There’s a reason Ippudo in the East Village has over an hour wait any day or time of night. The food is awesome, reasonably priced and the atmosphere is totally relaxed, while still perfect for date night. It makes ramen seem classy, forcing beautiful people to put aside classy appearances for one meal, pick up their giant red bowl and slurp.
On a Thursday night, the hour to hour and a half wait was expected. We put our names down and proceed to head around the corner to a bar, while anxiously checking our phones for a text letting us know the table was ready. Ippudo’s bar/waiting area is really small, leading me to believe that’s why they opted for the texting system that I much prefer. On this particular night, the NFL draft was starting, so a sports bar (Pour House) was ideal until it was time for food.
An hour and a half later the text came and we hurried back to Ippudo, hoping to stay within the five minute time limit. They aren’t messing around, tables are an insanely hot commodity.
We were seated at a square, communal table. The middle of the table was hallowed out, with tree branches and candles filling the would be empty space. Four other pairs shared the table, but you hardly noticed. It wasn’t one of those awkward situations where you find yourself on the date next to you. We all had our needed space and privacy.
The sake list is well priced, with a nice variety of smaller bottles for sharing. The waitress poured the chilled liquid into two little, square glasses before putting the bottle in an ice bucket on the table.
While Ippudo is known for their ramen dishes, please rave about the pork buns. And I quickly found out why.
There’s very little glitz and glam to this dish. Two steamed buns filled with crispy pieces of pork belly, a leaf of butter lettuce and a dollop of spicy mayonnaise sit on a white plate. Before you can begin to question the hype, pick up the little bun and take a bite. After you’re licking your fingers clean and looking down at the empty plate, wishing you hadn’t shared the dish, you realize these are special pork buns.
The steamed bun is light and fluffy, with a slight sweetness. The pork inside is perfection, a crispy exterior, with the fat rendered out. Each piece glistens, caramelized from being cooked low and slow. Lettuce gives a fresh burst of flavor, while the mayo adds a light heat to mellow out the richness of the pork. I definitely understand the foodie debate between Momofuku and Ippudo for best Pork Bun in NYC.
We decided some vegetables should make their way into the mix, opting for the Japanese cucumbers with seasoning and sesame oil.
I hardly expected an entire, sliced cucumber to make its way to our table, but here it was. The cucumber was juicy, coated in spices and soaking up the sweet sesame oil. I regularly snack on cucumbers and cold get addicted to this version pretty quickly, but I doubt I could recreate it as well. It’s amazing that they were able to make a cucumber special.
Finally, it was time for the main event: ramen. There are nine options to choose from, making the decision making process slightly more difficult. We decided to try the Akarmaru Modern, which includes the traditional pork broth and noodles, but added a unique miso paste giving an added earthiness.
The flavorful broth combined the saltiness of the pork, earthiness from the mushroom and miso, and bite of tang from the scallion. The delicate noodles absorbed the rich broth. Each component stood on its own making it easy to pick at the noodles with your chopsticks and slurp the broth with your spoon. When you were lucky, thin slices of pork, which cooked in the warm broth, would find its way onto your spoon, adding a meatiness and fatty flavor which you found yourself craving with each bite. There were subtle notes of the garlic oil in the broth, adding a slight sweetness that takes a few sips to recognize.
Ippudo is great about sharing, bringing smaller, bright red bowls over so each person can make a mess in front of their own place setting.
Patience is totally worth it when it comes to a meal at Ippudo. Plan ahead, and hope a good sports game is on at one of the many bars located around the corner. The wait, which will always be over an hour, is absolutely worth it. The pork buns are out of this world, and the ramen can give any little shop a run for its money. I’ve definitely joined the Ippudo cult.
Ippudo – 65 4th Avenue – New York, NY
Ippudo – 321 West 51st Street – New York, NY
Location: East Village, NY and Hell’s Kitchen, NY
Perfect For: Authentic Dining, Cheap Eats, Impressing Foodies, Adventurous Eating, Date Night
Reservations: Not Accepted
Favorite Dishes: Pork Buns, Japanese Cucumber, Akamaru Modern