Totto Ramen and Hide-Chan Ramen are sister ramen restaurants both located on 52nd Street. Totto Ramen is a tiny subterranean shop on West 52nd Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues and Hide-Chan Ramen is a larger second floor space found on the East side between Second & Third Aves. They are owned by Bobby Munekata, formerly of Yakitori Totto, a well-known mid-town Japanese Yakitori (chicken) restaurant. It’s on our long list of to-do’s!
On a sweltering hot summer afternoon we headed uptown to take the TMZ NYC Celebrity Bus Tour. While doing the tourist thing, we decided Cheap Eats would be fun. Before the tour we had a slice at Ray’s Pizza. After the tour, we headed west to Totto Ramen, which topped the short list in the area for great food.
Totto Ramen is a few steps down in a tiny basement space. We arrived to find a short line for a seat at 4pm. We waited very briefly before being seated and read several lists of ‘Rules’. Restaurants with rules never thrill me, but apparently the lines get out of control and you need to sign a list and be present when called. And not bother the neighbors by sitting on their stoops. Ok, I get it. So we were whisked in and seated at the bar. This spot cannot possibly seat more than 20 people, tops. And it was hot in there. Behind us was a giant fan placed strategically to keep the chef from passing out!
Before us were giant vats of broth all at a rolling boil. The chef was blow torching pieces of char sui pork and occasionally stirring the broth with a giant wooden paddle. Pretty damn cool. Authentic if nothing else!
I’d read the specialty here was the chicken paitan ramen – I ordered the pork version (with char sui on top) and a seasoned boiled egg as an extra. This wasn’t a standard poached egg, but rather, marinated with mirin (rice wine), sake and soy. Wow! It was soft boiled and looked a bit like it was going to be a thousand year egg based on the color. Thankfully it was heavenly! Get one as an additional topping on any ramen for $1. The broth was a deep and rich chicken broth. I am so accustomed to the pork broth that I really enjoyed the change. Noodles were firm and chewy. And did I mention it was hot in there? As we sat there slurping and sweating, we could not have cared less about the heat. This was fucking awesome ramen!
Steve had the spicy ramen, also with pork and an egg. We both preferred mine, which was the special of the house. It was the broth that was the primary difference. Original Rayu, a spicy sesame oil, is added to the chicken paitan broth for the spicy ramen. Unfortunately, it takes away from the soul of the dish! Skip this one and get the Totto Chicken Paitan!!! They also offer a miso ramen, vegetable ramen, and niku (meat-lover’s) ramen which all look incredible.
By the time we left the line was 15 people deep and growing fast. Expect to wait except by sheer luck! This is a quick meal. You are served within 5 minutes and you’re out inside a half an hour. Next!
366 West 52nd Street – Midtown West
The following week I began a new job at 49th and Third. How convenient that Hide-Chan Ramen is 3 blocks away. I checked it out by my second week. Similarly, you can be out of this place inside 20 minutes. They’ve got a buzzing lunch crowd. AND YOU CAN’T ORDER RAMEN TO GO.
The atmosphere here was quite different. It is on the second floor and much larger. There is full Japanese-style restaurant seating complete with screens. And the bar is actually a bar where they serve sake and dumplings. There are no giant pots of broth simmering at Hide-Chan. A regular kitchen is situated in the back, so you don’t get the show, which, by the way, was half of the fun.
And what?? The menu is completely different! And it smells in here??!! The smell, it turns out, is the pork bones boiling for the classic tonkotsu broth. It was a little vile. I was seated at the end of the bar right by the kitchen. I had a hell of a cold so I can’t imagine what it really smells like! Here I ordered the Tonkotsu Miso Ramen. Why did I make this choice? They have cheesy little signs telling you the most popular dishes. So I went with #1. It worked at Totto, so I figured stick with the formula. And it worked.
The noodles were the same, cooked al dente. There was one of those blessed eggs again! The broth – well, the broth was rich and full-bodied even with the miso. The corn was odd. But then who cares? I was thinking maybe next time I won’t get it with miso. They’ve got several options there, so it looks like they all need a try. And I hope to stay at my new job for the next 10 years so I’ll have plenty of time. And this was so great for my cold. I am looking forward to it on a freezing winter day as well. I made the mistake of getting ramen at a local fast lunch spot in the same week. It seems my days of giant styrofoam cup ramen are over. I can’t turn back now. And Udon too – I found a similar udon spot in the neighborhood as well!
More pics to follow. Steve wants to meet me here for dinner one day. We’ll likely do it in the fall.
248 East 52nd Street – Midtown East