Monday, December 28, 2015

In heavily Asian Fort Lee, no-frills ramen parlor arrives by way of Korea

A vegetarian version of Miso Ramen with an extra-cost topping of fresh spinach at Menya Sandaime in Fort Lee.

Karakuchi Ramen with fatty slices of pork gets a little heat from Korean pepper.

Editor's note: Today, I discuss some of the changes in the dining scene in Fort Lee, which boasts a diversity you can't find in neighboring Palisades Park.


Fort Lee clearly remains the leading destination in North Jersey for lovers of Asian food.

New and old Korean, Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants tease the palate of the adventurous, and filling, inexpensive meals are widely available.

Menya Sandaime, the borough's third ramen parlor, took a circuitous route, according to Chopsticks NY, a free English-language guide published by a Japanese newspaper.

The ramen parlor's "parent company is a yakiniku barbecue restaurant in Tokyo [that] opened a popular ramen chain in Korea," according to an August 2014 review in Chopsticks NY.

The spot in Fort Lee, a Hudson River town with many Korean and Japanese residents, is its first branch in the United States. 

Last Friday, a review in The Record of Woodland Park identified Menya Sandaime as "part of a South Korea-based chain," but didn't mention its Japanese origins.

Cheap and filling

The menu is limited, but filled with comfort food:

Tokyo- and Sapporo-style ramens for $8.50 to $11 each (plus such extra-cost toppings as spinach and boiled egg halves); a stir-fried dish with seafood, a couple of small rice bowls topped with pork or beef, and pan-fried pork dumplings.

On Saturday afternoon, we waited only about 10 minutes before we were seated at a table for four. 

Depending on the review, Menya Sandaime has 22 or 25 seats, but when the restaurant is busy, customers also are seated in an employee break room.

Don't expect any frills. 

The floor in the dining room and unisex bathroom appears to be bare concrete, and the music on the sound system is loud, perhaps to encourage you to eat and leave as quickly as possible.

The ramen -- pork-bone broth, house-made wheat noodles, hard-boiled egg, vegetables and fatty pork belly -- doesn't quite fill the bowl.

Still, this is a cheap, tasty and filling meal.

The best ramen in Fort Lee? 

I haven't eaten ramen in several years at the other spots, Batten Ramen and Ramen Setagaya, so I'll let their loyal customers fight it out.

At Menya Sandaime, bowls of ramen come with a wooden ladle you use as a spoon, and chopsticks.

Vegetarian options

I love Asian soups, but don't eat meat, so looking at the menu, my eyes were drawn to Ankake Yaki Ramen, a dish of noodles topped with seafood.

The server said they were stir-fried.

But I could have a vegetarian version of Miso Ramen ($11), a soup made with soybean paste, by eliminating the pork, and I understood the server to say a vegetarian broth also is used.

It was a delicious bowl of soup filled with firm noodles, cabbage and bean sprouts, but I'm not sure the fresh-spinach topping was worth $2.

My boiled egg half was cold, and the yolk was hard.

My wife and son ordered Tonkotsu Ramen ($8.50) and a spicy Karakuchi Ramen ($9.50), respectively, plus two orders of pork dumplings, and they enjoyed all of it.

You get six Gyoza (pork dumplings) per order for $4.90. Though I didn't try them, because I don't eat meat, I'm skeptical of one newspaper critic who claims they are the best in North Jersey.

Menya Sandaime is a BYO with seating at tables and at a counter facing the kitchen.

The small dining room on Saturday around 4 p.m. Loud music discourages lingering.

The menu is presented in an open box.

Menya Sandaime occupies the first floor of an old house on a street with new construction and high-rises.


Menya Sandaime, 1638 Parker Ave., 1st Floor, Fort Lee; 1-201-482-4141. Open 7 days. 

The name translates to "third-generation noodle shop," according to one review. BYO, metered street parking and small lot behind building.

In the Oak Tree Center, below, you'll find Batten Ramen, the first ramen parlor in Fort Lee (2024 Center Ave., cash only).

Next door to Batten Ramen is Saigon Kitchen, below, a restaurant that specializes in Vietnamese pho, a noodle soup with an anise-flavored broth.

In addition to several phos, Saigon Kitchen's menu also offers a tamarind soup.

Vegetarian Pho also is offered.

Soba Noodle Azuma, the flagship U.S. branch of a large Japanese chain serving handmade buckwheat noodles and other dishes, opened at 246 Main St. in Fort Lee, opposite Ramen Setagaya.

After 25 years, Silver Pond Seafood Restaurant at 230 Main St. has closed for renovations, according to signs on the front doors, below.

Silver Pond's lunchtime dim-sum service was eclipsed by Lan Garden, 88 Route 46 west in Ridgefield, where dumplings and other treats are available all day and late into the night.

The Silver Pond sign is dated Sept. 1, 2015, and construction permits are visible nearby.


  1. They buy from Restaurant Depot. Don't think the meat is antibiotic free and may have hormones added. Consider letting your readers know.

    1. You just did. I'm assuming you are referring to Menya Sandaime.

      The way pork is raised in the United States is horrific. I wouldn't touch it with a 10-foot pole, but have had less success getting family members to avoid it.

    2. Just came across a Chopsticks NY magazine ad for Menya Sandaime in Fort Lee showing extra-cost pork slices "from Philadelphia" for Tonkotsu Ramen.

    3. Victor, is there an email I can reach you at?

    4. You can use the email address at the top right of my blog's facing page.


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