One evening while on a M101 bus I noticed a restaurant in Harlem with hanging red lanterns out front. I felt the place was calling me so I decided to get off and try it out. I soon realized that the restaurant was a local branch of Rai Rai Ken from the East Village with a slightly different menu and cheaper prices. I chatted with a waitress and heard that the owner felt ramen was relatively new to Harlem and wanted to share it with people in the area.
The shop is small and has less than 20 seats, but I noticed they received telephone orders for delivery or pick-up nearly every minute. As I always do in a ramen shop, I ordered miso ramen, and here it was topped with garlic, which is unique but also complementary to the miso. According to Chopsticks NY magazine, Rai Rai Ken does not use MSG in its ramen soup which explains why I felt the taste seemed somewhat lighter than I am used to. Not using MSG seems somewhat rare in NYC, so Rai Rai Ken offers a true Tokyo experience. I also ordered their gyoza – delicious and homemade – very similar that found in my hometown of Utsonomiya.
Ramen shops are sometimes treated as premium cuisine in some parts of NYC, but in my opinion, ramen should be a casual meal like it is considered in Japan. Rai Rai Ken is a great place to eat ramen – regardless of whether it is your first time or not.
Price: $10+ for ramen dishes
Dress code: Casual