It is always exciting when a new restaurant opens up, especially if they are gong to offer a cuisine that you really like and enjoy. My favorite cuisine is Japanese, the best kind of food in the world (and Anthony Bourdain agrees)! One of the best Japanese comfort food, especially during Autumn & Winter seasons is Ramen. So, when I heard a new Ramen restaurant was opening up in Washington Heights, where there is no real Japanese restaurant around, I was very excited!
The only question a Japanese person person ask about a Japanese restaurant is almost always the same: is it authentic (owned and operated by Japanese)? In this case, the owners are husband and wife team, and the wife is Japanese! So that made me even more excited about their food. The name of the restaurant is Tampopo, which means dandelion in Japanese. It is also a title of an old Japanese movie about the search for a perfect ramen. I heard that the movie is a favorite of the owners, and therefore they named their restaurant after the movie. Their love for the movie is well depicted inside the restaurant, with the quotes from the movie painted on the wall.
The inside is not too big, has a counter seating around the kitchen, and extends to the front of the restaurant. There are few table seating as well, but I think it has about 20 seats in total. Simple furniture to not fight against overall interior design, and there are hooks on the tile wall under the counters for your bag, jacket, etc. which is very helpful.
It has one bright red wall, and the rest if painted black with a huge painting of a ramen bowl, and the quotes from movie Tampopo alongside it. It is funny to read them while you are waiting for your food. I heard that if you want to watch the movie Tampopo, you can borrow a copy from the owners!
To continue with the design, they have a bright red door at the back of the restaurant, which is the bathroom. It was a barn-style, sliding door with old pipe as a handle, it was pretty cool. There is only 1 bathroom, and it was very roomy, and had a collage of black and white photos from the movie.
We sat at the counter by the kitchen, so we got to see how they make their dishes, which is always very interesting. It was not a big kitchen, but it seemed like everyone was efficient enough that the space was no issue. It was fun to watch them searing the pork belly with a hand burner.
We first ordered some appetizers, Pork Buns (2 for $7) and Karaage Fried Chicken (5 pcs for $7). The Pork Buns came with soft, juicy, melt in your mouth pork, some shredded cabbage, and Japanese mayo. On the side, it had what we call “edible Rayu” in Japan, which I was really excited to see on the plate! I love Edible Rayu… If you are not familiar with Rayu, it is a chili oil used in Japan, for dishes like Ramen and Gyoza. Edible Rayu contains garlic, onions, chili peppers, and some other ingredients to make it more substantial than just the chili oil. It is good with just a simple white rice, or mixed with Ramen or some other noodles, fried rice, or anything you want to give an extra flavor with a little kick. I tried the Pork Bun without the Rayu first, and it was really good. Next bite with the Raru, and I liked the extra taste it provides with chili oil and garlic, so I had the rest of them with the Raru. It was really nice either way. Then, we moved onto the fried chicken, and I tell you, it was sooooo good!!! It was super juicy, packed with flavor, the breading was nice and light, and the seasoning was just perfect. They really nailed this one. I know we will be ordering the fried chicken again for sure at our next visit.
Then, we moved onto the main dish, Ramen! There are several different types of Ramen in Japan, from region to region, and the main difference between them are the broth. Here at Tampopo, their Ramen is Tokyo Style, and they use chicken base and veggie base broth, which is very interesting. Most of the Ramen you see in NYC are pork based, so it is nice to have a different variety in the city.
We ordered their Shio Classic Ramen ($12) and Miso Ramen ($12). Shio (“salt”) Classic Ramen came with curly egg noodles served in chicken broth, topped with charbroiled thick cut slow-cooked pork or chicken chashu, marinated egg, nori seaweed, beansprouts, bamboo shoot, and scallions. I chose pork chashu. The broth was nice and creamy, the egg was cooked very nicely, and had lots and lots of bamboo shoot. Unfortunately, I am not a big bamboo shoot fan, so I wanted more of other ingredients or more noodle than so much bamboo shoot… but if you are a fan of bamboo shoot, you will really enjoy it. The pork was indeed thick cut, in the way that I never had with Ramen before. It was tender and flavorful, I certainly enjoyed them. The Miso Ramen came with curly egg noodles served in miso chicken broth, topped with charbroiled thick cut slow-cooked pork or chicken chashu, marinated egg, corn, beansprouts, bamboo shoot, and scallions. I always liked miso Ramen with corns… for some reason, they work well together, I like the flavor of the two together. The broth was interesting, at the first sip, the flavor of miso was kind of weak, but then, the aftertaste had a great miso flavor. I think I like it to have a bit stronger miso taste in the broth, but it tasted very clean, very good quality broth regardless, it was very nice.
After all the goodness and deliciousness, if you are still hungry, they offer “Extra Noodle” for $2.50. It is simply an extra order of cooled noodles only. You will put the noodle in your Ramen bowl with left over broth, and voilà! There is a new bowl of Ramen! This is a really great deal for those hungry bears. Just remember, you won’t get any extra topping or broth, so if you are planning to order extra noodle, make sure to leave some for your second bowl of Ramen.
Overall, we were all very happy and satisfied, and already thinking of what to order the next time we go to Tampopo Ramen. So, if you are around Washington Heights and craving some ramen or some Japanese bites, or just want some good comfort food, go over to Tampopo for some dishes that will warm you up from inside and out!
Tampopo Ramen – 1 Bennett Ave, New York, NY 10033