Japanese Food Chains Conquer NYC

With the recent influx of ramen spots making the long journey from Japan to NYC, how can you choose which one to try tonight? We made it a little easier for you.

Courtesy of Naoki

There has been a steady stream of Japanese food chains expanding into New York City—and the tsunami of eateries can be overwhelming. To help you navigate the rising sea of ramen shops and okonomiyaki spots, we’ve rounded up a list of the most noteworthy imports from Japan.

From an East Village chophouse, where sitting is pretty much banned, to a three-story “fishing hole,” where diners can quite literally catch their own dinner, here are the superlative links in the chain of Japanese food franchises taking over Gotham.

The Best Bang for Your Buck

Cheap, no-frills grill DokoDemo spotlights Japanese street food staples like okonomiyaki (umami pancakes) and takoyaki (doughy octopus balls). It’s the first in a mini series planned for the U.S. by Shin Takagi and Kazu Kamehara, co-owners of the popular fast-food joint Yakitateya in Japan. Whether you’re looking for a quick snack (try the matcha-dusted potato chips) or a full meal (the yakisoba is a must), this modest new addition to the East Village culinary scene won’t disappoint. 89 East 4th Street (between Bowery and Second Avenue), East Village

The Top Spot for Solo Diners

Hailing from Fukuoka, Ichiran—which opened its first New York location in East Williamsburg last year—is best known for serving only one kind of ramen (pork-bone–broth tonkotsu) and its “flavor-concentration booths,” where individual guests seat themselves and fill out a form to customize their bowls. Service requires no verbal exchanges—faceless servers come and go behind the counter, and booths are crafted in such a way that only torsos show. The food is a bit more expensive than at most noodle shops, with a standard bowl priced at $18.90. But if you’re feeling antisocial, you can eat your pork in peace here. 374 Johnson Avenue, East Williamsburg

The Busiest of the Bunch

No matter which Ippudo you walk into—whether it be in Malaysia, Australia, or any of the dozen or so countries the Tokyo-based empire has conquered—you can bet there will be a wait. And the three Manhattan locations are among the most bustling, so be prepared to sit tight for at least an hour. Craving those famous house-made noodles but want to avoid the wait? Stop by on a random weekday in between the lunch and dinner rush, or head to the more low-key location in midtown, less frequented by students and tourists. 65 Fourth Avenue (between East 9th and 10th Streets), East Village; 321 West 51st Street (between Eighth and Ninth Avenues), Hell’s Kitchen; 24 West 46th Street (between Fifth and Sixth Avenues), Midtown West

best japanese restaurant nyc
Courtesy of Ippudo

The Speediest Slurp

Launched by the same culinary masterminds behind Ippudo, “quick-service ramen bar” Kuro-Obi serves up a one-of-a-kind recipe showcasing a silky chicken tori paitan, created specifically for noodle lovers on the run. Like its parent restaurant, it has three locations throughout the city, including one at the Canal Street Market and another at UrbanSpace Vanderbilt. Portions are a bit small, but the über rich broth and thick slices of fatty pork belly well make up for that. 265 Canal Street (between Broadway and Lafayette Street), Chinatown; 230 Park Avenue (between East 45th and 46th Streets), Midtown East; 700 Eighth Avenue (between West 44th and 45th Streets), Midtown West

The Best Spot for Carnivores

Ikinari Steak, the first American outpost of the fast-food–style import of the same name, offers three cuts of prime beef priced by weight, along with a slew of traditional condiments. Like its sister sites overseas, the East Village offshoot eschews chairs for stand-up tables, a move meant to quicken turnover. It’s no Peter Luger, but it’s a good place for meat lovers to scratch their itch—so long as they don’t mind standing while enjoying their meal. 90 East 10th Street (between Third and Fourth Avenues), East Village

best japanese restaurant nyc
Courtesy of Ikinari Steak

The Most Authentic

Ubiquitous in Japan (with roughly 400 locations), E.A.K. Ramen spotlights iekei—a blend of Eastern and Western ramen styles featuring a rich chicken-and-pork broth. It requires a full 18 hours to prepare; is paired with thick noodles that are custom-made; and is topped with pork chashu, spinach, nori, and an aji-tama egg. The restaurant also uses a secret tare recipe only known by the owner, which keeps the ramen base’s unique flavors consistent. 469 Sixth Avenue (between West 11th and 12th Streets), Greenwich Village

The Prettiest Plate

Love to Instagram your food before digging in? Head to Naoki, a new kaiseki-style restaurant where presentation is paramount. The newcomer—which opened in July—offers a six-course chef’s tasting for $80 featuring fine fare that’s almost too beautiful to eat, from pan-roasted duck breast with clementine teriyaki sauce to soba rice risotto. 311 West 17th Street (between Eighth and Ninth Avenues), Chelsea

best japanese restaurant nyc
Courtesy of Naoki

The Most Hands-On

Soon to arrive in Chelsea, Zauo—which has more than a dozen locations across Japan—lets you catch your fish and eat it, too. The three-story seafood spot will feature a tank filled with 10 different types of fish; guests can grab poles and buy bait to lure their dinner (which can be grilled, deep fried, and/or sliced into sashimi). And if you reel in your own fish, it’s cheaper—even more reason to go for it hook, line, and sinker. 152 West 24th Street (between Sixth and Seventh Avenues), Chelsea

Get in touch with our experience planners to help with your next NYC noodle crawl!