Ramen has come a long way from its humble beginning as a cheap post-war dish for the masses. These days, ramen is the perfect microcosm of what Japanese cuisine is all about; simple dishes with a world of depth to them, executed with an almost manic attention to detail that typifies the modern Japanese chef. And where better to find the best than in Tokyo, the Ramen Mecca of Japan and, consequently, the world? One thing certainly hasn’t changed in time – everyone can enjoy a piping hot bowl. Read on to discover a selection of some of the best noodle dishes in Tokyo today.
1. Kintoki 金時
The famous bowl here is their shio (salt) clear soup base, but the chef is famed for always changing things up and offering special ramen, tantanmen and some forms of mazemen (mixed dry noodles). A soup base of chicken, pork bones, konbu, roasted Ago fish, katsuo (skipjack tuna) and saba (mackerel) is complimented by a blend of six different salts. The result is a broth which is light texturally on first sip, but then gives way to a depth of flavour and taste. Elegantly topped with roast pork charsiu or chicken charsiu (you can choose either one), a half boiled egg, bamboo shoots, and chives, Kintoki is a perfect example of the move towards highly sophisticated ramen using premium ingredients.
1-2-7 Kotakecho, Nerima-ku, Tokyo
2. Shibata しば田
The ultra-popular Shibata lives up to its considerable hype. They serve a mind-blowing bowl, and it’s worth a visit if only for that exquisite soup. That dark yet golden looking broth is made with kamo (duck), with seafood elements such as hamaguri (clam), paired with a deeply intense shoyu. The duck/clam/shoyu triple hit combo results in probably one of the best shoyu soup base ramens in Tokyo, if not Japan. So INTENSELY flavourful that it’s a wonder they are able to condense such taste into this incredible little bowl of ramen. Wonderfully tender charsiu and noodles with great bite are proverbial icing on the cake.
2-25-20 Wakabacho, Chofu, Tokyo
3. Sora no Iro ソラノイロ
Vegetarians, Sora no Iro will be your salvation – A veteran on the Tokyo ramen scene, but still one of the most innovative stores around. Sora No Iro (which translates to “Colour of The Sky”) is famous for their delicious Veggie Soba, or Veggie Ramen. The orange-hued noodles are made with paprika, while the broth is made with carrot purée, amongst other ingredients, to create a healthier and lighter riff on a traditionally heavier dish. If you prefer something more sinful, their more traditional shoyu ramen is also excellent.
1-3-10 Hirakawacho Chiyoda Tokyo
4. Kiraku 喜楽
Located in the seedy underbelly of Shibuya’s love hotel district, Kiraku exists where you wouldn’t expect there to be a legendary ramen store. Yet, it has stood the test of time, having been around since the 1950s. The definition of old-school Tokyo ramen, a hearty shoyu soup base is generously topped with a deliciously flavorful charsiu and beansprouts, like any ramen worth its salt. Ruggedly thick noodles complement the robust broth, gloriously finished with fried garlic chips. This isn’t a place to find your gourmet bowl of wild free-range pheasant ramen with a delicately sous-vided onsen tamago (the egg is boiled hard and proud!); its down and dirty, to be enjoyed elbow-to-elbow with slightly drunk salarymen.
2-17-6 Dogenzaka, Shibuya, Tokyo
5. Tsuta 蔦
The famed Tsuta is the first Michelin-rated ramen store in the world. And just how did they get that star? Their simple shoyu ramen. It’s simple only in appearance, though; the soup is made with whole Aomori Shamo chickens, Asari clams, a custom blend of premium shoyu, truffle oil and a dab of truffle paste to finish. It’s refreshing, with good balance from the clams and the flavour of the Shamo chicken coming through, while the truffle adds a fascinating spin. Artisanal homemade noodles made with a blend of 4 types of wheat are a perfect complement. The accolade has made Tsuta even busier than it already was, so much that you have to visit at 7am just to get a ticket to eat later. All worth it, of course.
PS. They are now open in Singapore, Taiwan, and Hong Kong!
1-14-1 Sugamo, Toshima, Tokyo
6. Kagari 篝
Tucked in a back alley between the glitzy retail stores and high-end sushiyas of Ginza lies this tiny, unassuming ramen shop. But take one look at the long lines snaking round the block and you’ll know how popular this place is. Known for their creamy chicken tori paitan soup that is good for your skin due to its high collagen content, it is a must-try for this genre of ramen. Complementing that velvety soup are slices of incredibly tender and moist chicken charsiu. Top it off with Kagari‘s signature local and seasonal vegetables for a beautiful touch that lends an almost Kyoto-like sensibility to this already refined bowl. Beautiful, elegant and delicious — a perfect reflection of its home in Ginza.
Kagari, 4-4-1 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
7. Tsukemen Gonokami つけ麺 五ノ神製作所
Gonokami serves shrimp soup base tsukemen (dipping noodle), and there is enough ‘shrimpiness’ in it to give you a nosebleed. The broth is a viscous, thick and almost bisque-like soup which is subtly sweet and results in an explosion of flavor. The straight, uber-thick noodles have a great mochi-like bite and the ample surface area of the noodle allows it to pick up huge globs of that gravy-like crustacean goodness. If you only ever have one bowl of shrimp tsukemen, make it this one.
5-33-16 Sendagaya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
8. Michi つけ麺 道
Perennially ranked first or second for tsukemen in the whole of Tokyo on various popular lists, and for good reason. Michi is all about impact. The thick, sludgy dipping broth is made with pork bone, chicken bone and fish, resulting in a creamy and sweet miracle of a broth that is umami personified. Each thick strand of the perfectly boiled and almost udon-like noodles picks up every ounce of that broth with each dip, ensuring nothing is missed. It also comes piping hot, an overlooked touch. One of the best.
5-28-17 Kameari, Katsushika, Tokyo
9. Miyamoto 宮元
Another tsukemen store ranked in the top three. If Michi (reviewed previously) is a heavyweight boxer that pummels you into submission with umami, Miyamoto is a ninja who throws pinpoint shurikens that targets your tastebuds. The balance is striking. The broth is a creamy concoction of niboshi and pork that is smooth, smoky and elegant in the way the flavor hits your senses. Thoughtful toppings of ajitama egg, bamboo shoots, red and white onions, and sous-vided charsiu perfectly complement the bowl. This is next level tsukemen.
7-8-1 Nishikamata, Ota-ku, Tokyo
10. Menichi Kiccho 吉兆
A store specializing in Shirakawa-style ramen, go for the shoyu on your first visit. Once you sip that soup, you’ll understand why its not your standard shoyu broth. The base is made with jidori chicken, resulting in nothing short of magnificent – a light, yet deeply flavorful broth. Coupled with tender charsiu, chewy handmade flat noodles, and awesomely marinated ajitama (marinated) egg, Menichi Kiccho is well worth a try if you need a solid bowl of ramen around Oimachi.
5-6-6 Higashi, Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo
11. Mouko Tanmen Nakamoto 蒙古
A non-traditional ramen style, Mouko Tanmen Nakamoto specializes in extremely spicy ramen, perfect for you who want to slurp your stress away. For the intrepid, try the Hokkyoku Ramen or Hiyashi Hokkyoku ramen, both of which is served with Chinese red chilis and come in a terrifying spicy red color. For milder (but still spicy) soups, Mouko Tanmen Nakato offers a miso-based ramen with spicy mapo tofu on top. Non-spicy alternatives are also available.
Mikasa Bldg B1F, 7-8-11 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
And of course don’t forget the usual ramen place both locals and tourists go to – AFURI, Mutekiya, Ichiran, and NAKIRYU (second Michelin-star ramen shop). PS. THERE WILL BE LINES.
Thanks for reading everyone. Let me know your thoughts and questions on the comments down below!