Have you read Ivan Ramen yet? It’s a fantastic book by Ivan Orkin, a Long Island kid who went to cooking school, fell in love with Japan and especially ramen soup—the handmade hot Japanese noodles not the crunchy packets!—and eventually opened his own ramen shop in Tokyo that was so good it rocketed to cult status there. Anyhow, he now has shops in New York City as well, and he’s gone and given away all of his hard-won secrets to making the stuff in his book, which is well-timed too, what with young-foodie-America at peak obsession with David Chang-style thick and rich ramen.
In addition to impressing me with cheffy detail and true insider knowledge, reading Ivan Ramen also appealed to the deeper part of me that runs a cost-benefit-analysis and decides to make reservations, not dinner. As in, how many hours of shopping and cooking does it take to make two kinds of broth? (Really, the two broths are combined right at serving.) There’s a real reason even people in Japan go out for ramen, which, thanks to these truly excellent Minneapolis-St. Paul ramen spots, you can be too.
Even though the new fast-casual spot is about, as you guessed from the name, sushi, I actually prefer the ramen. I get the pork belly topped bowl of noodles and haul it back to my desk to slurp over the expense accounts . . . That’s good stuff. Note that the 10th street Retek building location has the largest ramen menu, with vegetarian and a beef short-rib and kimchi option.
80 S. 8th St., Mpls., 612-354-3040, onetwothreesushi.com
The most culturally authentic of the ramen options, Zen Box is like the Japanese version of a German beer hall or French wine bar in that it is arranged around the pleasures of gathering with friends and having a drink or two. There are three sorts of ramen at Zen Box including the subtle and satisfying Tonkatsu Tonzen, though I tend to prefer the kimchi version, which packs a spicy wallop and will cure whatever ails you.
602 Washington Ave. S., Mpls., 612-332-3936, zenboxizakaya.com
The deli in the middle of United Noodles is a delight for quick, great foods. I had the miso ramen a few weeks ago. So good. Savory, creamy, a little salty with roast pork, crunchy with bean sprouts, sour with pickled cabbage . . . Just a world in that bowl. Worth the drive across town.
2015 E. 24th St., Mpls., 612-721-6677, unitednoodles.com
Masu in Northeast is essentially a ramen house too, with five varieties, and it’s more or less impossible for any critic in town to say which they like more: the rich and spicy tonkatsu curry ramen with a whole fried pork cutlet in it, or the pork belly ramen, which is so rich it slithers (in a great way). Both are also available at the Mall of America location, which, incidentally, is easily one of the best eateries there.
330 Hennepin Ave. E., Mpls., 612-332-6278, masusushiandrobata.com
Did you know moto-i, the sake brewpub, recently tweaked itself into moti-i the ramen and sake house? Well, it’s true. They now offer eight kinds of ramen, including a vegan corn ramen and, as far as I know, Minnesota’s only shio ramen, which is a particularly delicate clear-broth version. The classic pork ramen is thick and rich and yummy. Chef Omar Gillego is terrifically talented—he worked for Jean Georges Vongerichten for years—and I think moto-i is nothing less than national class.
2940 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls., 612-821-6262, moto-i.com
Photos by Zen Box Izakaya Facebook page, Katherine Harris