There’s very little I can say about ramen that former City Paper food editor Drew Lazor has not already said. In “Times New Ramen,” the story he wrote for March’s Meal Ticket magazine, Drew examined our nascent noodle-soup scene — and the venom, vitriol and general whininess with which it had been met. Indeed, everybody loves ramen. But not as much as everyone loves to bitch about it.
So thank the ramen gods for Nom Nom in Rittenhouse, the unassuming Center City soup shop that’s been able to silence the whiners. Since March, Chinese-restaurant vet Alan Su has been brewing his proprietary tonkotsu, a pork broth as fatty and smooth as Biggie Smalls. Simmered more than 24 hours to coax the maximum flavor from the assorted bones and trim, Su’s tonkotsu is so rich with collagen you almost have to chew it.
This liquid forms the base of Nom Nom’s four ramen options listed on a marker-board by the registers: shio (seasoned with salt and white soy sauce), shoyu (seasoned with dark soy sauce), miso and karai (spicy) miso. I’ve had them all, and though I’m not the ramen scholar many of the complainers profess to be, I came away from each bowl very, very satisfied.
Beneath tender tangles of custom-made, Hakata-style noodles, Su tops each soup more or less the same, with slabs of luscious, fatty chashu pork belly, spice-rubbed, roasted, confit-ed and braised; crunchy bamboo with a fermented bite; chopped scallions; fleshy kikurage “jelly ear” mushrooms; and a wheel of narutomaki, the scalloped-edged fish cake whose pink spiral represents the infamous whirlpools in Japan’s Naruto Strait. The shio gets fine pink threads of pickled ginger. The karai, my favorite, gets a dribble of Nom Nom Sauce, a bewitching house blend of black garlic sauce, yuzu, sesame oil and spices. All should be ordered with the optional soft-boiled egg, a soy-tanned sphere with a shiny, gooey, gold deposit of yolk that enriches the broth even further.
More than the ramen, though, the sleeper hit at Nom Nom is the pork buns, two to an order and light as the parasols and rice-paper lanterns that seem to float above the tables. Glazed and seared, Su’s chashu pork achieves a higher level of deliciousness, one reached between the folds of a steamed white bun dabbed with spicy mayo, hoisin and mango-coconut dressing. There might not be much new I can say about ramen, but no one’s had the last word on pork buns yet. So here it is: Nom Nom’s, if not the best, are at least my favorite in town. Let the controversy begin.
20 S. 18th St., 215-988-0898, nomnomramen.com. Lunch served daily, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; dinner served daily, 5-9 p.m. Ramen, $7.87-$12.96; sides, $5.56.