Tonchin: Miracle on 36th Street

Tonchin is better than it has to be. 

You can find it hidden in the arid epicurean desert of Lower Midtown, in the shadow of the Empire State Building, around the corner from tour bus parking, behind the halal shawarma and soft pretzel cart, past the Pret a Manger, but before you get to the other Pret a Manger.

It may not surprise you that this neighborhood has an unrefined Asian food palate.  Each of the four bodega-buffets on the block has the same chafing dish of stale lo mein.  The Chinese restaurants are sticky with canola oil.  The Thai restaurants all serve sushi.  Sure, you can get good Korean barbecue on 32nd Street, but the only noodles you will find there come in a rectangular brick.

To cook good ramen here is an act of defiance.

I am grateful to have this ramen oasis.  My office is two blocks away, just between the Amazon bookstore and the lone Amazon bookstore protester, so this fills a major need in my life.  (There is one other option nearby, but it is not very good for groups.)

I visited Tonchin with my friend and longtime ramen companion Soojin and her two sons.  They are teenagers, and I was hungry, so we ordered everything.

The standout hit was the Spicy Tan Tan Ramen, which was rich and spicy and nutty and crunchy and porky and all the things you want from Tan Tan.  The chashu pork was thin and lean, which is my absolute favorite.  The noodles were nice and toothy.  It wasn’t perfect though.  The menma was too large for easy chewing, and the chili threads were beautiful at first but looked like wet hair when submerged.

Were there other hits?  Possibly the gyoza, which were striving for greatness in both form (circular) and presentation (a steamy sizzling skillet).  Possibly the tonkotsu ramen, which by all accounts was fatty and delicious.  The rice balls were good enough to order again—and I did on my return visit a few weeks later—but I prefer your average convenience store rice ball for its superior grain density and innovative packaging.

Let’s summarize: If you find yourself in Lower Midtown, leave Lower Midtown.  If that fails, Tonchin will serve you well.

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