I often go to the West Village to watch movies at small theaters around the neighborhood. When I watch a 7:00 or 8:00 film, it is a bit of a challenge to find a place to eat dinner afterwards, especially if I am looking for a nice Japanese restaurant. A recent Thrillist article entitled “The 8 Best Under-The-Radar Ramen Spots in NYC” introduced me to a very cozy ramen shop just around the corner of West 4th Street.
I immediately sensed that the owner must be Japanese when I first observed the restaurant décor and then the menu. I went during the ‘Japan Authentic Craft Week’, which highlighted traditional craft items from Tochigi, Japan — an area relatively close to Nikko and the well-known temples — and ate ramen from a beautiful hand-made bowl from Mashiko. Mashiko is a famous little town that has many shops with beautiful, artful, and locally made pottery. I highly recommend their annual pottery festival if you are lucky enough to visit during the festival.
Each time I visit Ramen-Ya I feel as if I am entering a cozy ramen shop back in Japan. I have eaten there more than five times prior to publishing this entry, and each time I think about what to order when I visit next. Usually my dinner course starts with their homemade gyoza, often called pot stickers in the U.S., which are pan fried dumplings stuffed with minced pork, cabbage, and chives – a flavorful blend of the outside crispiness with the juiciness of the meat and vegetables. Gyozas can be filled with many different ingredients but the pork ones are my favorite as they remind me of the tastes that I love in Japan.
On the ramen menu there are two choices of soup: Musashi, a pork tonkotsu broth, and Kojiro, a paitan chicken broth. Then as it is standard in most ramen shops one can then choose shio (salt), miso, or soy tastes. Normally I order my favorite miso/tonkotsu but during my third visit I tried the Kojiro/shio. It was very flavorful and lighter than typical broths made from meat and equally delicious as the others. The tastes are rivals to those found in ramen restaurants in Tokyo, and one especially important item to note is the melt-in-your-mouth Char Siu pork that included with the noodles. That alone is worth a visit. The service is outstanding, too, as one might expect from a Japanese restaurant.
One thing I have to mention here is that the owner, Tyson Kobayashi, is from Utsunomiya, my hometown in Japan. We actually grew up a few miles apart, were born the same year, and went to neighboring schools, and then both left to attend college in Tokyo. I first met him at Ramen-Ya a few weeks ago and confirmed that it is indeed a very small world after all. How ironic to meet someone in a foreign country and find out you basically grew up as neighbors!! Kobayashi still resides in Utsunomiya and frequently visits NYC. He is a kind man with strong passions for both his business and commitment to provide authentic Japanese food and culture.
Price: Most ramen dishes are $12 with a variety of choices/toppings from $1
Neighborhood: West Village
Dine alone: Definitely
Open until 3:00 am on Fridays and Saturdays so you can catch a midnight show at IFC Theater around the corner.