A 2-Hour Wait to Eat Ramen Alone

ichiran

The hook that’s got everybody talking is their “flavor concentration booths,” wherein you sit on a little stool at a solitary partitioned counter. Photo credit: Jesse Hirsch

Do you ever contrast the wildly different parts of a single day lived in New York City? As in, just this morning I gave my cat a flea bath, then went to a panel on the Cultural Legacy of Clowning, followed by some quinoa made by a robot, now I’m hitting SoulCycle before heading to da club. (That is not my real life. I’m just making a point.)

This Sunday afternoon, Uber dropped me on a grungy side street in Bushwick, near a crazy long line hemmed in by red ropes (speaking of da club). A sour-looking dude muttered “Two hours!” as he walked away—presumably a reference to the wait time. This was Ichiran, the first U.S. location of a cultishly popular Japanese ramen chain. My first thought: “One hour ago I was curled up in my pajamas, watching an Australian kid’s movie.”

Ichiran opened last Wednesday, and a server told us the lines have not let up since. I heard a lot of Japanese spoken in line, but the crowd also seemed to boast lots of typical coolhunters, on their search for Brooklyn’s next Big Hype. (And honestly, am I any better?) There is certainly no denying—Ichiran is different.

The hook that’s got everybody talking is their “flavor concentration booths,” wherein you sit on a little stool at a solitary partitioned counter. This “encourages guests to dine alone and focus solely on the bowl of noodles in front of them,” according to press materials. You don’t even see your server; there’s a little window with a curtain that goes up and down. You mark your selections on a sheet of paper, slide it through the slot, and very rapidly your order slides back. All you see is disembodied hands. This reminded me of food served in prison movies, when the hero is trapped in solitary. (Except this isn’t prison food, duh.)

It’s tonkotsu-style ramen, with a broth made from pork bones and thin, non-curly noodles. You can choose a variety of adjustments, like richness of broth, spice level, noodle firmness and add-ons like mushrooms and extra pork. I’m not going to tell you how to order, as we all know our own tastes. Still, if you feel uncertain you can choose medium for everything, then adjust on your next visit.

You also have the opportunity to course-correct midway through the meal, using the order form printed on your chopstick wrapper. It gives the option to order a dessert, or add items you missed on the first round. In particular, Ichiran strongly promotes its “Kae-Dama,” which is a little bowl of extra noodles to shovel into the soup. For greedy noodle hounds like myself, this is a smart play.

The ramen itself was fantastic, a rich and complex broth kicked up with their signature “Hiden no Tare” hot sauce. Ichiran has signs posted everywhere, including one that suggests the best way to mix in your hot sauce (other signs include admonishments not to talk and how to order a second glass of their “legendary” filtered water). It was a highly satisfying bowl of soup, in a part of Brooklyn where ramen is not so common. (I am copyrighting that rhyme.)

As far as the solitary dining experience, I probably blew it by bringing a date. We tried the solitary booths,* but sat side-by-side and talked throughout (besides the first few minutes after our ramen arrived, which was pure savor time). It seemed most people at the booths did the same, which messes with the whole concept. If you truly want a monklike eating experience, I’d recommend coming alone and giving the ramen its due.

Sure, you’ll have to wait in that line all alone, but you could use the time to meditate. Or, like, check Insta.

*It should be noted Ichiran also has a typical dining room, if you want to get seated quicker. But you’ll still have to wait, and your experience won’t be nearly as unique.

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