I managed to visit around 50 shops outside of Tokyo this year. These are the ones that I loved. Fair warning, some of these are not easy to access. I have a motorcycle and a lot of free time. Traveling for food in Japan is an adventure not to be taken lightly. Shops close randomly, the weather is unpredictable, and English is almost never spoken. The rewards, though, are below.

I also visited a handful of countries outside of Japan for ramen this year, but those won’t be on any list.

金澤濃厚中華そば 神仙 (Shinzen in Kanazawa, Ishigawa Prefecture)

石川県金沢市西念4丁目7−1

Ishikawa Prefecture, Kanazawa, Sainen, 4−7−1

Kanazawa ramen that started life in Wakayama, picking garlic from the fields as it traveled the ancient Kumano Kodo trail. Hardened in the Japanese northern alps, it took a brief journey out to sea before landing in the fishing village of Ishikawa Prefecture. Or maybe they just drove.

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麦の道 すぐれ (Sugure in Aichi Prefecture)

愛知県一宮市本町3丁目5−2

3 Chome-5-2 Honmachi, Ichinomiya, Aichi Prefecture

I love a bowl of tonkotsu gyokai tsukemen with beautiful, beautiful meats. Sugure uses chicken, pork, and mackerel to make a soup that can match those stewed meats. One of the best shops that I randomly stumbled into on my travels.

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らぁめん りきどう (Rikido in Gifu)

岐阜県岐阜市島栄町2丁目53

2-53 Shimasakaemachi, Gifu-shi, Gifu-ken

Noodle nerds rejoice, the alkaline-heavy noodles at Rikido are worthy of a journey. Apart from the beautiful, lasagna-like flat noodles, they offer a variety for everyone. Menma to die for.

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もっこす (Mokkosu in Kobe)

兵庫県神戸市中央区楠町7丁目1−3

7-1-3 Kusunokichō, Chūō-ku, Kōbe-shi, Hyōgo-ken

Kobe's famous, old school shoyu ramen spot is cheap and hearty. The atmosphere is 100% Kobe, so expect a few off-duty gangsters to be slurping next to you.

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五福星 (Ufushin in Sendai)

宮城県仙台市泉区野村馬場屋敷11-2

Babayashiki-11-2 Nomura, Izumi Ward, Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture

Beautiful, clear shio ramen for breakfast. The master gets the wakame seaweed fresh from the ocean and stores it in a medical-grade refrigerator. Later in the day, he serves something a bit heavier. His philosophy is that we need different nutients at different times of day, and ramen should reflect that.

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麺屋 裕 (Hiro in Kyoto)

京都府京都市山科区東野百拍子町25-2

25-2 Higashinohyakubyoshicho, Yamashina Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture

Kodawari, when referring to cuisine, is obsessive attention to detail. Hiro is the definition of kodawari. He owns a specialized tank to store local spring water for his soup, noodles, and tare. The soup is a two-day process using Japanese blue crabs and local chicken. If you come to Kyoto, make a point to come here.

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かたぐるま (Kataguruma in Kyoto)

京都府京都市下京区西七条西八反田町77

77 Nishishichijo Nishihattandacho, Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture

Kataguruma (lit. Piggy Back) comes from the insanely popular Orenoramenappare in Kyoto. Heavy tonkotsu gyokai soup is further emulsified with a hand blender. Served with pepper-crusted chashu. You'll wait, and with the tourism boom in Kyoto, it could be a long time.

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うらしま (Urashima in Wakayama)

和歌山県紀の川市花野20-7

20-7 Keya, Kinokawa-shi, Wakayama-ken

Inconvenient location. Inconvenient hours. Perfect Wakayama-style ramen.

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山為食堂 (Yamatame Shokudo in Wakayama)

和歌山県和歌山市福町12

12 Fukumachi, Wakayama-shi, Wakayama-ken

Wakayama-style ramen should stick to your ribs, or so they say. This centrally located shop is thick, porky, and completely satisfying. Recommended by my hired Ramen Taxi, a local service where taxi drivers chauffeur you around for a couple hours to ramen shops.

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味 もり多 (Morita in Tottori Prefecture)

鳥取県東伯郡北栄町江北740-13

740-13 Ekita, Hokuei, Tohaku District, Tottori Prefecture

Tottori's famous beef bone ramen served by a sweet little granny. Offers a full menu shokudo menu at dinner, just save room for the noodles. Ramen from the heart.

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かみあり (Kamiari in Shimane Prefecture)

島根県出雲市斐川町学頭1815−1

Shimane-ken, Izumo-shi, Hikawachogakuto 1815-1

The only problem with Kamiari is their menu selection. Even though you'll love whatever you get, you'll regret not trying everything else. My shrimp miso ramen was thick and full of smoky flavors, but I count the days until I can come back and try their littleneck clam shio.

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華漸 (Kazen in Yonago, Tottori Prefecture)

鳥取県米子市旗ヶ崎2丁目13−29

2 Chome-13-29 Hatagasaki, Yonago-shi, Tottori-ken

Tokyo's famous Ganko ramen group has a shop all the way out in Tottori Prefecture. They open very early and serve a Ganko-style beef bone soup enhanced with local shellfish. Divine stuff.

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花いちもんめ (Hanaichimonme in Hiroshima)

広島県広島市中区流川町4−3

Hiroshima-ken, Hiroshima-shi, Naka-ku, Nagarekawachō, 4−3

Duck ramen in the heart of Hiroshima's red light district. They open at 9:00 pm and serve a bowl meant to counter all the drinking, smoking, and whatever else you are in the sketchy part of town for.

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桃花 (Momohana in Nijima)

東京都新島村川原 カワラ−204

Tōkyō-to, Niijima-mura, Kawara 204

Ok, so this ramen wasn't actually that amazing, but having my friend fly me down to one of the islands south of Tokyo on a 4-seater Cessna to spend the day eating and exploring Niishima was epic. If you ever make it down there, it could be the only thing open.

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安全食堂 (Anzen Shokudo in Fukuoka)

福岡県福岡市西区横浜3丁目35−1

Fukuoka-ken, Fukuoka-shi, Nishi-ku, Yokohama, 3-35-1

A legendary shop on the outskirts of Hakata. Tonkotsu ramen, champon, and fried rice are all on point. Go with friends so you can eat everything.

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はなもこし (Hanamokoshi in Fukuoka)

福岡県福岡市中央区薬院2丁目4−35

2-4-35 Yakuin, Chuo Ward, Fukuoka, Fukuoka Prefecture

Nine point nine out of ten shops in Fukuoka sell creamy tonkotsu ramen with thin noodles. This shop, only open for a few short hours a day, serves ramen that is more akin to meaty udon.

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祥気 (Shoki in Nagaoka, Niigata)

新潟県長岡市寺島町729

Niigata-ken, Nagaoka-shi, Terajimamachi, 729

Nagaoka is known for shoyu ramen laced with an extremely large helping of seabura pork back fat. For something not as intense, but still full of flavor, the yuzu-tinged shio ramen at Shoki is perfect.

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