Home » World News » Restaurant Review: At Okiboru, Soupless Ramen in a Stressless Setting
Restaurant Review: At Okiboru, Soupless Ramen in a Stressless Setting
A new noodle shop brings the specialty ramen known as tsukemen to the Lower East Side, along with a speedy, efficient serving system.
The first step in eating tsukemen is to raise the noodles high, then lower them into a concentrated broth.Credit…Lanna Apisukh for The New York Times
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By Pete Wells
If you spend enough time chasing ramen in Japan, you eventually encounter noodle shops where the exterior wall looks like a vending machine. The menu is illustrated in rows of photographs showing every variety of soup on offer. Next to each picture is a button. You feed a few hundred yen into a slot, select the soup you want, and wait while a ticket is printed. Then you walk inside so you can hand your ticket to a cook behind the counter, who will prepare your bowl. After you’ve slurped your last noodle, all you have to do is get up and leave.
New York City has never gone in for giant walk-in ramen vending machines. Since October, though, the Lower East Side has had a noodle shop that approximates the speed and efficiency of the Japanese model.
It is called Okiboru House of Tsukemen. While you settle in to one of its two dozen or so stools, you scan the QR code on the counter in front of you. These blurry square patterns have become all too familiar since the start of the pandemic, but few restaurants exploit them as fully as Okiboru. You open the link, select your meal and pay with a credit card or Apple Pay. Your order goes to the kitchen, tagged with your seat number, and a few minutes later your noodles appear before you. After eating, you simply walk out.
Okiboru is like many popular Tokyo ramen shops in another way: It sticks to noodles. There are no gyoza or pork buns or even steamed edamame to start the meal, and no matcha soft-serve at the end. The menu is bracingly short, with just two items. One of these is what you probably picture when you think of ramen, a twirled nest of noodles submerged in a bowl of steaming broth. We’ll get to that in a minute, but Okiboru is a house of tsukemen, almost certainly the city’s first, and tsukemen (pronounced tskeh-men) is the reason for the lines outside on Orchard Street, so let’s start there.