536 East 5th Street
New York, NY 10010
The East Village has become a de facto Ramen village. It seems that there are no fewer than ten options within walking distance of each other. Just a short while ago I hoofed it over to Kuboya with Dogz for a hearty, hot, filling, delicious bowl of noodles, and here were were again. The same block, the same half of the block, the same tenth of the block. Next door. When we were at Kuboya, we were seated right away. Just next door, patrons lined up in the cold to eat at Minca. Kuboya was good. Could Minca be that much better? It was time to find out.
Minca is owned by the same people who run Kambi on 14th Street and First Avenue. It couldn't be more different from a decor perspective if it tried. Kambi is clean and modern. It's been around for a few years but it's got a new feel to it. Minca, on the other hand, looks like the kind of place you expect to get food poisoning in. There's graffiti on the exterior door, there's a pile of garbage as high as a car out front on the curb, the interior is cramped and dingy, and the staff is on top of each other in the small space. Luckily, the food was fantastic.
Honestly, there is no getting around it. Minca's ramen was superb. Dogz and I were lucky and only waited five minutes to get a seat. By the time we left, the crowd on the sidewalk had grown to a dozen people. At least it wasn't too cold this evening. The small table we were given was right up against another small table, so expect to share your conversation. We shared our discussion about 1980s action movies and they shared their discussion about some album that the guy was trying to make. Then we ordered the Pork Gyoza (I never did care for shrimp gyoza) which was delicious, save for the dipping sauce which was too tart and vinegary. Nevertheless, I would surely get this again in a heartbeat.
Like most ramen joints, Minca has a selection of broths (chicken, vegetable, pork, miso, and various mixes of them) and noodles (thick, thin, wavy, wheat, and bean) to choose from, into which they will add their fixin's. I like my ramen spicy and Minca didn't disappoint with my Spicy Basic Ramen in a pork broth with thin noodles. Scallions, sprouts, an egg, mushroom, and a hearty, fatty piece of pork rounded out the bowl. It was nose-clearingly hot, but it was so incredibly rich. Mr Dogz, also a fan of food that has the opportunity to hurt you both going in and coming out, went for the Spicy Miso Ramen. His broth, served with corn, an egg, some pork, was even thicker than mine and also fantastic. He gave me his egg. Score! Having tried just these two broths/noodle configurations, when presented with a menu that, while small, offers a range of dozens of options, might make it seem that my ability to ably review Minca is for naught. And that might be true. But I think that these two soups were so good that the odds are that if you really prefer chicken broth ramens over spicy broth, then they'll do well there also.
So the question remains. Would I wait an hour for this a bowl of Minca ramen instead of walk five feet to Kuboya? No. Of course not. That's ridiculous. Standing idly on sidewalks is for hookers and homeless people. I have better ways of spending my time. If there's no wait, however, Minca would be my first choice for the food. The interior is another issue. As I said, it's shitty. Remember that couple that was seated at the table next to us with the would-be album? Well, the guy was huge and his girth literally expanded beyond his table into our space. We shifted our table a couple of inches for extra space but could go no further without blocking what little aisle there was for the wait staff. Even then, poor Mr. Dogz had to move his chair over a bit more so that he and Tiny wouldn't literally be touching each other. If space is a concern, then Minca's lack of it should be taken into account.
We shared the gyoza, each had a big bowl of soup, and each had a serving of sake. These plus tax and tip came to $28 each ($56).