Cool Cabbie, Top Ramen

September 4, 2009

A film editor by day who drives his father’s taxi two nights a week, Eric Rodriguez keeps his distance from cyberspace and the world of perpetual communication (He’s not on Facebook or Twitter. He only got a cell phone two years ago because his girlfriend insisted).

Lucky for my co-adventurer and me, the Astoria native is totally plugged in to his city and its amazing food.

After an enlightening chat about the magnificence of bacon, his relationship to hacking (his dad started driving a taxi when came home from Vietnam in 1972 but doesn’t want his son to be a full-time cabbie) and the best part of the job (“People are nicer than you think.”), Eric filled us in on some of his favorite restaurants:

Indigo (2850 31st St, Astoria, Queens, 718-728-0050), where they make the best baby back ribs he’s ever had (and where he took his girlfriend for her birthday a few weeks ago).

Watawa Sushi (3310 Ditmars Blvd, Astoria, Queens, 718-545-9596), where his favorite dish is beef negimaki (broiled and rolled with scallions in teriyaki sauce)

Buon Appetit (3612 Ditmars Blvd, Astoria, Queens, 718-726-2794) Though he’s a Yankee fan, Eric claims that bacon is the reason he orders the New York Yankee sandwich (with Black Forest ham, melted Swiss, bacon, lettuce, tomato & Russian dressing)

Golden Dragon (51 Division St., Chinatown, 212-226-5087), which he discovered watching Cash Cab and where he now goes for dim sum (Note: I’ve heard mixed reviews of this place, and rumor has it they defied a closing order by the Health Department).

When he’s craving a good bowl of noodles, Eric heads to Ramen Setagaya, which is where he dropped us off before returning to the night.

Voted best ramen in New York by New York Magazine in 2008, this no-nonsense noodle bar (every seat is a stool and options are few on the laminated menu) is well-known among the city’s ramen snobs.

One taste of Shio Chasyumen (salt-based ramen, $11.50), and my co-adventurer and I joined the ranks of the ramen-obsessed.

Spaghetti-sized noodles bathed in a flavor-packed fish-based broth with bamboo shoots, scallions, seaweed, mushrooms, medallions of poached pork, and a single pickled egg. A busy dish, but nothing could distract us from the fresh, firm perfection of those noodles (According to New York Magazine, the noodle slingers at Setagaya use cooking machines with special timers to ensure that the ramen are al dente every time).

In Shio Cha-Suya Tsuke-men ($11.50), the noodles are served separately from their intensely seasoned broth (with rice vinegar, chunks of pork and scallops). If you adore good starch as much as I do, this is the stuff. The ramen were thick, chewy, and flawless. When we dunked them in the broth, their deliciousness only became more obvious.

Simple, unassuming, quietly outstanding – this was our meal at the East Village ramen bar, and so was our easy-going, bacon-loving, off the grid cabbie.

Ramen Setagaya
141 First Ave. (near 9th St.) – St. Mark’s
Tel: 212-529-2740
Hours: Sun-Thu, 12-3pm & 4:30pm-11pm; Fri-Sat, 12-3pm & 4:30pm-midnight
Prices: $9.50-$13.00
Cash only

All photos by Lilian Moreira

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