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$20 Dinner

Mad Ramen Scientists Reign at Long Island City’s Instant Noodle Factory

The selection of 88 different noodle packages, plus some 35 toppings, means you'll have plenty of (tasty) decisions to make.

A bowl of Ramdon noodles from Instant Noodle Factory in Long Island City, Queens, New York.
(Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Instant Noodle Factory, which opened at the end of June in Long Island City, is a lot of fun. It offers a really good, satisfying meal starring the headliner ingredient, but be prepared: there are a bunch of steps you have to navigate before you can start slurping. 

Get ready to make some serious decisions—and to cook your own food.  

"I'm originally from Hong Kong," said Tat Lee, who co-owns the place with his partner Sierra Beck, "and we love instant noodles. Similar concepts to this exist in Asia, mainly in Korea and Thailand, but they're more basic. We wanted to make it more of an experience here." 

Behold: the noodle wall. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

That experience starts at the noodle wall, where 88 different varieties, imported from at least seven countries, are mounted for your selection. These are somewhat helpfully divided into categories, like seafood, spicy, miso, and cheese. But if you, like me, are a little rusty in your instant noodle knowledge, this part of the process might be a bit overwhelming. Things have changed a lot in this market since I was scarfing 25 cent packs of Nissin Top Ramen with a pint of cottage cheese stirred in during those beery, bleary 1980s. 

My semi-disastrous creation, before cooking: white sesame Tseng noodles, corn, furikake, gyoza, egg, and spam, $14. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Then it's onto the toppings, of which there are also many. You can pile on the free stuff (kimchi, corn, ghost pepper), add proteins ($2 for chicken franks, $3 for tofu, $5 for beef birria), and premium items like pork shumai ($2.50), fish cakes ($1.50), and American cheese (50 cents). Maybe open your Notes app to keep track of your choices? Because next up is the touchscreen ordering monitor, at which you'll have to scroll around and find everything again.        

If that sounds too stressful to deal with, especially when there's only a single order screen and a line of people waiting behind you, you can instead simply select one of the eight preset combo bowls, including the "Duck Duck Noods"—with a duck broth, pulled duck leg, scallions, plus a soft-boiled egg—and a classic tonkotsu with chashu, marinated egg, and nori.  

The noodle-cooking machine in action. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Did you think your work was done? Not even close. After ordering via machine, you mill around for a moment until a runner—the first Instant Noodle Factory employee you'll have interacted with since you walked in—appears from behind the back curtain bearing a brick of uncooked noodles in an induction bowl, plus whatever toppings you chose and the seasoning packets, all neatly arranged on tray with starburst-shaped note indicating which numbered button to push on what I guess you'd call the cooking machine.    

The bowl fits snugly in the grooved base of the apparatus, the correct amount of boiling water spurts down, and the timer kicks in. It's suggested that you stir your noodles three times while cooking, so pay attention. It's also suggested that, before assembling, you dump your excess, scalding-hot liquid into a garbage can. Not a sink or a drain, just a straight-up, plastic-bagged garbage can. How is that not a disaster waiting to happen? 

The massive Ramdon combo, featuring two noodle packs, after cooking, $13. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Fearing panic at the kiosk, I tried two of Instant Noodle Factory's preset combos, and both were excellent. The ramdon, also known as jjapaguri and perhaps familiar to fans of the movie "Parasite," comes with two seperate noodle packs (one with blackbean sauce, the other spicy seafood flavored), plus slabs of brisket and scallions. It's a big, beefy, sticky, slippery meal.

The Mala Madness combo, after cooking and mixing, $8.50. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

The Mala Madness combo bowl was just as hearty and even more perky, the spicy chicken-flavored Buldak brand noodles served with slices of cheddar jalapeño sausage, Sichuan peppercorns, and finely grated parmesan. Great stuff. I would have killed for either of these dishes instead of that cottage cheese nonsense I was eating in my youth. 

My Frankenstein's monster, $14. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

My own creation at Instant Noodle Factory was, shall we say, less successful, which I attribute to just hitting random ingredients on the screen because there was a line of like ten people waiting and I didn't want anyone to hate me for taking too long. It was also my most expensive bowl, with white sesame Tseng brand noodles, corn, furikake, gyoza, egg, Spam, and probably a couple of other things. Like I said, it was a bit stressful, but having just one touchscreen helps keep the staff in the back from getting too swamped with orders. 

Inside Instant Noodle Factory. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

"Long Island City is our home," Beck told Hell Gate. "We thought people here would be really open to the instant noodle restaurant concept, and so far everyone's really, really enjoyed it. In fact, we hope to expand one day. We've had a lot of people tell us, 'I live in Manhattan, open one over here,' and we hope to go there next."  

Seat yourself wherever you can. There are three tables near the window, and a long counter running along one wall fronted with stools. Be a hero and bring a small pair of scissors with you to cut open the little plastic packets of dry or wet seasonings, then throw in all the additional stuff, and now you are ready to eat. 

(Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Instant Noodle Factory is located at 24-11 41st Avenue, between 24th and Crescent Streets, and is currently open on weekdays from 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. for lunch, and then again from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. for dinner, and on Saturday and Sunday from 11:30 to 8:30 straight through.   

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