Word of Mouth: A Little Curiosity Leads to a Culinary Surprise


Although Totto Ramen has a secluded entrance, it still draws a steady crowd for lunch and dinner. (Darryl Yu/The Observer)

We all know that New York City is one of the greatest metropolises in the world. Filled with all sorts of fun activities and unique characters, there is always something to do in the city that never sleeps. However, for a college student living on a tight budget, trying everything that New York City has to offer can quickly burn a hole in your wallet.  This goes the same when trying out food.

As college students living on a tight budget we often restrict ourselves to eating out in the same places over and over again because it’s more convenient. But as easy as it is to get set in our ways, we always have to remember one thing: we’re living in one of the culinary capitals of the world! Filled with all sorts of foods from all over the world, finding a new and most importantly a cheap place in New York City comes down to one factor, being observant of your surroundings.

Take last week for example. Looking for a place to get lunch between my two afternoon classes, I headed towards my usual “quick burger” place (Lucky’s Famous Burgers). As I walked down the block towards Lucky’s, I noticed a large number of people disappear underneath a brownstone building. Initially unfazed by the group’s disappearance, I suddenly saw more people rush towards the basement of the brownstone. Curious to see what was going on, I decided to check it out and see what all the commotion was all about. What I saw next surprised me!

Right in front of me was a small but cozy, Japanese style ramen bar. Called “Totto Ramen”, it was nestled between two brownstone buildings; the small restaurant had an appealing mysterious quality to it despite its “sketchy” location. Intrigued by its unique location I decided to forgo my original burger meal and try out some ramen.

Walking down the cold and foreign basement steps, I was suddenly met with a friendly face that greeted me with “irasshaimase” (the Japanese word for welcome). Stunned by the sudden greeting from the waitress, I was pelted by more greetings from all sorts of people as I made my way to the ramen bar. From the chefs at the bar to the trash boys at the back, the friendliness of the staff made me feel like I was part of the “ramen bar crew.”

Finally seating myself down on the bar overlooking the steaming pots and pans of the kitchen, I felt like I wasn’t in New York City anymore. Surrounded by a Japanese staff, I knew this place had to serve decent if not authentic Japanese food.

Picking up the menu in front of me, I was met with a number of delicious ramen bowl choices. There was the Totto spicy ramen, filled with scallions, char siu pork, bean sprouts and nori. It claimed to add a refreshing spicy kick in their ramen with their spicy sesame oil. In addition, there was the vegetable ramen which offered health conscious eaters a mixture of seaweed and shiitake-mushroom-based soup.  Despite all the choices, I decided to play it safe and order the Totto chicken paitan ramen. Topped off with homemade noodles, chicken and a premium soy-sauce-based soup it was a perfect bowl for people wanting to take their first crack at ramen.

Emerging from the mist of the kitchen not long after I placed my order, the ramen bowl was a welcoming relief to my hungry stomach. Freshly transferred from the cooking pot to my bowl, it was everything I could have asked for in a quick lunch.

As I took my handy dandy chopsticks and spoon I started to indulge in my little Japanese treat. Slurping the freshly made noodles with delight, I was taken aback when I started eating the thinly sliced chicken. Just like butter, the extreme temperature of the ramen mixture had actually made the normally tough chicken meat soft and tender. Backed with a strong soy-sauce-based soup, the Totto chicken ramen dish had achieved perfect harmony between all different ingredients. Impressed by the dish, I had completely cleaned my bowl (including drinking the soup which, mind you, appeared to be free of MSG!).

With my belly full I was ready to go on to my 6:30 Rose Hill class…ugh! Despite only accepting cash and being very stuffy inside (due to the steam from the kitchen), Totto Ramen was a very welcoming and exclusive place filled with a taste of life in Japan.

Never forget to check out what’s around you while you are taking a stroll in the city. You never know what you can find around the corner in the Big Apple. If I hadn’t noticed those people going into the brownstone I would have never found Totto Ramen. Check out Totto Ramen if you have some time. It’s the perfect location for a quick lunch or a place for comfort food from the hectic world of a college student.


Totto Ramen
Rating: 4/5
$$ out of $$$$$
Where: 366 W. 52nd St. (between 8th & 9th Ave.) New York, NY 10019
Darryl’s Recommendation: Totto Chicken Ramen


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