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This Overlooked Ramen Is an Ideal Ultra-Spicy Noodle Soup

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Donburiya’s tantanmen, with sesame oil and chile, is simple and masterful, says critic Ryan Sutton

Scallions lie over an opaque brown broth for tantanmen ramen
Tantanmen ramen at Donburiya
Ryan Sutton

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).


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