Author: Ford Draper, Admissions Coordinator
I don’t slot myself as a ramen expert by any means. I’m not a guru, a sommelier, or a cracked old wise man you find deep in the woods who dispenses pearls of wisdom. I can’t offer sage advice about where to find the broth of life or lead you to the promised land of noodle-y perfection. In fact, I’d say I don’t even like ramen. I love it - and I’m writing to recommend some of my favorite spots in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Let’s face it, you’re reading this because you love ramen too. The unmistakable combination of savory broth, that briny bite of seaweed, and the subtle “give” of steaming noodles brings a wave of culinary ecstasy. We’ve all been there.
But let's cut to the chashu (forgive me, I saw my chance and I took it). You’re here to learn where some of the best ramen shops in Tokyo are. Lucky for you, I’ve been there and can offer some insight into what a humble, self-proclaimed Japanophile thinks is “good” ramen.
#1 Hayashi - Shibuya
This was the first bowl of ramen I had while in Japan, so I might be slightly biased. This place sports a small set-up right next to Shibuya station and seats only a few patrons at a time. The bowls are hearty, and the service is quick. It takes the normal Japanese person 10 minutes or so to finish a bowl of this stuff, and it’s only served during lunch hours. The ramen itself has a deep, smoky broth that mellows into a subdued, creamy sensation on the palate that’ll make your taste buds wonder what you’ve been doing all these years. Give this place a shot if you're in Shibuya for lunch!
#2 Suzuran - Ebisu
This dark, upscale ramen spot has a speakeasy feel to it. Dim lighting, soft jazz on the speakers, a decanter of ice water, and a generous bowl of ramen doesn’t come cheap - this place can easily set you back ¥1,600 (~15.00). But trust me, it’s worth it. I recommend the chuka-men, which is the standard bowl, as well as a side of kakuni, pork belly so tender you’ll remember it forever.
#3 Tanaka Second - Akihabara
The kakesoba at Tanaka Second is, in my opinion, reminiscent of a reef stonefish. Known for its camouflage, the reef stonefish is a proficient hunter and extremely venomous. This is not to say that the ramen will harm you, or that it’s poisonous, but that it is a beast of flavor that hides in plain sight.
Its minimalist aesthetic gives off a clean and refined vibe, while the broth’s calm and mellow undertones harness the essence of the spiny lobster and abalone to push your taste buds to the max. The broth is warrant enough to try a bowl of this stuff, as there are only 30 served per day, so get there early!
#4 Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum - Yokohama
Human’s time on earth has been brief. Kingdoms have come and gone, and empires have risen and fallen. The fact that we’re in existence at the same time as the Ramen Museum, is, IMO, one of the most spectacular things that has ever happened. Located just two hours south of Tokyo, Yokohama’s Ramen Museum gives tourists and locals alike a myriad of delicious soupy delights to try.
My favorite shop in the ramen museum is Rishiri Ramen Miraku which specializes in Hokkaido-style fried soy-sauce ramen, some of the rarest ramen you can find. It features the same special kombu (or sea kelp) that Rishiri Island does - one of the most sought-after ramen joints in the country. Thankfully Miraku made it easier to enjoy its delicacies by opening a satellite shop in the ramen museum. Sure, you have to wait in a two-and-a-half-hour line. But hey, it’s better than a 14-hour bus ride and ferry to Rishiri Island!
Head to the museum on a Saturday - and take a date! It’s a great place to explore and talk while you wait in line for a bowl of what the museum does best.
#5 Rokurinsha - Tokyo Station
Rokurinsha is something of a high vizier in the tsukemen world. Tsukemen - or Japanese dipping ramen - seems like a de-evolution of what we traditionally know as ramen - noodles, broth, pork, those swirly white and pink disks (narutomaki - or Japanese fish cakes), and seaweed getting to know each other in a nice, big bowl of decadence.
Tsukemen, like other things in life, comes in a fateful pair; pairs that are different - yet complement one another. Yin and Yang, light and dark, Simon and Garfunkel, noodles and broth. The noodles are set, cold, in one bowl (usually with the complimentary tea egg), and the broth in the other. The broth, however, is what you pay for. With a consistency not unlike a thin mix of concrete - the stew-like concoction ensconces the noodles like a savory veil that lends to an amazing eating experience nothing short of biblical. Please eat at your own risk, as once you try this ramen, there’s absolutely no going back.
Ultimately, Tokyo is a beehive of hundreds of eateries - some tucked around hidden corners and in dark alleys - others awash in bright lights or flanked with pamphleteers. Wherever you go, Tokyo is an amazing place to explore - and the sooner you get there, the sooner you can stuff your mouth with that sweet, savory ambrosia we call ramen.
Sayonara Pals! Till next time.