Eating Alone Isn't All That Bad at Ichiran
Japanese chain restaurant Ichiran Ramen first made a splash in the States when its first American location opened in Brooklyn's hip Bushwick neighborhood in 2016, and long lines of eager eaters ensued. But what the chain's known best for is its unique dining setup.
Guests are not only encouraged to eat alone — dining solo is required and enforced by Ichiran's interior design. A long line of private cubbies (referred to by the brand as "flavor concentration booths") is backed by the restaurant's galley kitchen, from which invisible chefs deliver steaming bowls of soup through drawn bamboo curtains. All diners have to do is savor Ichiran's signature tonkotsu (pork-based) ramen with no distractions — or human interaction. And if you're alone, that's not much to ask.
Place Your Order
Upon arrival at Ichiran, you'll probably have to wait on line. Choose your soup at the vending machine, where visitors turn their orders into tiny tickets and pay. Simply enter your money into the machine, push the photo buttons that correspond with your order, take your tickets and push the flashing button below to receive your change.
Ichiran's menu includes just one type of soup — tonkotsu — and that comes topped with the chain's homemade noodles, green or white onions and sliced pork. At the machine, extra portions of these toppings are available, plus others like a soft-boiled salted egg, a refill of noodles (to be delivered half-way through the meal), white rice, dried seaweed, extra garlic, and kikurage mushrooms. Tea and beer are also ordered here — the restaurant's "carefully selected" water (said to be "delicate and soft on the stomach and liver") is provided later at no charge.
Personalize Your Bowl
You'll most likely wait on another line after ordering, which leaves plenty of time for personalizing your order. Virtually every component of Ichiran's ramen is customizable, from flavor strength of the company's professionally researched broth to noodle texture.
The restaurant recommends choosing "medium" and "regular" on most categories, but "half" on the brand's "Original Red Sauce" (the recipe is allegedly known only by three of the company's experts) if you're sensitive to spice. The seemingly infinite permutations here are a great excuse to eat ramen more often.
Take Your Seat... Alone
A light-up seating chart outside the entrances to the dining room indicates empty spots inside. Choose an open booth and settle in. Once seated, push the button in the booth to order, slide your tickets through the opening to the kitchen, and wait for ramen delivery to commence.
Concentrate on Flavor
A couple of photos of your ramen in the midst of Ichiran's unique setup are necessary, but you'll want to wish yourself itidakimasu (roughly translated: bon appétit!) and dig into your soup as soon as possible for the freshest experience (while minding your chopstick manners, of course. You may be in a flavor concentration booth, but etiquette still matters). Audible slurping is not only encouraged — it's necessary in order to add cool air to the mix and avoid a burned mouth.
Make a last minute decision to add an extra portion of noodles to the remainder of your broth? All good, that service call button is there for a reason. When you're sufficiently stuffed, simply get up and be on your solitary way. That's the perk of paying up front.