There are people who order ramen to experience the whole bowl, and there are others who really just want the noodles, the toppings, and maybe two spoonfuls of soup. If you’re in the second group, you might finish your meal and find yourself catching glimpses of your eyebrows in the reflection of your leftover broth. For these ramen eaters, we suggest going to Niche, a walk-in spot on the Lower East Side that serves excellent mazémen, a.k.a. brothless ramen.
If the noodles, vegetables, and meat aren’t swimming in broth, they need to shine on their own. And at Niche, they do just that. This is the second place from another ramen spot next door, Nakamura, but this is our favorite of the two. The noodles here are soft, squiggly, and broth-sopped, with all the rich flavor and bounce that you likely associate with your favorite ramen in the city. Now that we’ve tried all five mazémen options on the menu, we’ll order the steak one - with charred ribeye, a creamy sauce, and some spinach for balance - every time. And while the mazémen deserves Nancy-Kerrigan-Tonya-Harding-level attention, a meal here wouldn’t be complete without the McDonald’s-esque fries covered in nori seasoning or the sardine toast with crunchy chili flakes.
Niche’s only problem is the seating arrangement. There’s just one communal table that fits 15 people at max capacity. So eating here kind of feels like Thanksgiving dinner in the suburbs, or the Last Supper if a few Apostles brought plus ones. At dinner on an early weeknight when the table isn’t jam-packed yet, the shared-space concept is charming, as is the fact that the chef is casually chatting on his cellphone while he cooks. But when it’s busy, things start feeling a little more like if the MTA tried to give out noodle bowls and glasses of orange wine during rush hour at Union Square. The waits can be anywhere from half an hour to an hour, and if you’re sitting in the corner seat by the door, you’ll probably get elbowed in the side as people come in and out to put their names in.
Even if you’re a broth person, you should make it a point to try Niche’s mazémen. Bring a friend who doesn’t overvalue their personal space, or just stop by for a great solo meal. You can save your soup reflection moments for your bathroom mirror. Your eyebrows look amazing, anyway.
Two crunchy little toasts, each with some lemony mayo, a butterflied sardine, chili oil, and crunchy pepper flakes on top. It’s creamy. It’s sour. It’s the kind of thing we’d like to see packed in a lunchbox in full-sandwich form.
If we showed you this picture without any context, you might think someone had dumped some fast food fries into a nice porcelain bowl. But these come with nori seasoning on top. Which only makes them more delicious than already-delicious McDonald’s fries.
We could easily take down two of these without any helpers. The dark stuff on top is yuzu kosho - a fermented chile and yuzu paste - and it’s crispy with a little kick.
This thinly sliced salmon is the kind of thing you’d find on a really good bagel. It’s also used in the Russ & Roe mazémen, but we prefer it on its own rather than mixed in with noodles. More on that later.
It’s a salty rich comfort food dream. A solo dinner aspiration. The thing you scarf down without stopping to wipe the sauce off your face. It’s the burger at the summer barbecue. It’s unmissable. Get it with bamboo and a poached egg.
This doesn’t look like anything special. But it is. There’s lots of cabbage, and a generous pile of clams in their shells. The sauce is the best thing about the dish, it’s light and fishy.
This one is sort of a play on carbonara - and you’ll probably try to recreate it at home (less successfully). There are hunks of bacon, and a peppery cheese sauce. It automatically comes with a poached egg on top, which makes it very creamy and hard to stop eating.
This bowl is the only purely vegetarian entree on the menu. It comes with simple mushrooms and broccoli, as well as a tomato-based sauce that’s not as spicy as we would have liked. Nothing a little chili oil can’t fix.
Sort of like any episode of This Is Us or a six-hour Phish concert, the Russ & Roe has too much of one feeling. The textures of the noodles and salmon are similarly soft, and it just doesn’t work as well as the other mazémen options.