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Terakawa Ramen

E Eto Jun 1, 2009 01:10 PM

Yet another tonkotsu ramen joint quietly opened up recently on Lexington, just south of 23rd St. I've only been once and can say that the porky broth lives up to versions I've enjoyed in Japan, as well as its local competitors like Ippudo or Minca. Terakawa seems to be another chain-ette from Kumamoto, trying to establish its footing in NYC. While I did enjoy the broth and the simplest version of their tonkotsu ramen (eponymously called Terakawa ramen), there were a few problems, which seem to be service-related. Unlike other other major Japanese chains that opened up in NYC, Terakawa looks like they're relying on local hires rather than bringing their own team from Japan to set up shop. When I went, the staff outnumbered the patrons about 3 to 1, yet there was a lot of confusion at a four-top about who ordered what. The staff in the kitchen (observable behind the glass partition) made what looked like several amateurish maneuvers or other clueless lapses. Despite these service issues, I'm encouraged because those problems can be worked out with a little more time and experience. The basics of the food seems fairly intact and the broth is good and heavy with porky goodness. The noodles are served firm, though I've never had noodles as firm as these (I think this was another lapse by the noodle guy), but I just let it sit in the hot broth a little longer than usual to let it come to a more chewable/slurpable texture. A shake of the dried garlic bits and some hot oil adds a nice dimension of flavors as well.

While Ippudo has cornered the market on tonkotsu ramen for now, I am not a fan of the lounge-vibe for what should be a fast food. If I have to wait more than 15-20 minutes, I probably won't bother. I prefer the diner-cum-pizza parlor feel of Terakawa where I can get a bowl of ramen, slurp it down in 8 minutes and be off to finish my errands. I'll give Terakawa another try in the next month or so, and see if they've figured out the service issues, and hope the broth remains as good.

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  1. Silverjay RE: E Eto Jun 1, 2009 01:25 PM

    Ahh, you beat me to the punch. Haven't been yet, but passed by a couple of weeks ago. When I googled it later that night, the Japanese blog coverage was rather lackluster so I didn't rush out. But I didn't read all that much and maybe it was too close to opening......Totally concur on the preference in dining styles though.

    8 Replies
    1. re: Silverjay
      E Eto RE: Silverjay Jun 1, 2009 01:57 PM

      I was a little more optimistic when I first saw the announcement of a Kumamoto ramen shop opening in NYC. I was thinking more along the lines of the popular black sludge of garlic (and whatever else is in there) that people associate with Kumamoto ramen nowadays. I had a version at Fukuoka's ramen stadium a couple years back from a shop called Hao Rai. But for a tonkotsu broth, I was pretty satisfied with it, maybe more so for not having to wait in an endless line in the evening, or having to schlep to NJ. I know that inconsistency is the plague that befalls many ramen shops, but as I said, I'm encouraged by what I tasted the other night, so I hope they can get a handle on things and solve all the other issues. By the way, wasn't a fan of the gyoza. Cha-han (fried rice) was better, but only passable. I'll likely stay away from the combinations and stay with the ramen.

      1. re: E Eto
        l
        Lau RE: E Eto Jun 30, 2009 05:08 AM

        what do you guys think of the tonkotsu ramen vs ippudo (and rockmeisha while we're at it)? I love tonkotsu ramen, but I think Ippudo is overhyped, its good but not great (certainly not worth the lines)

        1. re: Lau
          Silverjay RE: Lau Jun 30, 2009 05:52 AM

          Haven't had Rockmeisha, but it's not a dedicated ramen shop. So unless they are really taking it up a notch, if you want the best ramen in NYC, you had better endure the wait at Ippudo. It's most likely the only ramen here worth standing in line for.

          1. re: Silverjay
            l
            Lau RE: Silverjay Jun 30, 2009 06:47 AM

            yeah ure right...its more of an izakaya, but it was surprisingly good last time I had it there and the only place besides Ippudo that really serves tonkotsu ramen, try it out; also they have great gyoza and good tonsoku if you go

            on an absolute basis I don't love any of the ramen places in NY (hence my overhype comment, but that doesn't mean its not good) and generally not worth waiting in line for although i've endured the lines several times to get a fix for my ramen cravings

            luckily i go home enough to LA to not have to do it too often; i'm shocked that the wait is still that long at Ippudo, but more power too them b/c it probably means their business is good and making money

            1. re: Lau
              E Eto RE: Lau Jun 30, 2009 09:27 AM

              Rockmeisha's ramen is pretty good, but from memory of my last ventures there, I would probably rate Terakawa's over Rockmeisha's. I just find most of Rockmeisha's food a bit uninteresting, despite my post several years ago. Also, there are many places to get tonkotsu ramen in NYC, just not really good versions. Ippudo is probably the winner for that, but I might prefer Santoka's (in NJ... wish they would open up a spot in NYC). I'm not sure you'll find better tonkotsu ramen in LA either. Neither the well-touted places like Hakata Shinsengumi or Daikokuya offer a better product that I've found here in NYC. If you want shio- or shoyu-ramen, there are places I might prefer in LA, but as far as I'm concerned, the playing field is pretty even between both cities.

              On a final note, I think Ippudo's continued success is based on their smart market research and remaking their restaurant to fit the NY dining trends. I don't think their current set-up would fly in Japan, even with the growth of the upscaled so-called "ramen-dining" places that have been popping up here and there in Tokyo. The long wait, the lounge-y feel with the bar in the lobby is exactly what I don't like about it, but probably what most NYers do like about it. I'll chalk it up to smart business planning, but I doubt that I'll be among the throngs waiting there.

              1. re: E Eto
                l
                Lau RE: E Eto Jun 30, 2009 10:00 AM

                i think santouka in costa mesa tonkotsu is much better than ippudo...i actually dont even think its a contest bc i like it that much better though truth be told its not as good as it was when it first opened; I've never been to the santouka in NJ although it is top of mind next time im in NJ

                shinsengumi is alright and i dont really like daikokuya...foo foo tei in hacienda heights is supposedly the best shoyu in LA now although i havent trekked out there yet

                http://www.rameniac.com/resource/comm...
                http://exilekiss.blogspot.com/2008/11...

                E Eto - anyhow, back to the original question...it sounds like u think ippudo is better than terakawa?

                1. re: Lau
                  E Eto RE: Lau Jun 30, 2009 10:25 AM

                  I'm not sure it matter so much with the Santoka locations. I'm not exactly sure of this, but I believe everything that goes into their ramen is made in a central plant and distributed to their shops (in the US). The main departure with Ippudo was their insistence on using ingredients available to them in the US, and they make the broth in-house. Thus creating a "new" ramen recipe for the NY shop (at least that was what they were touting when they were opening). I'm not sure if you're saying that you think Santoka's Costa Mesa location is better than their Torrance or West LA branches, but as I said, that shouldn't matter, unless they have really expert preparers in one branch over the others, but as with most chain restaurants, the instructions are in the handbook.

                  I'll have to see about Foo Foo Tei. I've been once, and thought it was OK. They do way too much there instead of concentrating on one main recipe. Call me skeptical, so far.

                  I've mentioned 2 or 3 times in this thread how I feel about the comparison between Ippudo and Terakawa. Did you not catch that?

                  1. re: E Eto
                    l
                    Lau RE: E Eto Jun 30, 2009 10:47 AM

                    ive noticed inconsistencies between the santouka branches in LA although admittedly ive only been to the west LA branch once...maybe its just my own personal taste, but ippudo isn't my thing I guess and by that i think its good (def dont think its bad), i just dont think it really blows me away or anything

                    and no i didnt catch it, but i was sorta skimming, so my bad

                    my initial reaction to the large amt of different types of ramen at foo foo tei was the same as yours (i generally find more is less in those types of situations), but the reviews ive seen are from pretty credible reviewers so i do still want to try it

    2. bigjeff RE: E Eto Jun 16, 2009 03:04 PM

      walked by this joint and funnily, it looked kinda rundown like it had been there for a long time already; the place is definitely the opposite of sleek ippudo but glad to hear that you like the place, will definitely give it a go. interesting the note about local hires; peeking in I thought for a second that it was a chinese crew masquerading as japanese, much like the typical delivery sushi places all over the place. might have also been the relatively low prices that made me second guess; I'm tempted by the ramen + half curry combo for $12.

      -----
      Terakawa Ramen
      18 Lexington Ave, New York, NY 10010

      1. m
        mrnyc RE: E Eto Jun 16, 2009 04:57 PM

        hmm, i saw them building this place but forgot about it -- thanks for the reminder. i'll definately stop in soon. tonkotsu style ramen is perfect for the iffy/rainy weather we are having.

        1. raji212 RE: E Eto Jun 17, 2009 03:56 AM

          Me and a few of the eG guys are due a visit here soon, thanks for the preview. It's all about the tare, isn't it, so I'll see about toppings and such myself when I go -

          I know Ippudo had their ace man and mgt team in town when they got here - was that also the case with Setagaya? It seemed like they left it to their NY franchisers pretty quickly.

          1. janethepain RE: E Eto Jun 17, 2009 07:18 AM

            Stopped by here for a meal after refusing to wait in line at the Big Apple BBQ. I had the terakawa ramen (milky, porky, pork-bone broth), bf had the hiyashi chuka. The ramen noodles were different than other ramens - the noodles were thin and straight, but nicely cooked and springy. The hiyashi chuka had the typical ramen noodles. I enjoyed my meal, no complaints, and think it's a solid and cheap place for ramen if you don't feel like waiting in line at Ippudo. The hiyashi chuka broth/sauce I thought could be more flavorful, but hey, at least they have it. Not a ramen expert by any means, but I thought it was good.

            A few Japanese customers came in and out while we were eating, good sign right?

            1. s
              snaporaz RE: E Eto Jun 29, 2009 03:39 PM

              Went last Thursday (after my Japanese class - seemed fitting) and certainly enjoyed it, though I do think Ippudo has the tonkotsu market cornered. However... no wait at 8:15 PM, cheaper, and they have gyoza. These latter were passable - I liked the skin but was not crazy about the somewhat bland mealy filling. Broth was very porky and straight-up gamier than Ippudo, which seems to have found a way to mitigate the porcine intensity of their broth while keeping it rich and full-flavored... though I think it's down to personal preference on this one. As with E Eto my noodles were very katame, so next time I'll ask them to make them a bit softer. Staff consisted of one Japanese chef and the rest were locals. Overall, a cheaper and easy alternative to Ippudo though not quite as good and far less pleasing on the eye, though that's more of a positive affectation on Ippudo's part than anything else.

              1. Silverjay RE: E Eto Jun 30, 2009 06:22 AM

                Dined here a few weeks ago in the midst of our monsoon season. The namesake Terakawa ramen is a mild tonkotsu. Indeed, it's not in the heavy "kotteri" garlicky style that Kumamoto ramen is known for. The broth is fine, but lacks that savory/sweet/umami-ish "cooked for many hours with many ingredients" backbone that the really good ramen soups approach. I was reasonably satisfied. It's certainly authentic. The noodles were kind of classic "Chinese" style semi-curly. I'm pretty sure these are outsourced (not necessarily a bad thing). The toppings were two 10 micron-thin medallions of fatty shoyu marinated chashu, some chopped lazy scallion (probably would be whiter negi onion in Japan), bamboo shoots, a half-boiled marinated egg, and beni-shouga. I'm forgetting something...I know it's a regional thing, and this is personal, but I just hate beni-shouga as a topping. Oh well. The chashu and the egg were fine. For a $9 a la carte bowl of ramen though, a few more slices of pork should be included. I ordered the $13 ramen and mini-curry rice set. The curry had vegetables only, probably made from standard block roux. The rice was knotty and improperly cooked. The shop itself is worn and was not properly reformed after changing hands. You can sit there and feel as if it's been around for a while. The menus are the original Japanese ones with stickers in English stuck on top. I kind of liked this. It's almost like the antithesis of the Ippudo approach. Like they just packed up a 20-year-old shop in Japan and shipped it here. One area they were short on though is the presentation of the bowl itself. Yes, ramen is a blue collar dish at its' heart, but there is at least a rustic natural aesthetic to a bowl of pride served up by really good shops. I found my bowl of Terakawa lacking in this. First, the balance of noodles-to-soup was uncomfortably in the noodles' favor. Second, most teling, the toppings had that thrown-on piled look and lacked the asymmetrical, Zen garden layout that one can drink in with the eyes while the steam rises and you take hold of your implements of deconstruction. It's really just a heaping bowl of pork soup and noodles here at Terakawa. Not necessarily a bad thing. And, for sure, you'll always get a seat.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Silverjay
                  s
                  snaporaz RE: Silverjay Jun 30, 2009 09:22 AM

                  I forgot about the paltry serving of chashu. Not made up for by the onsen tamago which was nonetheless a pleasant topping.
                  BTW Silverjay, on a different note, did you end up going to Kanazawa? I'm planning on going there next spring and would love to read a follow-up to your extensive preview on the Japan board.

                  1. re: snaporaz
                    Silverjay RE: snaporaz Jun 30, 2009 12:51 PM

                    You can PM me for Kanazawa info. See my profile.

                2. eatfood RE: E Eto Jul 14, 2009 03:05 PM

                  Went recently and found them to serve a pretty decent bowl of tonkotsu ramen. Tried almost everything on the menu (which isn't much) with a few friends - the ramen stood out, everything else was average/passable/decent. As mentioned above, the curry rice that comes with the combo contains no meat.

                  Overall, I came out pretty satisfied. It really is the anti-ippudo - not much in decor or "cool-ness" at all.

                  Another thing I noticed during my meal was that almost everyone there was Japanese (over 4-6 groups of various sizes).

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: eatfood
                    r
                    Ricky RE: eatfood Feb 15, 2010 08:59 PM

                    I totally agree this is the anti ippudo, old rickety decor, larc en ciel blasting on the speakers, no 15 minute wait when obviously theres plenty of seats, no charge for hot pepper sauce\fried garlic, and solid service.

                    Just had a great bowl of Oxtail shoyu ramen with pieces of oxtail, beef tendons(gyu suji), deep fried onions, with a very good seasoned egg that was much better than the previous times I had ramen at Terakawa. The sign said they only serve 10 bowls a day, by luck we ordered the last two bowls and we over heard in japanese that they're now out of the oxtail ramen after we placed our order.

                    I also noticed they have a kimchi chige nabe(hot pot) ramen with a side of raw egg and rice. I'll have to try that next time.

                    1. re: eatfood
                      bigjeff RE: eatfood Feb 26, 2010 06:37 AM

                      the other dimensions of "anti-ippudo" means . . . it's just as good?

                      1. re: bigjeff
                        g
                        gutsofsteel RE: bigjeff Feb 26, 2010 06:42 AM

                        It's not as good as Ippudo. I understand E Eto's point about the vibe at Ippudo and why he doesn't like that....but there's just no denying that Ippudo's ramen (not to mention the other food they serve) is better. I've been to Terakawa twice, and it's very satisfying and I like the place, but I have to give the ramen edge to Ippudo. Still, I think I'll be back to Terakawa more often because it's just so much less of a hassle than Ippudo, and you can actually hear yourself talking in there. And don't get me wrong - I thought the ramen was good - just not quite as good as Ippudo.

                        I should mention that on both visits they were sold out of the oxtail ramen so I have yet to try that one.

                    2. bigjeff RE: E Eto Jun 24, 2010 07:40 AM

                      finally ate here and we had both of the hiyashi chuka's, one being the "original" with the mustard garnish and slightly saltier broth; menma, vegetables, chicken, etc. and the other which is "yuzo wasabi" flavored with a yuzu koshio garnish and wasabi as well, slightly different ingredients. both were different enough to share and split, both were really good; great noodles and chew, generous size for $10 and really good. also had the gyu-tan which was good and also served with the yuzu koshio paste; very good flavor but extremely rough in presentation. For $5 tho, dirt cheap.

                      Definitely want to come back for actual hot ramen but the place is very low-key, prices are low but flavors and ingredients quite fine. Will definitely come back for the cold ramen a couple of times this summer I'm sure.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: bigjeff
                        l
                        Lau RE: bigjeff Jun 24, 2010 07:47 PM

                        ohh i like hiyashi chuka, i'll def have to check it out since my gf lives reasonably close to there

                        1. re: Lau
                          Silverjay RE: Lau Jul 7, 2010 10:50 PM

                          Had the regular hiyashi chuka the other day. It was fine, but not particularly special. Never had a grilled sliced chicken thigh in this dish before, but it was pretty good twist. My biggest complaint was that the broth was minimal. And the salad greens at the bottom were kind of weird. Not bad, but for $10 it's not a great value for what you get. For a better meal, you're better off buying the hiyashi chuka "kits" at Sunrise and assembling your own components. The noodles are essentially the same quality...Took a quickie snapshot of my bowl...

                           
                          1. re: Silverjay
                            bigjeff RE: Silverjay Jul 9, 2010 11:58 AM

                            haha, I've gotten those kits before.

                            any other recs for a good place to get this? I do love this style of noodle dish; it's the best I've had so far in the last couple years, although I haven't been very scientific about it. another standout is soba totto's cold noodle special, not sure if they still have it but they only do 25 servings of it a day (or maybe even less).

                            1. re: bigjeff
                              Silverjay RE: bigjeff Jul 9, 2010 12:26 PM

                              I had it at Saburi last year and thought it was alright. Actually, I'm gonna go back to Terakawa to try the oxtail ramen. I forgot to look for that. I eat soba and the chuka kits at home enough that I don't often feel inclined to eat out for chilled noodles that much. 'Course I'm always hoping you or someone else will uncover something mindblowing.

                              -----
                              Saburi
                              168 Lexington Ave, New York, NY 10016

                              1. re: Silverjay
                                bigjeff RE: Silverjay Jul 9, 2010 12:47 PM

                                saburi, I liked less than terakawa; had it at rai-rai-ken years ago and it was a mess. gotten it at random places but nothing of note. wonder if all the hot ramen joints from the last couple years have any standout renditions but I never heard anything.

                      2. bigjeff RE: E Eto Oct 1, 2010 08:07 PM

                        had the tsukumen here which looked good but didn't taste good. generous amt. of noodles, "unlimited" seafood-based broth that ultimately, didn't do it for me; tasted watered down and not interesting. garnishes were missing such as menma, egg and other items shown in the picture. miso ramen was good but also thin and less flavorful in comparison to ippudo, rockmeisha and other ramen I've had recently. I do like how they have about 5-6 table condiments but really, all that indicates is that their broth needs work.

                        dang!

                        1. restaurantbrat RE: E Eto Feb 4, 2011 07:54 PM

                          For full review, with photos: http://restaurantbrat.com

                          The New York food scene is a faddy sort of thing. Our avaricious eyes shift from gourmet fried chicken to Korean tacos to designer bánh mi to full-on pork feasts with roughly the same regularity as Paris Hilton’s wardrobe malfunctions. We switch allegiances between farmhouse chic, underground speakeasy and warehouse-style ethnic megamart every few weeks. It’s a dizzying ride for the uninitiated, but for those of us who appreciate our staples and the comfort of at least some stability in culinary trends, it’s nice to know that certain things are here to stay. I’m no food historian, but in my estimation, the rise of ramen in New York began about three or four years ago, kickstarted in equal measure by a young David Chang and a downturn in the economy that had diners scrambling to find cheap alternatives to the lavish pre-mortgage-crisis restaurant scene. Ramen had always been around, of course, but more in a supporting role to the big hitters of the Japanese culinary movement in New York – the Michelin-starred sushi palaces and the fashionable izakayas. It was only when Chang opened his flagship Momofuku (now known as Momofuku Noodle Bar) that the food community really started buzzing about ramen and the craze took off. There was something inherently sensible about a casual, no-frills noodle joint that appealed to the newly acquired attitude of frugality in the city, and thankfully, the movement shows no signs of abating.

                          Terakawa is the new kid on the block, opened about a year and a half ago on a tree-lined sidestreet in a space formerly occupied by a dingy Teriyaki Boy. A fatty, porky Godsend in a starved neighborhood screaming out for a dose of hearty noodle soup. An oasis of thick, garlicky holy water, quenching the thirst of ravenous ramen pilgrims and simultaneously converting non-believers to the cause. I have dined at Terakawa consistently since it has opened, and have tried a wide variety of options on the menu. Some dishes are better than others, but nothing I have eaten there has been particularly bad. It’s no five-star dining experience, but you can certainly do far worse. For starters, the soup used in their namesake Terakawa Ramen is one of the better tonkotsu broths in the city.

                          If it’s your first time here, that is exactly what I would recommend you order. Stare in amazement at the wonder that is the golden-gray, thick-as-syrup pork broth. The product of a two-day-long lard and pork bone simmer, it is cloudy like the winter and so saturated with fat and astoundingly rich that you cannot afford to leave it alone for a few seconds or the surface starts to clot. Close your eyes and inhale deeply as the sweet steam from the piping hot soup washes over your being and hypnotizes your senses. Then divert your eyes back to the bowl and observe as the glistening globules of pearly fat floating on the milky surface bob up and down like little jewels of love. Sprinkle liberally with Terakawa’s toasted garlic bits (one of my favorite things about the restaurant – each tiny fried pebble is a burst of heady intoxication), grate some sesame seeds over the bowl, and then dig in. Shreds of crunchy black fungus, slivers of ginger a candy-floss pink, a delicious soy-infused hard boiled egg, and a tender sheet of fatty pork add depth and flavor. A fistful of scallions deliver a pungent kick. The hand-pulled noodles are made in-house – they have a great texture, smooth with the right amount of bite.

                          These days I often go for the Shoyu Ramen, a lighter dish, with a soy-sauce based broth. What I like about this alternative rendition are the squiggly noodles, which are different from the silky, straight variety they use in the Terakawa bowl – they are slightly more al dente, springier to chew, and while not “better” per se, provide a firmer platform for the soup. Bamboo shoots, a generous heap of chopped scallions and a few slices of soft fishcake finish the dish. It goes down with a clean aftertaste, and despite the saltiness of the clear, deep-brown broth, it never overwhelms the overall balance of flavors. Of the three basic ramen choices on the menu, I have never tried the Miso Ramen, simply because I have never felt the urge to amidst my staples.

                          There is also a rotating, seasonal menu, where current winter standouts include the Tan Tan Ramen, an innovative Japanese take on traditional Sichuan Dan Dan Noodles. A spicy miso-sesame soup base, a layer of minced pork, crisp beansprouts – absolutely delicious. They have a decent selection of cold ramen in the summertime as well, if that is your thing (it isn’t mine). To accompany your bowl of noodles, Terakawa does a delectable Cha-Han (Fried Rice), which is better than anything the numerous cheap Americanized Chinese dumps in the neighborhood can muster. The dish has a wonderful aftertaste, a combination of char and smoke that is only achieved by what the Chinese call wok hei (literally: The Breath of a Wok), a unique technique that requires great wok-handling skill and rigorously precise application of cooking temperature. I was suitably surprised to find fried rice of such superior quality at a ramen house – a lovely rendition, with bits of roast pork, egg, scallions and iridescent strips of pink fishcake. There is an entire menu of ever-changing izakaya-style small plates, too, among which Takoyaki balls (grilled octopus in batter) feature. Not the best I’ve had, but Takoyaki, a popular Osaka street food, is so hard to come by in NYC that they will do just fine; savory mayonnaise-slatered balls that seem to come to life with a topping of wriggling bonito flakes.

                          Terakawa’s handmade Gyoza are a popular menu item as well, and are an ever-present at most of the tables in the restaurant. Filled with pork and herbs, they come in batches of five, with a simple soy dipping sauce. Nothing groundbreaking, but still, a staple side of little dumplings that are consistently tasty. All five pieces are fried together at once, which can sometimes result in their delicate skins sticking together and tearing apart upon handling – not the best presentation I have ever encountered. I once went to Terakawa on a Sunday and was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was Gyoza Special day: $1.50 for a plate of five. We had a party of four, and ordered a plate each: a fantastic deal.

                          I have often eyed other ramen choices on the menu on previous visits, but have thus far not been able to resist the familiar comfort of the Terakawa and Shoyu ramen bowls. I will eventually get around to tasting the Ma-Yu Ramen, a new(-ish) addition to the menu, which looks and sounds like a winner: Pork soup topped with a layer of roasted, black garlic oil. Sounds like good upon good. Terakawa is no Ippudo (but to be fair, Ippudo is kind of in a league of its own in Manhattan), but this NYC outpost of a Kumamoto favorite certainly holds its own among a loyal clientele of happy Gramercy-area noodle lovers. Long live the Ramen Revolution!

                          -----
                          Terakawa Ramen
                          18 Lexington Ave, New York, NY 10010

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