Since instant ramen's introduction to the United States in 1971, the now ubiquitous soup has become a staple for American diners.
I've been lucky enough to try authentic ramen while studying abroad in Japan, which led me on a mini journey to find the best bowl in the Queen City. Whether you lived off instant noodles during college and are ready to revisit the dish (at an elevated level of course), or if you've never had ramen but are aching to try it, here are five spots in Buffalo serving delicious ramen.
SATO (739 Elmwood Ave.), Sato Brewpub (110 Pearl St.) and Sato Ramen (3268 Main St.)
When I think about ramen in Buffalo, the SATO restaurants are the first that come to mind. My favorite is the Curry Green Ramen ($14) – mildly spicy chicken broth featuring chashu chicken, cilantro, bean sprouts, coconut milk, lime, fried onions, red bell pepper and lemongrass oil – from SATO Brewpub. The fattiness of the soup mixed with the salt and citrus notes of the oils culminate into a beautiful umami (which translates from Japanese to mouth-filling and savory), leaving me craving more spoonful after spoonful.
SATO's noodles are always perfectly al dente and ready for slurping. Its soup egg, found in other dishes like the original SATO Ramen ($11.99), or as an extra topping, is perfectly runny and delicious.
[Related: 8-plate restaurant review on Sato Ramen]
376 Grant St.
Gypsy Parlor might not be the first place that jumps to mind for ramen, but the West Side gem serves a mean bowl of noodles. The lone ramen on the menu ($13 to $15 depending on your protein) is basic but still super tasty. And that's what I like most about it. While some joints have elevated the dish to an artisanal level with odd toppings and American spinoffs, Gypsy Parlor keeps it basic.
[Read more: Gypsy Parlor makes a stir with Grant Street brunch]
The soup features a soft-boiled egg, ginger, shiitake mushrooms, leeks, bean sprouts and nori (seaweed). But the true star of the dish is its broth: a rich red stock that's packed with a ridiculous amount of flavor, but isn't so heavy that you can finish the entire bowl. Next time your friend's band is playing the parlor, go a little early and try a bowl of ramen.
25 Grant St.
Hidden within the West Side Bazaar is Thang's Family Restaurant, which, to my knowledge, is serving the biggest portions of ramen for the cheapest price in town. The food stand has an immense variety of ramen including different regional styles and unique ingredients like salmon, kimchi and eel.
The Chasu Ramen ($9.99) features, chashu pork, bamboo shoots, nori, scallions and sesame seeds atop a springy bed of noodles. The sheer amount of noodles, bamboo and nori in this dish is insane – the nori covers half the bowl and the shrooms are almost like a second set of noodles. The soup offers three pieces of chashu pork, which has the perfect upper char but satisfyingly melts in your mouth. I've never been able to finish a whole bowl of ramen from Thang's and have yet to find a tastier bowl for cheaper in Buffalo.
[Related: Smiles at the West Side Bazaar's exclusive dining experience]
500 Seneca St.
As far as authenticity goes, Dobutsu is the closest to the bowls of ramen I ate regularly during my time studying abroad and has quickly become my go-to recommendation when asked about the best ramen in Buffalo. Diners can choose between roast pork ($16), roast chicken ($15) and veggie ramen ($14), which all feature a much lighter broth than its competitors.
During my most recent visit, I tried the roast chicken, which married marinated bok choy, scallions and sesame seeds with a flavorful, rich chicken broth accentuated by a lick of carrot chile oil and sea salt. The chunks of chicken fell apart easily and were extremely juicy. The bok choy was so good I could have eaten an entire ramen with that as the only topping.
[Related: Restaurant review of Dobutsu]
475 Ellicott St.
In Japan, ramen is considered an everyday food and U.S.-sized portions can normally be found for about $7 a bowl. So when I saw Seabar's $23 Pork Ramen, I was a tad skeptical. But, like everything else at Seabar, I quickly understood that the quality of the food justified the price.
The soup – a broken-down version of the restaurant's old Triple Pork Ramen, which included a pork spring roll, bacon and chashu pork belly – includes pork belly and butt, a soft-boiled egg, bok choy and mushrooms. What stood out immediately was the noodles, which were much flatter and thicker than traditional ramen noodles. It's a nice change and lets the noodles absorb more soup, which is light and not as oily as broths at SATO or Thang's. The pork is fatty and offers a smoky flavor, while the egg was perfectly runny and the veggies were sauteed to perfection.
If you're looking for a quick fix, Seabar probably isn't your first choice for ramen. But if you're splurging on a date night or special occasion, there's no other choice.
[Related: Why Andrew Galarneau is rooting for Seabar]