Ramen is so far beyond being a trend that noteworthy noodle openings are as commonplace as the launch of new local-seasonal restaurants, or wood-burning pizza spots. But the fact that Mu Ramen — which frequently commands several hour waits for a table — is located in Queens? That’s a pretty surefire indication that the borough has finally arrived.
Owned by Joshua Smookler, formerly of Per Se, and his wife, Heidy, the eatery actually began life as a pop-up, located in a nearby bagel shop (and occasionally, the couple’s own apartment). But after being inundated with requests for reservations after a glowing write-up in the New York Times, Mu Ramen was permanently reborn in a 25-seat space in Long Island City, dominated by benches (to make cooling your heels before dinner just a tad comfier) as well as an (always filled) communal table.
The eatery is currently cash only, so you’ll want to come prepared — in contrast to the ascetic Ramen Lab, New York’s other buzzy new noodle spot (which offers just two restrained soups and plates of gyoza), there are lots of appealing options at Mu. Take the “U & I,” a bowl of rice piled high with a seafood explosion of spicy maguro, ikura, and fat, quivering lobes of uni, or the Tebaski Gyoza; not dumplings, but deep-fried chicken wings, padded with a luxurious layer of foie gras and brioche (perhaps they’re Smookler’s homage to that infamous bird at the NoMad).
And then there’s the main event — the ramen — of which there are four kinds. Just in time for winter, the “Totally Chicken” is good for what ails you; a heady penicillin of confit chicken, roasted nori and ‘aroma oils,’ while the “Spicy Miso” has what it takes to slice straight through a head cold, fortified with salty red miso and laked with scarlet swirls of chili oil. Mu also offers their take on the beloved Tonkotsu, an intensely rich and creamy potage of pork bones, simmered for 16 hours and ladled around chunks of chashu pork jowl and fans of kikurage (cloud ear fungus). But the signature, don’t-miss “Mu Ramen” is actually the least traditional; an oxtail and bone marrow-based broth bobbing with brisket, cabbage, scallions and believe it or not, spears of half sour pickle (Korean-American Smookler was adopted and raised by a Jewish family).
Just call him the Ivan Orkin of Queens.