In my quest to search out the best Ramen in Midtown, I feel like I’ve gone backwards… Sapporo was first, because it was right next to my office building. A longtime favorite of the area, the Miso Ramen is delicious- but the quality of the ingredients (especially the pork) I found to be less than great. I followed that up with Men Kui Tei, which I found to be a notch above Sapporo. The Miso Ramen was also delicious, but the pork and other ingredients in the soup were of a much higher quality. It probably worked out better this way- because if I had gone to Menchanko-Tei first, I might not have enjoyed the other two as much…
Menchanko-Tei has two locations in Midtown (one on 45th btw. Lex & 3rd and the other on 55th btw. 5+6th) which have a few differences, but are essentially the same. They both have a small front room with a bar, and they both have a second small room… the one on 55th is in the back, the one on 45th is an upstairs balcony. Much like Sapporo & Men Kui Tei, you have to get there early or you are going to wait. By 12:30pm, both locations are full.
But enough about the similarities. The differences that set Menchanko-Tei above the fray, more food porn and the +/-, after the jump…
Menchanko-Tei’s real advantage is the options and quality of their menu… and that starts with their signature “Menchanko” Noodle soups (which I think translates literally as “mixed noodles”). The noodles are slightly thicker then the ones you get at most ramen places in NYC, and they are cooked perfectly al dente. There is nothing worse then mushy noodles in your ramen… and these are good enough to make some Italian chefs jealous.
In addition to the slightly thicker noodles, the Menchanko comes with chicken, shrimp (with their heads still on), a salmon ball, tofu, ricecake and vegetables (mostly spinach, bean sprouts and cabbage) all in a very hot cast iron bowl. The rice cake is very thick, so it had a strange, overly chewy consistency that you don’t get with the thinly sliced oval rice cakes… but other then that it was great. The broth was was rich and deliciously salty… but still light enough to be able to drink the whole bowl. At the 45th st. location they had regular spoons… but on 55th they had these pretty sweet big spoons that were a lot of fun to eat with (you can see it at the bottom of the picture below).
They make 11 different versions of their Menchanko… so there is something for everyone. You can get it with miso, spicy miso, or sesame miso. You can also substitute things for the chicken & seafood, like just vegetables or you can get it with shrimp, pork, or beef. There is a curry Menchanko which I’d be curious to try, and a Kimchi Menchanko (the regular Menchanko, filled with spicy korean cabbage that turns into just plain cabbage as the chili seeps out and turns the broth red and spicy). The downside is they are a little more expensive then the soups at Men Kui Tei & Sapporo, ranging from $8.95 for the original, to $14.95 for the seafood Menchanko.
Not into the Menchanko, or looking for something cheaper… they’ve got all the standards including Hakata Ramen (pork broth with simmered pork slices) and Shoyu Ramen (soy sauce broth with simmered pork slices) which are only $7.75. The simmered pork slices are actually pretty amazing (sort of like thinly sliced brisket), and I was really disappointed that they didn’t come in any of the Menchankos, although you can add them to any soup for $4.50 (a little too pricey for me). The best deal is getting one of these two soups in a combo with a rice of the day (for $8.75 if I remember correctly). The day we were there, it was rice topped with spicy tofu. Not that spicy, but still pretty good…
We didn’t try it, but they also have Oden, which is an old school, traditional Japanese dish of assorted ingredients very simply stewed in a kelp based stock. You order them individually, and they have boiled eggs, tofu, fish, daikon, salmon balls, fish cake and more- with prices ranging from $1 to $2.50. You can also get an assorted “Chef’s Choice” combo of 5 items for $8.50. I will definitely be checking that stuff out in the future… it looked really interesting sitting on top of the bar.
- The slightly fatter, perfectly cooked Menchanko noodles, and the amazingly flavorful broth set this place slightly ahead of Men Kui Tei (and Sapporo).
- A ton of variety… different items that you can’t necessarily get at the other ramen places
- Very authentic
- Both spaces are slightly bigger then Men Kui Tei, but they fill up just as quick. Even getting there before 12:30 doesn’t guarantee you a seat without waiting. Going alone and eating at the bar will definitely increase the probability of not waiting.
- The shrimp in the Menchanko still have their heads on… I could see some less adventurous people not being into that
- The price… you get what you pay for- and some of the things are a little more expensive, especially if you start adding things to your soup- like sliced pork or extra noodles.
Menchanko-Tei, 2 Locations
- 131 E. 45th St. (btw Lex & 3rd), 212-986-6805
- 43-45 W. 55th St. (btw. 5+6th), 212-247-1585