As much as I hate to admit this being a devoted Angeleno and all, NY has better ramen than LA. I've scoured my entire hometown too for the best: Santouka for their succulent cha shu; Shin-Sen-Gumi for their rich, customizable broth and noodles; and Daikokuya for overall best-in-show. I thought I got it all figured out... until I tried the wondrous brew that is the Ippudo Akamaru Modern.
I have my friend in New York to thank for this stunting revelation. He took me there during my visit to The Big Apple and told me this was simply the best. I scoffed at first, but after seeing the intense line out front, I kept my mouth shut and followed his lead and in turn had the greatest ramen to date. I took detailed notes and here are the golden rules to follow for the best possible experience at Ippudo.
Rule No. 1
Go during odd hours during weekdays—unless you derive pleasure from waiting in long lines. Excellent times are early lunch and during the golden period called "Linner." If you must go at peak hours, don't wait outside like the uninformed, but enjoy a cold one at their ramen covered bar instead.
Rule No. 2
Once you get seated, order their pork belly buns as an appetizer and share with a friend—you won't regret this. Now, they say Momofuku has the best pork buns in the biz, but I beg to differ. Although theirs is stellar, Ippudo's buns are even better.
Reason is that they're more generous with their pork. Sandwiched between delicate steamed buns are hefty slices of unctuous, tender hog belly bathed in a sweet and spicy sauce. On top is just the right amount of crisp lettuce for texture and a dab of mayo. That, my friends, makes for the perfect sandwich.
Rule No. 3
Get the Akamaru Modern and enjoy. No need to scour their lengthy menu, because this is king. The AM has the original soup base, but they spiked it with a spoonful of what I like to call, "MSG NOS." The reason being is that no one knows for sure what's in this paste other than miso and roasted garlic, but that is what gives the AM its superstar status.
And oh yes, don't forget to ask for garlic. Raw cloves comes with a press—put one in your ramen and let it steep for a minute. It adds a different dimension to the ramen.
The AM hits you like an expensive perfume with clear top and base notes. First, you can taste the fresh scallions, springy noodles (made in-house no less) and crisp wood ear mushrooms. Then you really taste the pork, both in its material form and its essence in the soup. It's strong, yet delicate at the same time with no greasy aftertaste, unlike Santouka brew. Daikokuya's soup is flavorful, but it lacks that balance that Ippudo is so skillful in accomplishing. Also, Daikokuya also use milk in their soup, which always gives me a stomachache afterwards (I'm cursed with lactose intolerance). It's so good I went back on my own a week later just before my flight home.
Now you know the rules... get a plane ticket and start eating!
Side note: Saw this in the Native American exhibit in The Natural History Museum... could that be they they have experience ramen?