The Definitive Ramen Consensus in Tokyo!
When a ramen fan dining in Tokyo for the first time, it must be extremely confusing with lots of choices and also lots of guide books. There are not only lots of establishments but also different styles of ramen. I personally find it information overloaded sifting through all these guide books to find a ramen shop of my choice.
It’s really up to your belief on which book would be the most reliable between the French (Michelin guide), an American living in Japan (Ramen adventures), a group of local ramen authorities at Tokyo Ramen of the year magazine, crowd sourcing / Japanese public opinion at Tabelog, or Leo of Tokyo table trip whom I regard as my go to source of culinary wisdom. It would help shorten the list if any one make a short list of the consensus of all these five institutes. I got to give it to the guy behind Ramen adventures for compiling the short list, starting from the ramen list in the red book, and shorten it, by consulting 3 other sources: himself, Tabelog, and Tokyo Ramen of the year Magazine, by getting common names. This is his methodology and the final list.
Apparently, the list hasn’t been compared with the one at Tokyo table trip. What I did was to compare his list with Leo Saito’s 50 best ramen shop s in Tokyo in Leo’s previous article.
The 50 Best Ramen Restaurants in Tokyo
This list with 4 ramen shops should be treated as an abridged version to help anyone who wishes to get a shorter version of the list. For any ramen PROs, I still think the original article by Leo is still a must read for any avid ramen fan.
The definitive top 4 ramen in Tokyo are
SOBAHOUSE Konjiki Hototogisu - SOBAHOUSE 金色不如帰
This shop has been moved from outskirt to convenient location with super easy access in Shinjuku. The only thing is they only open during weekday so it doesn’t fit my weekend dining schedule but I still made it there to experience it first hand. Konjiki Hototogisu’s soba is quite refine. Their soup is tasty but I liked the broth at Tsuta more. Their soba is quite velvety. If you happen to be in that area, this should be a nice meal.
◆SOBA HOUSE Konjiki Hototogisu
Address: Shinjuku 2-4-1, Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo
Access: 5-minute walk from Shinjuku-gyoemmae station, Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line
Opening Hours: 11:00～14:00／18:30～20:00
Regular Closing Days: Saturdays and Sundays
Ramen Yamaguchi - らぁ麺 やまぐち
This is a place with easy access and long opening hour. Their soup got deep flavor. But as many shops with long opening hour, the master might not be there and let the staff do all the cooking. Quality at Yamaguchi is very good. But I’m one of those people who finds the presence of the chef owner comforting.
Address: Nishi-waseda 3-13-4, Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo
Access: 11-minute walk from Takadanobaba station, JR Yamanote Line
Opening Hours: 11:30～21:00
Regular Closing Days: Mondays
Nakiryu - 創作麺工房 鳴龍
Super long line. Don’t try to hack it by coming toward the end of the opening hour. This trick doesn’t work here. I tried that twice and they stopped the line when their soup runs out which might be before one hour before the closing time. Even queuing 1 hour before opening time, u might find 15-20 people ahead of you, mostly tourists. The only way is to queue before the opening hour on weekday to get the shorter waiting time.
The famous bowl here is tantan noodles. Tantan noodles is from Sichuan originally but I did enjoy the version at Nakiryu with tangy flavors. I love the texture of the soup and it felt quite light. Usually, the original is always the best. But Sichuan food in Japan has been modified to fit the local’s palate and I just love it.
◆Nakiryu Noodle House
Address: Minami-otsuka 2-34-4, Toshima Ward, Tokyo
Access: 6-minute walk in the south direction from Otsuka station, JR Yamanote Line
Opening Hours: 11:30～15:00／18:00～21:00 (open for lunch only on Mondays)
Regular Closing Days: Tuesdays
Ramen Sugimoto - らぁ麺 すぎ本
This place is off the beaten track and isn’t too busy. You can swing by in the afternoon and simply just walk in. There should be opening seats.
I really like chashu pork here. It’s leaner yet soft and succulent. The broth here got complex flavor without exhausting my taste buds. My visit was toward the end of their lunch hour so I saw many goodies that went into the soup for their next round. I thought about snapping one quick photo but hold my thought for fear of being kicked out even though my lunch was finished already.
One trivia is many of the noodle shops are on Twitter. You can follow their twitter to check the update on their latest holiday announcement and opening hours. Nothing worst than walking in without checking just to find the shop is closed. By the time, u find alternative restaurants, it might pass the opening hour of other shops. In my case, I learned my lesson the hard way by visiting Rakuraku twice to find that it was closed on both counts. Any TTT reader knows where Rakuraku is?
Address: Saginomiya 4-2-3, Nakano Ward, Tokyo
Access: 1-minute walk from Saginomiya station, Seibu Shinjuku Line
Opening Hours: 11:30～15:00／18:00～21:00 (open for lunch only on Mondays)
Regular Closing Days: Tuesdays
All of the 4 shops here are quite stellar. It’s a matter of preference what you prefer as your soup based. Also, the location and how long you feel like to wait for a bowl of ramen. All shops here are shoyu / Shio-based, rather than tonkotsu or Tsukemen. So the next section is my take on Tsukemen.
Tsukemen shops in Tokyo & vicinity
Tsukemen is one of my favorite noodles and the question I always ask around is where I could try the best Tsukemen. The difference between tsukemen and ramen is that tsukemen shop serves noodles and soup seperately. Noodles, around room temperature, would be dipped into the hot soup that is thicker than the usual ramen soup.
I know there are people who prefer ramen and there are many people prefer tsukemen. I like both. As a matter of fact, I love all kind of noodles, from chinese noodles and all of their successors in the east and in the west.
My regular craving for tsukemen is both biologically and phychologically. I love carb and the intense umami flavor in tsukemen soup.
Over the years, I short listed many tsukemen shops and visited the one on my short list whenever I got a chance. Let me share the experience I had with my top 3 tsukemen experience in Tokyo & vicinity. All 3 are quite far from Tokyo's city center so they aren't recommended unless you are a discerning tsukemen geek. In addition, all these three shops are very busy so be prepared to ready to order and you need to order in one go without being able to add extra orders afterward.
Michi - I can't express into words how much I love this small tsukemen shop in Kameari. It's in the middle of nowhere.
Actually, all shops I mentioned here are mostly in the middle of nowhere. You got to make a point of going there and the wait will be long.
Noodles at Michi is special and custom-made. The chef looks very young but his work has a lot to write about.
I like both taste and texture of the noodles. The surface was ideal to picking up after dipping into the soup. It's the same concept that
diffierent type of pasta was designed for different sauce, whether lighter or dense ones. The soup here, made from chicken, Gyokai & tonkotsu, is served piping hot and I love it when my noodles and its soup got served at the right temperature, especially on a colder day. It's best to snap only one quick photo or not taking any photo at all. It's a sin not to savor noodles at their peak moment. I felt the soup was light without sacrificing all the depth of all flavors.
Let me share my tip with you. It would be the best to arrive before the shop opens. Michi's operation is in a batch of 8 diners. So they escort each round in and cook for 8 diners in a batch. So your line got 8 people short in each batch. On weekday, maybe not as long as you would during weekday.
Another good alternative is to visit during the tail of their opening hour. You could get in and got shorter queue. However, the risk is that they might got sold out so don't go too near the closing time. It's a long trip from central tokyo so you don't want to come back with an empty stomach.
Address: Kameari 5-28-17, Katsushika Ward, Tokyo
Access: 2-minute walk from Kameari station, JR Joban Line
Opening Hours: 11:30～around 18:00
Regular Closing Days: Mondays and Tuesdays
Menya ittou - I love this tsukemen with chicken based soup (tori-paitan) and seafood (gyokai.) Although menya ittou now got branches in HK and BKK, they aren’t quite the same. The one in HK is quite expensive. To cook the best soup, It's not just a matter of spending longest hour to make the best soup. With tori-paitan, the checken based soup, it's so easy to screw up and the taste would be really unappetizing when things go wrong so it takes skills. Menya ittou has, besides pork topping, also sous vide checken and checken balls. Chicken balls also got cartilage to add the texture and crunchiness, similar to tsukene in a yakitori shop.
So you either arrive well before the shop opens or visit toward the end to avoid the peak lunch hour. Higashishinkoiwa isnt quite near central tokyo so you don't want to waste time without getting a chance to taste the famous bowl of tsukemen at menya ittou. Shinkoiwa doesn't have other things I could think of to recommend around that area.
Address: Higashi-shinkoiwa 1-4-17, Katsushika Ward, Tokyo
Access: 3-minute walk from Shinkoiwa station, JR Sobu Line
Opening Hours: 11:00～15:00／18:00～22:00
Regular Closing Days: None, but may close without prior notice
Tomita in Matsudo, Chiba - Matsudo is a small city in Chiba. It's much further out. But one shouldn't lose hope. If you arrive early in the morning, you might as well stop by Tomita on the way from the airport or if you have a late evening flight, you can time your visit in the afternoon before going to the airport. Among these three shops, tomita got the longer wait in my experience, maybe two hours or more. The queueing system here is two tiers. You pick up the queue, which they allow the ticket distribution in the early morning maybe from 8am, and they will let you know the time you should come back. When you show up, the wait won't be too long. Tomita also escorted a group of diners in and start preparing in a batch. The owner carefully prepared each bowl with much attention to details as if it were a fine dining restaurant.
Personally, without factoring the waiting time, I like Tomita the most. The reward after such long wait is magnificent bowl of carefully crafted tsukemen. The soup is very thick and creamy, filled with lots of pork bits. It's so dense that the noodles won't sink under the soup.
However, it doesn't feel heavy as it sounds, thanks to yuzu peel in the soup. At the end, the soup can be filled with broth and it's so refreshing. I love how Noodles could be and it's so delicious when picking up the soup with all pork bits.
A piece of useful info about Tomita is that a block away from the original branch has another branch called Chuka soba tomita. The queue here is much shorter and it opens much earlier. Although I would say visiting the original branch with the owner chef preparing each bowl himself is an experience in itself, tsukemen at chuka soba tomita is very respectable and, for most diners, it's not significantly far off from the original branch. At least, you would be able to guess the idea of Tomita's famous tsukemen. If you are a heavy eater, you can even sample a smallest bowl before your real lunch. Or if you couldn't wait, just go for this branch. There's also Tomita at Narita airport which is a good choice for non-discerning foodie but want to have a glimse of Tomita's tsukemen. The quality at Narita branch wouldn't suit a discerning foodie though.
Address: Matsudo 1339, Matsudo City, Chiba prefecture
Access: 4-minute walk from Matsudo station, JR Joban Line
Opening Hours: 11:00～15:00
Regular Closing Days: Wednesdays
◆Matsudo Chuka-soba Tomita Shokudo
Address: Matsudo 1239-1, Matsudo City, Chiba prefecture
Access: 2-minute walk from Matsudo station, JR Joban Line
Opening hours: 10:00 to 0:30 of the following day
Regular Closing Days: None
There’s a documentary called Ramen head, which many international foodies really talk about. Some are determined to visit top ramen shops featured in this documentary after watching the film, creating maybe the same effect as Sushi Jiro’s demand which hit the roof.
Tsukemen is loaded with all goodies but I got to remind you that extra sodium can put pressure on your heart and kidney so it's not for everybody.
Again, I couldnt claim to be either ramen or tsukemen expert although I had lots and lots of ramen. Please do chip in if you don’t mind sharing your noodle slurping experience as I noticed many TTT readers definitely have lots of dining experience in Japan.