Like Corrado Bakery on the Upper East Side, Ramen Thukpa in Greenwich Village is one of those rarities: a restaurant or café that serves inexpensive, delicious food in a high rent neighborhood. It’s the kind of place you fear is always on the brink of closing, because it’s just too good to be true. A Japanese ramen shop with a Tibetan twist—thenthuk (hand-pulled noodles) and momos, silken dumplings—Ramen Thukpa is a small triangular restaurant with large windows that allow you to slurp your soup from a great Village vantage point. The price point can’t be beat, and it’s the perfect place to go before or after a date at any of the area’s terrific Off-Broadway theaters: Barrow Street, Cherry Lane, Minetta Lane, Lucille Lortel, the Gym at Judson, and the 13th Street Repertory, to name a few.
Unfortunately, theaters were dark last Monday when my avid theatergoer friend Hilary was visiting from Boston. That morning we had been going back and forth between ideas for the evening, that awkward dance that occurs when two friends are trying to be polite but also trying to sneek in their own agenda. However, if there’s something I’ve learned from years of family vacations, it’s this: the important thing is to make a plan, any plan—it doesn’t matter if it’s not the best.
While Hilary was out visiting old haunts at the Upper West Side, I Googled around for movies and saw that that the Independent Film Channel Center (IFC Center), situated smack in the middle of Greenwich Village, was showing programs of Oscar-nominated short documentaries, I had our plan: a 7:05 showing with dinner at Ramen Thukpa afterwards. Hilary, an easygoing houseguest, said, “Sure!”
Before I get to the joys of crab rangoon and dan dan ramen, I just want to put in a plug for seeing documentary shorts on the big screen—well the screen at IFC Center is more like the size that wealthy Hollywood moguls have in their living rooms. We watched Traffic Stop, a harrowing story of a black schoolteacher and the brutal treatment she received when stopped for a routine traffic violation by police in Austin Texas. Next came Edith + Eddie, a moving tale of a late-late interracial love tragically disrupted by family squabbles and the intervention of a legal guardian. And the program finale was the award-winning short, Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405. A biopic of mentally ill artist Mindy Alper, this was harrowing in its way, too, but offers a redemptive, soul-warming finish. We left IFC feeling moved, educated…and hungry. It was 8:45 PM.
Ramen Thukpa is small, but you’ll always manage to find a seat. Crab rangoon ($4.50) is a retro delight that reminds me of the fried pork wontons ($6.75) at Latino-Chino outpost Flor de Mayo: three thin fried triangular packets of crab and cream cheese with a sweet/sour dipping sauce. And while a bowl of ramen soup now runs at least $15 at most NYC ramen joints, the most pricey bowl at Ramen Thukpa is $12. I had the Dan Dan ramen soup for only $10, delighting in how the restaurant had taken the fiery Szechuan dry noodle dish of chilli peppers and ground pork and converted it into a soup with a miso broth, laced with peanut sauce. We had six shrimp dumplings that were heavy on the scallions, more momo than gyoza. Hilary was happy with her Buddha Ramen ($12.00), a shoyu (soy) based broth with all sorts of lovely veggies swimming among the noodles: corn, agedashi tofu, spinach, and a sprinkling of "menma" (flavorful lactate-fermented bamboo shoots). “I can’t believe I finished the whole thing,” Hilary said, her red soup spoon scraping the pretty melamine bowl. And we did, and went out into the blustery March night, well fortified, body and soul.