Tuesday, March 11, 2014


Perfect for: A quick slurp (a destination food stop)
Price range: $-$$ Cheap / Not Bad
My rating: 8.5/10
Food: 8.5/10 Service: 8.5/10 Ambience: 9/10

There is a crazy ramen hype here, and Totto Ramen has been wrapped up and thrown right into the centre of it. For good reason too; so far it is my second favourite (to Ippudo) ramen joint in New York. 

I arrived after a long day of trekking around the concrete jungle of Midtown, finding myself covering more tourist ground than I had planned to (a couple of hours at MoMA, to the New York Public Library, to St Patrick's Cathedral, to the International Centre of Photography, to Gotham West Market). The original intention was to get a steaming bowl of ramen from Ivan Ramen at the newly opened Gotham West Market, until I realized I was going to be wasting calories on a 3-Yelp-star joint and jumped immediately into a cab to take me to 52nd and 9th where the small Totto Ramen joint is found. 

The line was at least 20 people long at 7pm - poor planning on my part. I walked in and put my name down on the second page, limiting myself to at most a one-hour wait. Ten minutes in, the waitress came out and called out multiple names for parties of one, none showed. I happily put my hand up and said "I'm a party of one" and within ten minutes of arriving, I'm seated inside up at the bench waiting to order my ramen while looking at the incredible production line that's going into preparing the slurp bowls. 

As I'm checking my Yelp for suggestions, the waitress comes by and tells me that the Totto Spicy Ramen is very good and that I should add the Seasoned Boiled Egg, Corn and Seasoned Avocado to it. The Pork Bun is also very popular, she says. So I order the Totto Spicy Ramen with Charsiu Pork, add the Seasoned Boiled Egg; and one Pork Bun for $3.25.

Pork Bun

My order of the Pork Bun comes within five minutes and I can see them making it the whole time. Every place I've been do does it slightly differently - this one uses a sweeter mayo (almost American-style) and adds salad leaves to the braised pork belly. It's pretty good but doesn't come close to topping my favourite, which by the way is from Momofuku (controversial, I know, but I just prefer it to Ippudo's because of the cucumber). 

Totto Spicy Ramen with Charsiu Pork, additional Seasoned Boiled Egg

Shortly after, my bowl of steaming ramen arrives. The ramen noodles are chewy, or I guess you could call them somewhat al dente. The broth is rich, not so much that you cannot finish the whole bowl, but probably richer than I'd like. Everyone has their own preferences of what ramen should be like and I thought this was slightly, just slightly, too salty for my liking, and the noodles were slightly, just slightly, too soft for my liking. This is also why Totto Ramen comes a close second to Ippudo for me.

Totto Spicy Ramen with Charsiu Pork, additional Seasoned Boiled Egg

All up, with tip, my meal came to $20. It probably took no longer than 40 minutes to order, slurp, pay and go. The service was spot on and conducted with a tremendous amount of precision and efficiency (the Germans would be envious) and the ambience is simple and exactly what I expect of a place as small and rustic as this. 

So the real question is how long would I wait for this? Well, anything under 30 minutes is fine if I'm by myself, anything under 45 minutes if I'm with a friend or a crowd (the rationale is that one person should get seated faster than two or more, and if I'm alone I'm much less willing to wait because I'm not in the presence of good company). But no more than an hour because that's ludicrous to wait as long for a meal as the dining experience itself would take. But it is damn good ramen and clearly a shorter wait time than Ippudo - and if you're really clever, you would get in before 6.30pm. 

Meal: Lunch / Dinner
Cuisine: Japanese (Ramen)
Address: 366 West 52nd Street, New York, NY 10019, USA


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