This post appears as a guest contribution on Brian MacDuckston’s Ramen Adventures blog, some of the most comprehensive and beautifully photographed coverage of the the Tokyo ramen scene. If you enjoy this article, please check out the treasure trove of material on his site.
Few would confuse this mostly residential block of 5th Street in New York’s East Village with any part of Osaka or Tokyo. Yet whenever I feel nostalgic for the little comforts and pleasures of Japan, I seem to end up back here at Minca Ramen Factory. The unassuming storefront is easy to miss for first time visitors, though when the wind blows right the telltale stench of long simmered pork bones will lead the way.
In 2004, Minca was born out of Chugoku transplant Shigeto Kamada’s long running, unrequited craving for authentic ramen in New York. Unlike Ippudo, Totto, Minca’s sister shop Kambi and a handful of other shops that have popped up in the intervening years, Minca eschews the sleek design and predictable Asian flourishes common of this market segment. The interior is cramped and ever so slightly grimy, with exposed brick walls and a few touches of chiguhagu (mismatched) decoration that would make Martha Stewart cringe. Despite this, or maybe it’s because of this, the atmosphere never comes off as anything other than causal, comfortable and friendly, with warm smiles from behind the bar looking out over the crowd of happy slurpers.
Kamada-san’s flagship bowl is a blended tonkotsu and torigara stock, flavored with shoyu tare and purée of roasted garlic. When I first found Minca several years ago, they used thin, white and wire-hard Hakata-style noodles. In the last year or so there was a switch over to something a little thicker and more yellow (my hunch is higher kansui content), but still plenty toothy and springy. The soup is full-bodied, but not quite so viscous and hefty as an unadulterated tonkotsu, so I think the newer noodle suits it well. Thick, buttery slabs of chashu, negi, kikurage, menma, a seasoned hard-boiled egg and sheet of nori come standard.
Minca also serves up crispy, juicy ebi gyoza.
The bar seating offers a great view into the preparation area. As I had arrived just after opening, I caught large sheets of steeping kombu being rescued from the day’s first batch of dashi.
Life is better with large, steaming vats of simmered pork and chicken bones.
At just after opening, and with temperatures already approaching the realm of 90-100°F and humid, there wasn’t much of a crowd at Minca on this day. In the evenings and come cooler weather, you’ll be looking at a typical ramenya wait of 10-30 minutes, depending on queue length. Maybe I’ll see you there.
536 East Fifth Street
New York, NY, 10009
Open everyday 12:00-23:30