Everyone has a favorite ramen place, but the one that comes up over and over again among downtown denizens is Minca. This tiny East Village spot has less than 20 seats, but on most nights they’re full of people slurping down noodles.
The design here is definitely Tokyo-meets-Alphabet-City, with an open industrial kitchen, wooden bar and stools and very little else in the way of decoration crammed into a boxy room with tin ceilings and exposed brick walls. But as with most good ramen places, you’re not here for the decor.
The pan fried pork gyoza ($5.25) might be reason alone to visit, even though they’re not the headliner. Their translucent skins are stuffed to the brim with soy-flavored minced pork and vegetables and sauteed to a crisp.
The kitchen doesn’t restrict itself to Japanese food only. Crunchy, sour and fiery kimchi ($5) is also available as an appetizer to get you started.
For such a small space, Minca has an extensive variety of ramen, 13 in all, based on different types of broth: pork, chicken, chicken and pork, vegetarian or spicy, plus a choice of wavy, thick or thin noodles. I opted for my usual, shoyu ramen ($10.50), a tangle of springy noodles bathed in a silky, soy pork-based broth, topped with thick slices of tender braised pork, chewy seaweed, scallions and a preserved egg.
The spicy basic ramen ($12) was another crowd pleaser, made with pork broth with an extra jolt of chili and all the same fixins. A bottle of Sapporo ($5.25) or sake ($6.50) helps it all go down.
Of course, it’s always easier to order when you’re here with a regular, like our friend – let’s call him LaLa Anthony – a Southern boy who speaks fluent Japanese. The kind staff here is always efficient but also happy to stand and chat a while. This friendliness is what makes Minca feel like a neighborhood place, not just a noodle factory.
Even if you’re not Japanese, ramen has a real nostalgic draw: hot noodle soup that steams up the windows on a damp and chilly day. So if you’re going to eat something as homey as this, best to do it in someplace that feels like home.
536 E 5th Street, between Avenue A & Avenue B
New York, NY