Even if winter this year isn’t really showing up in all its white-bearded fury, we still consider this valid ramen season. So even without snow on the ground, we feel more than justified in devoting an obsessive amount of time to hunting down a good bowl of ramen in the Garden State. And it turns out there’s a lot of it.
For those less acquainted with the cult of ramen, the basic premise is a deceptively simple Japanese soup: a silky, richly savory broth, typically pork- or chicken-bone based, though some veg options are popping up (see below); perfectly-cooked toothsome noodles, which you can often request more of (or request thick or thin); proteins like Cha Shu pork (braised pork belly, a ramen mainstay); and a half a boiled egg (ideally with a slightly wet yolk). Ramen is as much about tradition as it is about finding your perfect bowl; to that end, a list of ramen restaurants in New Jersey doing it just right.
Batten Ramen in Fort Lee
If you’re in the Fort Lee area craving noodles, you need to go to Batten Ramen. Easily one of the O.G. ramen spots, seasoned, no frills (but hardly spartan), it’s where someone who wants good ramen goes in a town that knows its ramen. (Really, it’s where people who know good ramen debate the quality of the broth from visit to visit.) Traditional Japanese décor, dark wood, long tables, open space—all set to focus you on the bowl at hand. And there are plenty to choose from (though Batten maintains a seasoned regimen); gorgeous, rust-red spicy ramens are among the favorites (with special limited editions like Red Hot Spicy Miso on weekends). We’re intrigued by the Asari Clam Salted Butter Ramen, which is exactly what it sounds like: a briny, rich ramen studded with Asari clams and topped with butter. Umami meets butter meets salt meets your belly. Batten Ramen, 2024 Center Avenue, Fort Lee; 201-461-5465
Ramen Azuma in Englewood
Ramen Azuma is in a quieter part of Englewood—the small, stand-alone spot is a block outside of Palisade Avenue on Van Brunt, which is just fine with ramen lovers looking to keep the focus on bowls, broths, and toothsome noodles. It’s a slim restaurant that looks every part the hip urban enclave, with a bar and a row of tables that shouldn’t crowd you too much as you raise your elbows to get the proper slurp technique. They do all the standard ramens here, and well, but among the most satisfying is the Vegan Tonkotsu Ramen, which dares to replace the traditionally meat-based ramen broth style with a vegan mushroom butter broth (“Tonkotsu” ramen is traditionally made with a pork-based broth). The results are a satisfyingly, surprisingly rich broth that tastes as rich as its meatier counterparts. If you’re extra hungry, grab some Takoyaki. Yes, it’s fried octopus balls. No, you won’t regret it. (FYI they just opened a sister restaurant in Fort Lee where all that deliciousness, and a bit more, can be had.) Ramen Azuma, 39 South Van Brunt, Englewood; 201-567-1283
The Noodle Shop in Newark
The Noodle Shop & Bar in Newark is a younger spot, but they’re clear on what they’re going for: a solid roster of modern-inflected ramen options backed by a healthy cocktail and beer menu. Hardly a drinking scene—the space is relaxed and hip with naked wood, white walls, and a long bar for drinking and dining—but there’s definitely more ABV to pair with your spicy miso ramen than elsewhere (and that’s the point). Like Ramen Azuma, they have a special veg/vegan bowl, the Veggie Green, with a small garden of vegetables built onto their miso veggie base, and that could pair nicely (nimbly?) with the TYKU Cucumber Sake in their Cucumber Mule, but we’d love to try tossing the apricot breadiness of a Magic Hat #9 against the mingling fruit and spice of the Catera ramen (with roasted garlic oil, roasted red peppers, pickled ginger and marinated beef). Luckily, it’s affordable enough (and thank you, college towns) to do both. The Noodle Shop & Bar, 218 Market Street, Newark; 973-440-2000
Terakawa Ramen in Princeton Junction
There’s a very cool black and white mural on the wall at Terakawa in Princeton Junction, an ode to ramen lovers and ramen culture. The reason to go, of course, is the two day-long process the seasoned cuts put into creating their Kumamoto region-style ramen broth. (It’s technically a chicken stock made with a pork bone procured from the hog’s cranium, but what you need to know is it’s a lighter broth serving as a base for your other ramen flavors.) It’s not a bad idea to just start with their House/Signature Ramen if you want to get a taste of that broth in all its savory lusciousness, though the Kyushu Danji Ramen kind of nudges that out of contention with the heritage Berkshire pork bone soup with Cha Shu pork, bamboo shoots, kikurage mushroom, red ginger, cabbage, and that gorgeous glowing golden orb of boiled egg. Terakawa Ramen, 64 Princeton Highstown Road, Princeton Junction; 609-799-6688
Rai Rai Ramen in North Brunswick and Mount Laurel
Rai Rai Ramen—with locations in North Brunswick and Mount Laurel—might seem chill and unassuming aesthetically (textured clean white walls, purely functional seating) but they pull out all the stops with a truckload of a ramen menu. Really, you can please any ramen-loving palate here, and the hoardes of ramen-slurpers attests to the fact that they do. There’s Oxtail Ramen, Butter Corn Ramen, Shoyu Ramen, Shabu Shabu Ramen, Tan Tan Ramen, Miso Ramen, Shio Ramen, the list indeed goes on. Though if you’re only going to get there once, or trying it for the first time, go for the Akamaru Modern Ramen, which is a slightly richer version of a basic ramen formula, with tender braised slices of Cha Shu pork, chewy kikurage (wood ear) mushroom, a whole boiled egg, creamy mayo sauce (a special enriching element), bamboo shoots, and a special hot sauce. (It looks as flavor-packed as it sounds.) Rai Rai Ramen, 1980 Route 27, North Brunswick; 732-821-5777; and 1200 South Church Street, Mount Laurel; 856-360-7142
Rayaki in Cherry Hill
Rayaki in Cherry Hill is ramen plus izakaya, or Japanese gastropub, meaning you can get something slurp-worthy and something delicious and (often) skewered and fire-grilled. This is definitely a more energetic spot—the walls are covered in sleek black and white anime art, which should theoretically set the right stage for the also sleek and black Black Garlic Ramen, a local favorite. It’s another standard ramen template—that Cha Shu pork, kikurage mushroom, bamboo, piquant spicy red ginger, egg—but then there’s the addition of black garlic oil. If you haven’t had black garlic, the flavor can be described as garlic meets a kind of deep savory-sweet funk. Don’t be afraid—it’s really not off-putting. In fact it’s one of those addictive flavors, less garlic heat and more earthy-sweet, mysterious if used judiciously (as here). Rayaki Ramen, 404 Marlton Pike, Cherry Hill; 856-520-8629Click here to leave a comment