 5pm-12:30am
About $20-$30 pp