Montclair’s immensely popular Ani Ramen House finally lives up to its name — ani meaning big brother in Japanese — with the opening of the long-awaited sister restaurant in Jersey City.
With a celebrity backer in legendary rap producer Just Blaze (he’s known for his work with Jay Z, Beyonce, Kanye West, and Kendrick Lamar, among many others), the Jersey City Ani Ramen, from Luck Sarabhayavanija and his wife Anne Fernando, opened Monday, and the narrow brick-walled space, lit with Edison bulbs and touches of neon, seems to be as instantly popular as its sibling. (And it doesn’t take reservations, either.)
“Luck has done some great things with Ani in Montclair in a very short period of time and the location in Jersey City is in the perfect place to continue this run,” Just Blaze, who is from Paterson and now lives in Hoboken, tells NJ.com. “Lots of foot traffic in a rapidly budding neighborhood along with the great vibe and ambiance we could collectively deliver made this a no-brainer.”
Ramen is the humble but cultish synergy of chewy noodles in an umami-packed broth with fixings that may include braised pork belly or shoulder, chicken, mushrooms, bean sprouts, scallions, and ajitama, a marinated soft-boiled egg. David Chang is widely credited for popularizing ramen in America with the 2004 opening of Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York City, but outside of Fort Lee, which has the highest percentage of Japanese-Americans in New Jersey, New Jersey had few ramen joints until Ani Ramen House opened in 2014 in Montclair.
At least eight other ramen restaurants have opened in the state in the last year — Ramen Gami and the brand-new Ramen Fukorow in Newark; Fujiya Ramen in Montclair; Hakata Ramen in Livingston; Ramen Nagomi in New Brunswick; Genji Ramen in Princeton; and Edo Ramen in Princeton and Clifton, not to mention Jose Garces’ Okatshe in Atlantic City, whose menu has a heavy ramen presence.
Though ramen has traditionally been made from a pork bone broth (and there is a classic version on Ani Ramen’s menu), the restaurant offers three versions with chicken broth and an excellent vegetarian version with three kinds of Japanese mushrooms, roasted bean sprouts and spinach (all ramen $14). They’re all made with noodles from Bergen County’s famed Sun Noodle, which also supplies Momofuku and other top restaurants.
Sarabhayavanija says vegetarian ramen was the one of the biggest questions from locals before the Montclair opening, and in fact the menu is very veggie-friendly, with one standout is the fried tofu steamed buns with shredded cabbage and pickled cucumber and Ani Ramen’s signature spicy miso mayo made with Japan’s tangy Kewpie mayonnaise ($6).
Just Blaze’s favorite buns are tempura shrimp with the soy sake glaze ($8), but he says his favorite dish is the “amazing” chicken wings two ways, with 7-spice dry rub and sake soy glaze ($8).
A new addition to the Jersey City menu: a trio of the restaurant’s favorite appetizers, oshitashi spinach, sesame cucumber and spicy bean sprouts ($7), but otherwise the menu is similar to Montclair’s (the chili-charred edamame, $5, and the crispy pork gyoza, $8, are also beloved).
Unlike Montclair’s BYO, Ani Ramen in Jersey City, which can seat 73 with another 40 in the outdoorNo reser courtyard, has a full bar featuring more than two dozen Japanese whiskies plus speciality cocktails. In keeping with the liquor license and the neighborhood’s younger demographics, the restaurant will open to 1 a.m. Sundays through Thursdays and to 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays (with a smaller menu from midnight on), plus lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays only.