Ichiran | Ramen for Solo Diners
When I was in Amsterdam, I saw a large Madame Tussauds Museum near Dam Square, but never went inside. My friends who’ve been to see the famous wax figures usually go to the one in Times Square.
Since I was planning on having dinner nearby, I stopped into Madame Tussauds Times Square first.
Madame Tussauds | Times Square
The setting sun highlighted the bright show lights and signs on 42nd Street. The show workers on the sidewalk tried to hand me pamphlets or discounts as I made my way to Madame Tussauds.
Despite paying more to skip the lines, I stood in the “VIP” line at Madame Tussauds. Ten minutes later and up a spiral staircase, I took an elevator to the top of the building. It was quiet. It was me and five other people, walking down into the first open room with wax celebrities like Taylor Swift, Johnny Depp, Tyra Banks, and Robert Pattinson.
As I moved throughout the floors and displays, some of the figures were in era/scene-specific settings, like Lucille Ball. While others were randomly placed — like Frank Sinatra in the middle of the gift shop. Here are some of my favorites:
My ticket included the Avenger’s exhibit and 4D movie experience. I guess Madame Tussauds is not as popular mid-week around early dinner time because I was the only person in the center of the theater watching the mini-movie. It was a strange experience.
I spent an hour and a half in the museum. I didn’t stop to take photos with every wax sculpture, so maybe that’s why it felt so fast.
Visiting Madame Tussauds New York was more of a tourist experience than anything of historic significance. But I’m glad I got to check it off my list during my weekend trip.
An Early Dinner
I was a few blocks over from a ramen restaurant that I heard about on the news. My coworkers recently visited on their way out of New York, and they also recommended I try it.
Ichiran is a restaurant chain originating in Hakata-Fukuoka, Japan — the birthplace of tonkotsu ramen.
Tonkotsu literally means, "pork bones" which is fitting for a broth whose base is pork bones that are cooked for over eight hours.
Ichiran prides itself on providing a dining experience that highlights tonkotsu ramen. By offering only one ramen broth, Ichiran serves high-quality, consistent ramen.
The Self-Dining Experience
I stepped under Ichiran’s red awning into the small foyer. Velvet ropes created two aisles for the entrance and exit.
A woman dressed in the Ichiran uniform (long and red with an apron and a hat) turned behind her to look at a board of numbers. A button next to each number was lit to show its occupancy.
“Number 33 is available.” She motioned with her arm down the hallway to my left. I walked left and then right, through a drape of embroidered fabric.
Ichiran Dining Room
The room was long and narrow. The wall to my left was bare of decorations besides the vertical wood panels. Occupied stalls with privacy walls divided each person to my right. The customers sat on short black stools. Most of the stalls were occupied, so I walked down the room until I saw an opening, and checked to confirm that it was number 33.
My stall had a purse hook near my right knee and a classroom-style coat rack on the back wall. I hung my pea-coat on the wall and tried not to hit into the Asian women to my right and left. The girl on the right had large grey headphones on and was watching movies from her iPhone as she ate.
There was a couple to my left, the girl was wearing a light pink coat with large buttons. She and her boyfriend exchanged words occasionally but ate in silence for most of the time.
I leaned back and looked down the length of the room. There were three college-aged boys on the end. They wore preppy polos and talked loudly. Between me and them, we were the only non-Asian guests in the room. I took this as a good sign that Ichiran was going to provide a delicious, authentic ramen.
A paper menu, red pen, and black glass was preset in my stall.
The left-hand side of the menu allows you to select a pre-designed ramen (with the traditional toppings I was expecting), or to build your own. You could customize your ramen based on spice, noodle texture, and additional seasonings.
I selected the pre-designed ramen. Since this was my first visit to Ichiran, I wanted to see how they prepare their ramen before I customized the flavor.
I knew this was a self-service restaurant. The popular selling point of Ichiran’s dining experience is the lack of interaction with guests or staff. You can sit, order, and pay without asking.
Thus — I didn’t see or think of any way to fill my black glass with water and I was parched. I checked off the drink box and selected the iced matcha.
My Personal Stall
The top of my stall had a red and white banner. It further explained the ramen ingredients, Ichiran’s history, and that Ichiran was a no-tipping establishment.
A payment button and refill plate sat in the right-hand corner of my stall. For an additional amount of money, you could take the credit-card-looking plate and place it on the counter and press the button. In between your seat and your booth is a straw screen, which lifts to show you the feet of the workers in the kitchen. They’ll take your remaining ramen broth and add another serving of noodles to your bowl.
I don’t remember if I had to push a button for my menu to be taken or if after a reasonable amount of time, it lifted automatically.
There was a girl with a quiet voice whose hands reached in and confirmed my menu — using the red pen to darken my selections.
“No customizations?” She asked.
“What do you mean?” I was confused. I checked the first box with the pre-selected items.
She turned to menu back to me and pointed to the scale selections for spice, noodle texture, and flavorings. “You can pick any of these.”
“Oh, okay.” She stood at the screen and I rushed (selecting many of the recommended textures and spices). I colored the bubble for the soft-boiled egg, extra scallions, nori, and pork loin — as I didn’t want a repeat of the ramen from Little Kung Fu.
The girl reviewed my menu again before dropping the screen back into place. I was sad I didn’t have the full don’t-speak-to-anyone interaction, and I wonder if I didn’t read the menu as closely as I should’ve to order properly.
Ichiran Ramen Toppings
As I waited, I noticed two men to my left get up and walk towards the wall. I thought they were getting their jackets, when I noticed they had their black glasses in hand. There was a hot and cold water dispenser — a shiny black box — to my right. If I balanced on my stool I could’ve leaned back to fill up my cup, which I thought was handy.
The couple to my left and the girl to my right left, and the next wave of customers took their place.
When my screen did open again, I received my plate of pork and toppings.
This first image is the classic ramen toppings which I knew I wanted. Similar to Ramen Nagomi, this plate offered two slices of pork belly, extra scallions, nori (seaweed), and mushrooms.
I was shocked to receive a second plate covered with slices of pork. There were over 14 slices on the second plate: This must’ve been the pork loin. I thought back to the box that I checked off on the menu. This was the special item Ichiran recently added to their menu.
Pork Loin | $10.00
I like to eat my food when everything is on the table — so I can select the different ingredients for a composed bite.
However, it didn’t seem like the bowl of broth was arriving anytime soon, so I did try one of the pork loin slices while it was hot.
Oh. my. gosh — it was unbelievable.
I adore the pork belly from Ramen Nagomi, but this pork loin was thin and rich with layers of buttery fat and golden edges. It was definitely worth an extra $10. I didn’t have any tough pieces on my plate. I have no idea how long they cooked the pork for but it was amazing.
Ichiran is also famous for its original spicy red sauce. This sauce is made with the Japanese chili pepper and 30 other ingredients which they age into a thick red paste. This sauce is intended to pair with the Tonkotsu broth.
I knew anything with a chili pepper base was going to be too spicy for me, so I left that box unchecked on my order. This little bowl arrived and I wondered how spicy these orange ingredients were.
I took the dollhouse-sized spatula and placed a eye-drop full of seasoning onto my ramen spoon. I tapped my finger into the spices and placed it on my tongue.
That’s not too bad. I thought. I couldn’t distinguish any particular flavor or ingredient.
As I sat there pondering what was in the orange powder, I felt the burning in my nose begin. Gradually, my throat started to burn and my eyes began to water.
Yep, yep that’s hot. I drank my tiny glass of water and then went back for a refill. I ate another slice of the pork loin, hoping the shine of fat would clear up the spice burning my mouth.
Thank god I didn’t take more. I thought. I pushed the orange powder to the far left of my stall. I wouldn’t be using it.
Iced Matcha | $4.00
As I was cleansing my palate of the spicy orange powder, my iced matcha arrived. What’s ironic is that I order matcha-drinks and expect them to be light like green tea. It’s not until I take a sip that I remember their flavor is dark and bitter.
Luckily, this iced matcha came with a creamer-sized portion of gum syrup. It was a clear container with a caramel-texture sweeter I poured into my drink. With the addition of this sweetener, I enjoyed my matcha drink even more than usual.
The third time my screen opened, I received my soft-boiled egg, which I was excited to try.
It came in a small black bowl on top of a wet-wipe. Sticking out of the side was the directions with how to peel it, which I thought was a bit odd. If you’ve ever made hard-boiled or deviled-eggs, then you know how to peel an egg.
Around the room, you could hear the diners who were cracking their eggs. You’re supposed to tap the egg on the table to start cracking its shell.
The guy next to me aggressively cracked his egg. I wondered if the egg whites were going to fall out on the ground.
Like Kung Fu Ramen, this egg was chilled. I hoped that the inside was going to be soft and warm with my broth. I waited until I received my ramen bowl before I cracked it open.
Tonkotsu Ramen | $18-$24
I was happy that there was a delay between ordering and receiving my ramen. This shows that the bowls are prepared individually. I will note, that if it was anyone besides me — they probably would’ve been annoyed with the delay.
All I cared about was the fact that my pork was getting cold. But I figured I could add it to my ramen broth to warm it back up.
I only mention this note, as Ichiran’s website explains that from the minute the ramen is prepared, it takes 15 seconds for it to go from the kitchen to your stall. That way, the noodles don’t overcook in the broth before you get to try them.
I will say that the 15-second rule may be true. Every time a new ramen order was complete a bell would ding, and everyone in the kitchen would say “thank you” in Japanese: Arigatōgozaimashita.
My ramen arrived in a large, deep bowl. A tangle of thin, straight noodles (cooked medium) floated alongside a portion of scallions. I selected the two pork slides, nori, and mushrooms from my plate and added them into the broth.
The tonkotsu broth was delicious — a rich (but not salty or overpowering) flavor. The seaweed softened in the broth and the scallions still had their crispness to them. I did enjoy the noodles and I wondered if they were homemade. The two slices of pork were also tender with fat.
I peeled and dropped my soft-boiled egg into the ramen broth. I would’ve preferred if it had been pre-sliced the way Ramen Nagomi serves it, but I was satisfied that it was actually a soft-boiled egg. Though it didn’t have any marinade or seasoning, the yolk was creamy and mixed well with the ramen broth.
Ichiran Ramen Portion
I couldn’t imagine ordering more noodles for my ramen. There was already a large portion to start. I imagine that the extra noodles are to add some texture to the remaining broth, if you’ve already eaten your toppings and sides. .
Since I also had the plate of pork loin, I was already getting full halfway through my bowl. My ramen portion was more than enough, and I didn’t need to order extra noodles. I managed to finish 95% of my ramen and all of my sides (because the extra scallions — that was too much of an oniony flavor for me).
Getting the Check
When I finished the last of my pork, matcha, and broth, I pressed the call button on the right-hand side of my stall.
My straw screen lifted and I said, “I’ll take the check.” The screen fell back into place. When the person on the other end appeared again, they gave me a plastic credit card tray with the receipt, then began clearing the dishes from in front of me.
I grabbed my jacket and purse and followed the hallways back to the front foyer. I got in line between the velvet ropes to pay.
My dinner came to a total of $45— with tax. The additional plate of pork loin and matcha drink was what made it more expensive than I originally planned.
But, this was a popular restaurant in Midtown, so I wasn’t too surprised about the prices. Luckily as well, I didn’t have to leave a tip, or it would’ve been closer to $60.
Overall, I would give Ichiran a 10/10. I was thrilled to find a restaurant that focused on solo diners. No one treated you differently for dining alone and I enjoyed the privacy of my little booth.
Ichiran’s vision for creating the best tonkotsu broth also focuses on providing consistent, high-quality ramen, which is something I appreciate as a foodie. I would definitely return to Ichiran and try its other locations throughout New York.