Ramen Tour of Tokyo
Want to try the real deal in Tokyo, Japan? My colleague Brian MacDuckston from ramenadventures chaperoned us to these six ramenya’s. I’d highly recommend them for a nice well-rounded tour to experience the different types of ramen available in Tokyo.
Most Tokyo ramenyas have very minimal seating, with seats at a bar and no waiting area. The chef is always present and is typically only accompanied by one or two apprentices, depending on the size of the shop. It’s quiet. The Japanese like to face the chef and eat without talking or socializing. It is the same at sporting or concert events in Japan, people stand side-by-side but there isn’t much interaction as they enjoy the show. It is their way of showing respect to the performer, and at a ramenya, to the master and his expertise.
Customers respect the line and wait without complaining, no looking at their phones or talking too much. They place their order and pay at a small ticket machine at the front of the shop, make a line outside and sometimes line up along the wall in the back of the restaurant as their turn draws closer. When a seat opens up, they are prompted. You sit down quickly, hand over your ticket, and wait for your ramen. Within minutes, the bowl is presented on a raised bar in front of you. They dig into their ramen, and finish within 15 minutes. With a polite “gochisosama”, they exit and the next person sits. This efficient system keeps the line moving quickly.
Some ramenyas are set up in more of a restaurant style with a waiter, a menu, and proper drink service. You are welcome to stay longer at these establishments but my advice is to show respect and do as others do. Eat, enjoy and get out. You can talk later.
1. Japanese Soba Noodles Tsuta, Master Onishi-san
Tokyo, Toshima-ku, Sugamo 1-14-1
Closest station: Sugamo
Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays
Don't let the name confuse you. "Soba" translates to noodles, so this is a ramen shop, not the traditional "soba" noodles you are thinking of. This was our first ramen stop in Tokyo and probably the most formal of all of the ramenya’s we went to. It had a long line at 11AM, it was the first time we used the ticket machine to place an order, and everyone was quiet as a mouse, except for the slurping of course. We were advised by Brian to only take pictures of the ramen but to do this very quickly. Our bowls were placed on the raised bar and it was as if we were paying homage by reaching for it with both hands and placing it in front of us to consume. My traveling partner and photographer for the trip, Andi and I each shared the Shoyu and Shio varieties and thought they were divine. The soup wasn’t too heavy so we were able to finish them both, the egg filled with liquid gold and just enough negi (green onion) and chashu. The Shio version had a delicious green pesto type topping that I think was made with anoriko, a powdered seaweed.
2. LaShowHan, Master Okada-san
Tokyo, Chioda-ku, Kanda Nishikicho 1-4-8
Closest station: Ogawamachi
Open 11:00-15:00, 17:30-20:00
Saturdays 11:00-14:00, 17:30-20:00
This was my first taste of tantanmen, a Japanese adaptation of a Szechwan style spicy noodle dish known as Dan Dan noodles. I don’t tend to like super spicy food, but the Premium Si Chuan Style bowl was not too overpowering and the sansho chili pepper gave it a earthy, lemon taste that just slightly numbed my tongue. I loved that it was served mazemen style (or without soup) so that the spices and the sauce were folded into every bite. I was just as fond of the owner, Master Okada-san. It’s also not a strict sit, eat and get out establishment, which was refreshing!
3. Mensho Tokyo, Master Shono-san
Address: Yubinbango112-0003 Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo Kasuga 1-15-9 1F Closest Station: Kasuga
Hours 11AM – 3PM and 5PM -11PM
I ordered the Shoyu-Niboshitare Tonkotsu Ramen with a side of tender lamb. The tonkotsu is cooked with pork and lamb bones with a lamb chashu and the most interesting prep of menma in long strips to top it off. My favorite part was Master Shono-san’s signature spice mix of ground cinnamon, cumin, and fennel seeds that was provided in a shaker at the table. The décor and ambience are cool and casual - he has a chandelier made out of Niboshi or dried infant sardines in the front of the restaurant. He also has 5 other ramen shops in Tokyo with one US location in San Francisco
4. Fuunji, Master Miyake-san
Address: Hokuto first 2-14-3 1F, Yoyogi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo Closest station: Shinjuku
Hours 11AM – 3PM and 5PM – 9PM
Open Monday - Saturday
I read about this place on ramenadventures.com before my trip and was so excited to taste their tsukemen, or dipping noodles with Brian himself. Unfortunately, he had another appt to go to but he made sure we purchased the right ticket at the machine in the back and ushered us in. It was worth the wait - a complex and layered chicken-bone soup with deep fish flavors and an intensity that made every noodle laden bite satisfying. Brian would later tell me that the soup is actually a tori paitan, with chicken bones cooked in the same way you would pork bones for a similar soup. It is then added to a 2nd fish soup to give it that smoky flavor. This was the first place we’d been to where the line continued to the back of the bar where everyone watched over the customers in anticipation as seats would free up and our line would slowly move ahead. The master was super serious, very concentrated and intently involved in his preparation for us. I was mesmerized.
5. Tsukomo, Master Takahashi-san
Address: Hongoku Build. 1F, 1-1-36
Hiroo, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo Closest station: Ebisu
Hours 11AM – 5AM
This ramenya is famous for its Cheese Miso Tonkotsu Ramen. A special type of local artisan cheese called Golden Gouda is incorporated into the soup and also piled high on top. It’s shaved to almost a powder form right at the bar so it sinks and melts into the soup to give you a rich, thick satisfying meal. You won’t be hungry an hour or five later.
6. Usagi Shokudo, Master Mori-san
Address: Aobadai 1-30-12 Meguro-ku,Tokyo Closest station: Naka-Meguro
Open 11:30AM to 10PM
They serve tori paitan here which is ramen with a creamy chicken soup. There are only two menu items and they were out of one so we ordered the torishiroramen - their signature creamy chicken soup with a shiodare. There were delicate pieces of perfectly tender chicken and thin fried onions and shredded negi (Japanese green onion) on top with a crispy piece of garlic toast and some sweet minced garlic on the side. It was a graceful dish and very well orchestrated. The restaurant is more upscale in a seated restaurant style space. The line here took a little longer because of this but it was well worth the wait. They were voted best rookie tori paitan by Tokyo Ramen of the Year magazine in 2014, deservedly so.