If the East Village constitutes the heart of New York’s thriving ramen community, Hell’s Kitchen unquestionably occupies a close second place. The West Side has long boasted one of the city’s best Japanese food communities — from yakitori spots like Torishin to the sushi palace that is Masa — but the noodle soup scene has been particularly strong in recent years. There are almost too many good ramen-ya to list. One thinks of Totto or Ivan or even Mentoku, for its yuzukosho-topped noodles and “whipped cream” ramen (lolz).
One probably doesn’t think of Donburiya, a restaurant with a menu of nearly 100 items including rice bowls, crab omelets, katsu curries, and other delicious late-night fare. The top ramen spots in any city typically don’t serve a heck of a lot else; they devote most of their care to forging intoxicating broths, concocting precise tare seasonings, and boiling firm alkaline noodles.
But overlooking Donburiya would be a mistake, as that would mean missing out on a thrilling rendition of tantanmen, a style of ramen not seen as often as a classic shio or shoyu.
Tantanmen is the Japanese adaptation of the tradition Sichuan dandan, where the noodles sit in a pool of chile oil the color of a melted Ferrari. The Japanese, by contrast, serve it as ramen that’s only faintly less fiery than Chinese classic. I’ve had Donburiya’s tantanmen three, maybe four times, and only once have I been able to take an initial sip without coughing from the heat.
The preparation is simple and masterful: The kitchen fortifies a pork soup with miso paste, sesame oil, ground pork, bamboo shoots, flat wheat noodles, and spicy “house special sauce.” And even though the broth isn’t a creamy paitan, the miso imparts it with a silky texture that’s not far off. The sesame, in turn, imparts an aromatic sweetness to counteract all the rampant salts and face-melting chiles. It is served at a temperature that’s best described as near-boiling.
Combined with the firm noodles, the tantanmen is excellent enough to make one thing clear: Donburiya, its sweeping menu notwithstanding, is very much worthy of our consideration as a ramen spot.
I’m calling the tantanmen a BUY, and I’m also happy to report the small restaurant recently went no tipping. The price is $15.50, service included.
Buy, Sell, Hold is a column from Eater New York’s chief critic Ryan Sutton where he looks at a single dish or item and decides whether you should you buy it, sell it (or just don’t try it at all), or hold (give it some time before trying).