My First Taste of Onya Japanese Noodles
I was pretty excited when the company that owns Beard Papa announced that they would be bringing the Onya Japanese Noodle chain to the US. Admittedly I’ve never been to Osaka, so I’m not really the best person to confirm or refute their claim of being the very first udon spot in New York City to offer freshly made Osaka style udon… but it sounded good enough! And unlike Udon West, which is just a block away on 46th btw. Lex+3rd, their menu seems far less interested in dumbing things down for the Western customer.
I have to admit, my first trip to Onya was not exactly ideal. I had seen their menu before going, and that menu had photos of each of the items- but you’d be surprised how unhelpful those photos can be to a first time Udon eater (udon from generic delis doesn’t count.)
To make matters worse, I completely missed the giant poster in the front of the store explaining what each of the soups were. (A highly recommended read for the udon virgins.)
Thankfully they were offering a Grand Opening Special… order any size bukkake udon, and get one free tempura topping. Well, that made my choice easier! I think I have heard of bukkake [nsfw], but have never had bukkake Udon before… but whatever. Free tempura!
I went with the medium size, so I could order more tempura- which cost $1 each as add ons to any soup, provided you order at least two (done and done.) I went with the shrimp (big money item, that’s how I do it!), eggplant, and veggie thingy. I was there kind of late in the day, so the tempura was on the cold side- but whatever. It’s still good! And considering that the same tempura costs twice as much at a place like Chiyoda Sushi, I ain’t complaining.
The bukkake was interesting, but less bowl of soup than noodles with a small amount of broth at the bottom. It came topped with grated daikon, shredded seaweed and scallions, and the combo of all the flavors was clean, and delicious. But if you’re looking for a big bowl of soup, this is not it.
For that you’ll have to go with the Sanuki Kake Udon, which I tried on my second visit (after reading the descriptions this time.) Once again I went with the medium, so that I could add three pieces of tempura to my order without going over the Midtown Lunch price limit. The broth was salty, and flavorful, and while not a revelation- it was a good bowl of soup for $5. Clearly the selling point is the noodles which are perfectly chewy- and a welcome contrast to the completely overcooked mushy udon you get at all the delis in Midtown that dare to offer “udon”.
Once again I got there on the late side, so the tempura was cold- but I’m sure the chicken, squid, and pumpkin taste far better if you get there before 1pm. (Although if you can’t decide, the first three I tried were much better than these three.)
They also have a little station between the check out and the seating area where you can add hot pepper and tempura crunchies to your soup! (Who doesn’t like tempura crunchies???)
I can’t say for sure if the udon at Onya is better than the version at Udon West, but I like the concept better. I will always take ordering at a counter over ordering from a waiter (save on tip!), and Onya has their assembly line down pretty well at this point. And there’s a great seating area in the back- although it probably fills up pretty quick during peak lunch times. But what I like the most is that you have a lot of options to customizing the size of your lunch.
You have three options for bowl size… the small (who the hell would order this?!?), the medium (decent size if you plan on adding on a ton of tempura), and the large (a normal size bowl of soup.)
And the whole tempura thing just puts it over the top. I love the variety of options, and the fact that you can add as many as you want to your order piece by piece.
I think I’ll need to go back and try the curry udon and the beef udon before giving this place the full +/- but I will say this… if you are looking for a ramen style of soup, filled with all sorts of meat and goodies- this is probably not the place for you. The soups are pretty minimalist, and more about the noodles than anything else. Plus ordering the versions with meat get this place dangerously close to not being a Midtown Lunch. In fact, even though the menu looks cheap enough… I can see how lunch could get expensive trying to replicate the amount of food you get at a Midtown ramen joint.
Of course this is udon, not ramen… and if you’re down with udon, I would recommend checking it out. Can any Osaka udon specialists weigh in on how close this comes to the cheap versions of udon you can get in Japan? Put your thoughts in the comments…
Onya, 143 East 47th St. (btw. Lex+3rd) 212-715-0460