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Ichiba Ramen: Union Square's Newest Ramen-Ya That's More Than Noodles

Robert Sietsema explores Ichiba Ramen, which recently displaced a Jamba Juice

There are a half-dozen restaurants in Manhattan and Brooklyn with "Ichiban" as all or part of their names. That’s because it means "number one" or "first" in Japanese. Now we have another.

Just off the southwest corner of Union Square, it replaces a Jamba Juice. Now the premises have been opened up considerably with high ceilings and bright lighting, and decorated with panels that look like chalkboards cartooned with smiling faces and bowls of noodles, like a daycare center. The name is Ichiba Ramen — omitting, perhaps for reasons of trademark, the "n" in "ichiban." [Update: "Ichiba" means "market," see comment below.] Despite its apparent identity as a noodle parlor, it’s really a full-service Japanese restaurant, with menu sections for donburi, sushi and sashimi, tempura, and yakitori, as well as ramen.

Those who are drawn inside thinking the place is a ramen joint won’t be disappointed. There are seven ramen choices, of which four are based on chicken broth (salt, soy, miso, and spicy miso) instead of the more faddish pork bones, making for a lighter soup. The bowls tend to be on the unfussy side, and also on par, pricewise, with similar products in the East Village ($14 to $15). One vegetarian version is available. The place looks very much like it’s trying to be a franchise, like Ootoya, but lacking the more obscure Japanese specialties, such as three types of mackerel broiled whole.

Ichiba Ramen Photo by Robert Sietsema

Ichiba Ramen exterior.

A couple of friends and I grazed broadly on a bewilderingly long menu. We tried a couple of the more elaborate maki presentations from the Special Rolls category, humongous affairs smeared with spicy mayo and incorporating things like eel, shrimp tempura, and avocado. A pair of them squirmed in looking like colorful serpents crouched on elongated plates decorated with radish carvings. Rather unappetizingly, a maraschino cherry perched on each. The signature Ichiba roll ($14) featured tempura, tuna, salmon, and something called "eel sauce." It was tasty in a trashy sort of way.

There was a humongous serving of pork donburi in a curry gravy, a nice app of purple sweet potato tempura, and a plate of three tsukemono (pickles): cukes, garlic cloves, and fuku jinzuke ( bright red mixed pickle). Of several assortments of yakitori skewers priced individually at $2 to $3 each, my party and I splurged on Combo B ($28), which included two of each. The homemade fish and potato croquettes were the best, followed by pork belly, and then shishito peppers — of which none were spicy.

Ichiba Ramen Photo by Robert Sietsema

Above: Pork curry and ramen. Below: Special roll and yakitori.

We left thoroughly stuffed for about $30 apiece, and an adequate meal could have been accomplished for half of that. Would we go just for the ramen? Probably not, but as a dining resource at a moderate price so close to the Greenmarket and the other charms of Union Square, Ichiba Ramen should be considered an option. 125 University Pl, 212-777-2495

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