Every New Yorker has faced this dining conundrum. You’re alone and you’re craving a dish, but you also want the dining out experience. Do you just go for it and eat solo? Have no fear. Ichiran, a ramen chain that hails from Fukuoka, Japan, dedicates half its shop to solo dining booths. The wooden booths are numbered, set up with a handy fill-in menu, pen, napkin and chopsticks. An aisle between two rows of booths allows the servers to slide the tasty tonkotsu ramen to you. Ichiran Ramen opened in the 1960s in Japan, and opened its first New York City location in Bushwick, Brooklyn in October 2016. In April, Ichiran will open its first location in Manhattan at 132 West 31st Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenue.
The solo dining area is protected from view by Japanese Noren curtains, the rectangular fabric dividers that fall halfway down from the ceiling. You can see exactly what booths are available through the digital “Counter Booth Seating Chart.” The booths lit up in green mean its Vacant. You can press a button for assistance if you need it.
In the Brooklyn location, you can fold over the partitions should you want to chat with your friend next door. Conceptually, the idea is so that visitors will focus completely on the flavors of the ramen with no distractions. But it has the added benefit of making eating alone perfectly acceptable. On the wall are pictures of each of the items and instructions on how to eat your ramen.
The ramen is fresh and made it order and unlike most other ramen joints, the flavors are pretty customizable. You choose how spicy, how strong the flavor of the broth is, how lean or oily the broth is, how tender the noodles are (which are hand-made in a production facility right next door), the amount of green onion, garlic. The red pepper spicy sauce is produced and shipped from Ichiran’s main kitchen in Fukuoka. Only three people know the recipe to this secret sauce, which the company calls “one of our most prized and guarded creations.”
Then you can request extras, like a refill of noodles, seaweed, or extras of the chashu pork. You can also add toppings like tonkotsu egg and simmered pork belly topped with dried seaweed. As ramens go, it’s a more clean flavor, more authentically Japanese than some of the other offerings in New York.
The main dining room has an old school vibe, based architecturally on the look of the first Ichiran in Fukuoka – very much in the post World War II Showa period of design. The style of the original location was in turn inspired by the Yatai, which are traditional Japanese shops on wheels.
Ichiran Ramen is probably one of the more pricier ramens in the city – the standard bowl comes at $18.90 but you’ll find yourself wanting the extras that come automatically in other places. A tiny Macha pudding dessert and the Matcha draft beer are both $9.90, the Asahi Super Draft is $8.90. The good news is that tip is already included.
On the way out, you can also purchase a take home kit of tonkotsu ramen that serves three and includes the secret spicy sauce.
Next, check out 10 of the best noodle soups in NYC from ramen to hand pulled noodles.