True Names: Neighborhood Ramen Reviewed
Neighborhood Ramen brings the soul of a pop-up into a permanent home.
I don’t even know what to call the thing I’m eating. This bowl—this perfect bowl—of noodles, kinked just a little, and rich, fatty pork bone and chicken broth; this soft-boiled ajitama egg that I love so much as its yolk melts into the soup; this sweet chashu pork, the sheets of nori that I roll with my chopsticks, this spinach gone salty and delicious in the heat.
I don’t know what to call this ramen. I mean, it’s “iekei” on the menu (third down of five—a menu so tight and stupid-simple that it’s almost an art project on minimalism and restraint). But I’m talking about something bigger than that, because it’s so good, I feel I have to name it. To categorize it somehow. To explain the buzzing thrill of the place, with a line stretching to the door, graffiti on the walls, hip-hop on the play-list, and bowls of oshinko pickles and flat, rectangular, crispy-soft gyoza bleeding sesame oil on every table. Modern ramen, maybe. I like “punk ramen,” but that’s not entirely right, either.
It matters because I don’t want to lead you wrong. Because I don’t want to send you somewhere that’ll offend some preconception of what ramen-eating is supposed to be. The shoyu here isn’t a perfect simulacrum of some other ramen, but its own thing — blond and almost sweet, light, a little bit sour, tangled with those same exceptional noodles. I ate it my first time through, felt drunk on how much I liked it, couldn’t wait to come back. Yeah, you basically sit on boxes. Yeah, my order was marked with a Godzilla cutout displayed on my table. Yeah, my Coke came in a can. Couldn’t wait.
Neighborhood Ramen was an Instagram thing — a pop-up that felt like it came out of nowhere, long after Philly’s first ramen boom had faded. The people behind it (Lindsay Steigerwald and Jesse Pryor) were restaurant veterans who came at it from an interesting angle — from the kitchens of CoZara, Cheu Noodle Bar, Zahav and Morimoto, collectively. They rode the Insta-darling shtick for a while, then went brick-and-mortar in Queen Village.
And now it’s here and I’m here and I don’t know what to call it. Not fusion. Not traditional — at least, not in its surroundings. The original pop-ups were called Neighborhood Ramen Social. When they moved into the new space, Steigerwald and Pryor wanted to keep (most of) the name. It was a reminder of what they’d been doing in the first place: trying to spread the culture of ramen in Philly, to bring people together over bowls of noodle soup.
Which, of course, is perfect. It’s exactly what this is. It’s just a little neighborhood ramen shop staffed by people who love and want to share the stuff, amazing precisely for its simplicity — for that purity of purpose and craft. Neighborhood Ramen might be the most accurately named restaurant in Philly.
And for the moment, it’s also one of my favorites.
3 Stars — Come from anywhere in the region
0 stars: stay away
★: come if you have no other options
★★: come if you’re in the neighborhood
★★★: come from anywhere in the region
★★★★: come from anywhere in the country