Totto Ramen - New York, NY

If you recall a few years back I did a little write up for Yakitori Totto. Well this is their sister restaurant that serves up quick hot bowls of Japanese ramen noodles.

The small restaurant is below street level and could easily go unnoticed if it wasn't for the line that is waiting on the tiny New York sidewalk. They don't take reservations, and they don't take anything but cash so come prepared.

As soon as we're seated the guy's at the front door arranging seating is asking us what we want to drink and if we know what we want already. It's fast, it's efficient, it's Japanese ramen.

The two cooks behind the counter have their work cut out for them in this tiny little noodle shop. The noodle guy is warming up fresh egg noodles while he's also charing the pork belly. The other cook is assembling the bowls with the garnish as soon as the noodles come out of the water. I feel like these guys have it down to a science.

I order a bowl of Totto extra spicy ramen with pork and a side of char siu pork and a side of spicy bamboo shoots. You know I had to order more for the sake of variety right? I also ordered a miso ramen and my friend got the extra spicy ramen with chicken. Everything was great, but I'd probably go without the spicy bamboo shoots next time.


Suzu - San Francisco, CA

I happened upon this spot while we were in San Francisco for The Fillmore show. Playing a couple days in a town always makes for a nice time on the eating front for me. I actually get the time to go explore areas that I would otherwise not have the time to do. My friends Cat and Zack came along on my quest to find a noodle shop and we came across this place, Suzu.

Karaage - Japanese Fried Chicken
I'm a sucker for any sort of fried chicken, karaage happens to be one of my favorite fashions. The japanese really know how to do a nice crispy, light and flakey outside.

Shrimp and Veggie Tempura
Tempura is just any sort of battered veggie or protein usually dusted with panko, a Japanese bread crumb. It's too often that you get tempura that is over cooked, undercooked, soggy, tasteless, cold, or any other number of travesties that can ruin a good tempura. I was pretty shocked at the lightness and clean flavor that I found here. To be honest with you it may have just been luck. A combination of a lot of variables, and the planets lining up for me at that very moment.

Pork Ramen - Japanese noodle soup
The noodle soup exceeded my expectations and fulfilled my itch for noodle satiation. The noodles were nice and chewy and not over cooked and the broth was rich and hot. You can't go wrong with the chicken ramen or the miso ramen here. Make sure to add plenty of hot pepper because it only enhances the flavor!

--Joe Kwon

For more info on this restaurant click here.

Local Eats: China Express - Durham, NC

짜장면 - Jjajangmyeon - Noodles in Black Bean Sauce
Between China Express and Thai China I don't think there is a more frequented restaurant for me, Em, and my cousins. We love these "comfort foods" and we love that they are in our town.

Jjajangmyeon is a dish I remember eating as a child and loving instantly. I can't remember the first time I had it but I remember being a kid and finishing my noodles and adding rice to the black bean sauce. The dish isn't much for looks but it's a huge punch in the face of flavor. Salty, earty, and smooth, that's about the best way to describe it. The flavor is very unique, so it's impossible to describe it well. The black bean sauce is obviously the highlight of the dish so it has to be prepared just right. I'll make sure to post a recipe sometime soon for this dish. In the mean time, try to find it in your area!

짬뽕 - Korean-Style Jampong - Spicy Noodle Soup
It's rare that I will go on tour and I will not start craving some good "jampong." It may be one of those ultimate comfort foods for Koreans. It's spicy, it's full of vegetables, it's very filling, and it's cheap. I've eaten this dish at a LOT of restaurants all around the country, and outside of mom making this for me at home, this is the best I've found.

Jampong is a spicy noodle dish that is usually based around a beef or seafood broth. The rich flavors of the broth are enough to cut through the spice from the peppers. A good jampong will have chewy noodles, scalding broth, a generous amount of peppery spice, and a lot of vegetables/protein. Without all of these facets the dish is just not accomplished.

Chinese-style Jampong
The Chinese style of this dish is a bit different. The broth is lighter in color and tastes a little sweeter as well. I often bounce between these two styles a lot to change it up but lately I've found the subtleties of this dish appealing. However, on a deserted island, if I could only take one of these dishes it'd be the Korean style.

깐풍기 Kamponggi - Sweet and Spicy Chicken
This dish is one I remember I'd get as a treat. It takes too much preparation and makes too much of a mess to make it all the time, but my mom would make it for me for my birthday or for special events. It's not terribly difficult, just timing consuming. The sauce is based with soy, sugar/honey, red peppers, and toasted sesame oil, a common combination of flavors for Korean cuisine. It's sweet and spicy in all the right ways.

Anyways, go check this place out. I'd say tell them I sent you, but as many times as I've visited they seem to never remember me. Oh yeah, that reminds me. Don't expect any nice decor or service in a place like this. China Express solely stays open because they offer dishes that the clientele come back for regardless of looks or treatment.

--Joe Kwon

If you want more info on China Express click here.