photo credit: Jesse Hsu
Ramen is a little bit like Beyoncé.
When you mention ramen, people tend to freak out. Ramen makes people feel alive! Ramen gives people purpose. Ramen makes people yell “OMG” and use prayer hands emojis. And rightfully so. Ramen, like Beyoncé, is great. But it can also be a lot to take in. Ramen hotspots like Ippudo are like Beyoncé concerts: they’re a challenge to get into, and they’re a little overwhelming. (In the case of ramen, you also often leave feeling really full.)
So think of soba as the Solange of the Japanese noodle world. Soba doesn’t incite quite the mania that ramen does, but the noodles are also excellent. They’re just a little more underground. More indie. Soba noodles - which are made of buckwheat - have a little less glitz, but they can still pack a punch. Even in an elevator. Andddd... moving on.
When it comes to soba, Cocoron is our number one spot. There are other places to eat some nice soba, but most of them - like Soba Koh in the East Village - feel like being in a library. Cocoron, on the other hand, is a ton of fun. The place is bright and lively, and the menu is covered in manga characters extolling the health benefits of soba.
The food also rules. We’re particular fans of the “dipping” soba, where you get a plate of lukewarm soba and a little hotpot of soup/sauce that you dip the soba in. When you’ve finished your noodles but have some hotpot liquids left over, a waiter will bring out some of the enriched hot water that the soba was originally cooked in, and you get to dump that in the dipping sauce to make a soup. The process is called “soba yu,” and it’s like multiple meals in one. It’s fun, interactive, and delicious.
For traditionalists, there’s also cold soba served with various mix-ins and a selection of noodle soups. And while soba may be the main attraction, the tofu appetizer and some of the desserts are destination-worthy as well.
As Solange would say, “Some things never seem to f*cking work.” Cocoron pretty much always works though.
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Homemade Silky Tofu
It’s important that you start off your meal with this $5 appetizer: a slab of fresh soft tofu, which you mix up with soy sauce, ginger, bonito flakes, seaweed, and scallions, using a very cute little spoon.
The dipping soba options are our favorite, partially because they’re also the most fun. You get to cook your noodles and concoct a soup after. Look at you, working away. Accomplishing so much. We love the spicy Mera Mera with chili oil and minced chicken. The Chicken Meatball or Pork Kimchi are good options, too.
Cold soba is worth a try here as well. If you don’t want to miss out on the DIY element, try the Sesame, where you get to grind up sesame seeds with a tiny mortar and pestle and mix them into the soba. If you like funky, gooey, stinky-ish foods, the Natto Soba is excellent.
These are your soup options - more on par with what you’d get from a typical ramen or soba, and it just comes down to preference. Adding an egg or tempura flakes recommended.
Coconut Milk With Frozen Fruit
Surprise: the desserts here are also amazing. This one is frozen coconut milk with tiny tapioca balls and frozen berries. So good.
Green Tea Affogato
Genius. Concentrated green tea, on top of green tea ice cream. Also covered in corn flakes.