Dish: Niku Ramen
Restaurant: Totto Ramen, 366 West 52nd Street, New York City
Price Tag: $15 (for two)
Ramen has long been the dish of starving students. That Styrofoam cup, filled up to the line with boiling water. The strange way that the dehydrated orange and green bits became vegetable-like substances. The uncanny aftertaste of chicken, no matter WHAT flavor you get. Aah yes..this is the ramen we all know and love. Because, besides being filling, it is incredibly cheap.
But, when you dine out for ramen, things can get tricky. Gone are the freeze dried veggies and brick of noodles, and in their place, artisinal cuts of pork and long-simmered stocks. With these additions, the price of ramen in restaurants quickly adds up, and it’s not uncommon for a bill to be over $20 for one person. Ouch!
Luckily, this doesn’t have to be the case. Totto Ramen, in NYC’s Midtown West, offers a menu with options for those trying to save a few bucks. The secret is to come with a friend.
Be prepared to wait if you get there at prime dining hours. The cash-only restaurant seats only 25, and does not seat parties larger than 4. Just put your name on the list and wait outside.
The best way to go here is to split a specialty ramen and and a side dish. Though you could each order a ramen , that would end up costing more for less. If you do it right, you can be eating restaurant-quality ramen on an instant ramen budget. Let me explain:
A plain bowl of ramen costs $9. The mammoth bowl includes flavorful chicken stock laden with chewy noodles, crunchy bean sprouts, a melting slice of nutty nori and 2 slices of BBQ pork.
You can spend $15 and get the meaty ramen. This includes the same gelatinous stock, homemade noodles and toppings, but throws in what must be an entire pig’s worth of meat. Charbroiled, meaty BBQ pork, tender braised pork shank, pork belly with a layer of fat an inch thick, and probably a few more cuts hidden there in the depths of the cloudy chicken broth.
The insane amount of pork is not overkill, because instead of the pork broth that restaurants so often use, Totto Ramen uses chicken broth. This balances the heavy, porky taste with the restorative and relatively light taste of your grandma’s chicken stock.
The huge bowl of noodles and pork is easily enough for two people when you factor in an inexpensive side dish. Try the Potato Salad, classically Japanese, with its mashed potato texture, sweet Kewpie mayonnaise and use of corn. Or, try the Avo Tuna, which pairs torched sashimi with velvety slices of avocado and a citrusy, garlicky dressing. If you are really a glutton, you could even go for the Char Siu Mayo Don, which layers that spectacularly juicy and charred pork over tart yuzu mayonnaise and sticky white rice. Add any of these onto your already filling meal, and you are looking at a meal clocking in at $19.50 for two people. And when I say a meal…I mean a banquet. If you and your dining partner are hungry after this meal, I will PERSONALLY buy you your next one. And have you immediately checked for tapeworms.
Sarah Spigelman is a graduate of the University of Arizona, and currently lives in NYC, where she writes the food blog Fritos and Foie Gras. She is living proof that you can still eat pizza at 2 AM, even after you graduate.