Meet udon, the deliciously fat, chewy noodles that are the star of this revered, 25-year-old Japanese noodle shop.

By Elyse Inamine
Updated May 31, 2017
Mentai Cream
Credit: © Dining Innovation New York, INC

At Tsurutontan, which just opened in New York City, the flour and salt fly in from Japan—as do the head chefs tasked with introducing an overlooked noodle soup to the States.

“Udon isn’t as recognized as ramen in the U.S.,” Joji Uematsu, Tsurutontan’s vice president of dining innovation, laments. “But opening in New York is the quickest way to get people to know udon and our brand.”

Mentaiko Caviar Udon
Credit: © Dining Innovation New York, INC

And he’s right: The first U.S. outpost of the Japan’s 12 shop-strong chain has been getting press ever since it became the tenant of one particular space, the old Union Square Café. Since summer, Uematsu and the team have been renovating the restaurant as well as testing domestic products in their distinctly Japanese dishes, like California uni for noodle toppings and good ol’ New York tap water for the dough, the latter which Uematsu notes is similar to the hardness of Osaka’s waters.

However, the storied noodle of Japan’s Sanuki prefecture is the draw here—and the must-order.

Credit: © Dining Innovation New York, INC

Mixed, kneaded and aged carefully every day, the noodles are served sparely in the traditional kitsune udon and more whimsically with hot-pink mentai, or marinated roe. There are appetizers, like hulking shrimp tempura and sashimi salad, to appease the American habit of coursing our meals. Cocktails are coming. And Tsurutontan isn’t stopping there.

“We want to spread out, “ Uematsu says, detailing the company’s five-year plan to expand to ten locations across the country.

If you can't get in, get your udon on with these recipes:

Stir-Fried: Chef Takashi Yagihashi of Chicago’s Slurping Turtle tosses udon with shrimp and three types of mushrooms for this fast dish.

Brothy: Saison’s Joshua Skenes gives his chicken noodle soup a Japanese bent.

Deep-Fried: Nori-spiked salt seasons these crispy sticks of udon.

Spicy: Author Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee simmers the noodles with clams, scallions and two types of chiles.