2020 was a year full of travel and ramen hunting. Armed with the new Best of the Best Ramen guidebook as well as the backup Tabelog 百名店, the ramen hunter had no shortage of recommended options. Enjoy these shops from Hokkaido to Kyushu. All of them stood out for me in one way or another as top-level destination bowls. I hope you find some gems here.
Despite 2020 being a year of limits, those living in Japan were given relative freedom of movement. The government even introduced the GoTo Travel campaign, a subsidized travel scheme to help get money flowing into the empty countryside. Popular ramen shops in the far reaches of the country are as busy as ever. Of course, international tourism is halted for the most part, so take notes and plan for the future!
いそのかづお - Isono Kazuo
〒064-0805 Hokkaido, Sapporo, Chuo Ward, Minami 5 Jonishi, 5 Chome−21
Smack in the middle of miso-ramen-town Sapporo is a polar opposite shop. Dark and fishy, Isono Kazuo draws huge lines. They also open late (at night) and close early (in the morning).
鶏Soba 座銀 にぼし店 - Torisoba Zagin Niboshi
3 Chome-9-6 Minamisenba, Chuo Ward, Osaka, 542-0081
Mega creamy toripaitan with a hint of niboshi. Located conveniently off the main drag in Osaka. Very popular with overseas folks for some reason.
ぶたのほし - Butanohoshi
１丁目-16-7 長洲西通 Amagasaki, Hyogo 660-0807
Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture
The master trained at popular Mutteppo, bringing their ultra-porky soup to Hyogo. The shop is light and airy, in stark contrast to the ramen. Not long after opening, Butanohoshi has become one of Japan's most lauded tonkotsu ramen shops.
杭州飯店 - Koshu Hanten
49-4 Tsubame, Niigata 959-1288
Tsubame, Niigata Prefecture
Tsubame Sanjo-style in its truest form. Ramen at Koshu Hanten is rich and fatty. Go with a group so you can share an order of their massive gyoza and rich stewed beef tendon. Considered by many to be the best seabura-laden bowl of ramen in Japan.
梅花亭 - Baikatei
1031-3 Oinuicho, Nagahama, Shiga 526-0043
Fun, local's favorite shop out on the banks of Lake Biwa. The menu has a plethora of choices, and the side menu shouldn't be overlooked. Quite far from anything else, as is the case with most things when you get into Shiga Prefecture.
猪一 離れ - Inoichi Hanare
〒600-8076 Kyoto, Shimogyo Ward, Senshojicho, 463
Despite being very popular with overseas visitors, Inoichi Hanare cuts no corners in their pursuit of refined quality. Sure, you get bowls that seem designed for Instagram (wagyu . . . always with the wagyu) but the flavors are all there.
好陽軒 - Koyoken
2 Chome-21-3 Hiromicho, Showa Ward, Nagoya, Aichi 466-0046
Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture
Menma nerds rejoice. The bowl of take ramen here is covered with their signature pickled bamboo shoots. Sure, it's a bit of an overkill, but if you really want to chow down on the stuff this is the spot.
ラーメンル・デッサン - Ramen Le Dessin
8802 Okariyacho, Shimada, Shizuoka 427-0053
Le Dessin (The Drawing) was opened by a former French bistro owner. The ramen reflects this, with various flavored butter and choice ingredients like duck or scallop on the menu. The menu is large, with half a dozen or more choices. This is a good spot for a road trip; Le Dessin is a bit displaced from the usual shinkansen route that most people take. They also open very early, which is the time you should arrive to avoid the long lines.
わかば亭 - Wakabatei
5 Chome-5-10 Otemachi, Naka Ward, Hiroshima, 730-0051
Great little place serving Hiroshima-style spicy tsuskemen. You can choose your spice level, with the standard 1 to 10 reaching up to 100 for the masochists out there. If you go big and finish the bowl, you'll get your name enshrined in the shop. The shop is run by some funny old ladies who complete the vibe.
広島つけ麺&Bar けいま - Hiroshima Tsukemen and Bar Keima
〒730-0021 広島県広島市中区胡町２−16 エイトバレー１９
〒730-0021 Hiroshima, Naka Ward, Ebisucho, 2−16 エイトバレー１９
The red light district in Hiroshima city has its share of bars. Keima stands out with homemade citrus drinks using lemons and sudachi from the Seto region of Japan and some great homemade tsukemen. Their soup is preservative-free. Think of it as a tasty bar snack with your cocktails.
宝来軒 総本店 - Horaiken
2 Chome 日ノ出町 Nakatsu, Oita 871-0034
Nakatsu, Oita Prefecture
Horaiken is one of Oita's most famous shops. They use the standard pork and chicken bones, with the addition of beef. A bit sweeter than your average Kyushu bowl. Customize the bowl with toppings like kimchi. Like many shops in Kyushu, this one is truly a destination bowl.
二代目ラーメンカヨ - Nidaime Ramen Kayo
117-2 Kamae Oaza Hatanoura, Saiki, Oita 876-2201
Coastal Oita Prefecture
Hidden gem alert! Nidaime Ramen Kayo is on the coast of Oita Prefecture somewhere towards the Miyazaki side. This entire stretch of seaside road is beautiful, running along quaint fishing villages and rustic old towns. Kayo is a favorite of the Japanese rock band Sunny Day Service, whose member Tanaka-san is a regular. They even perform mini-concerts on occasion in from of this shop. Simple tonkotsu ramen and fried rice are on the menu.
らーめん 再来軒 - Ramen Sairaiken
1 Chome-3-12 Asahimachi, Nobeoka, Miyazaki 882-0847
Nobeoka, Miyazaki Prefecture
Open since 1956, Sairaiken prides itself on using local Miyazaki pork for the chashu and even-more-local Nobeoka scallions for a topping. Like many shops in Kyushu, they keep a pot on constant simmer, adding bones as needed. This would never fly outside of Asia!
拉麺男 - Ramen Man
坪平-1221-1 Murasumicho, Miyazaki, 880-0837
Ramen Man serves a mean bowl of breakfast ramen from six in the morning. They use pig heads and trotters for an added umami punch, a punch that gets more intense as the day goes on. The final form is boiled for around 20 hours. Side note, the master is a huge fan of The Beatles. He's got their music blasting and old records on the walls. Grab a bowl here after camping on one of Miyazaki's many surfing beaches!
ラーメン工房 龍 - Ramen Kobo Ryu
2 Chome-3-28 Sangamori, Yahatanishi Ward, Kitakyushu, Fukuoka 807-0843
Kitakyushu, Fukuoka Prefecture
Ryu is one of Fukuoka Prefecture's highest-ranked shops. It's also one of their toughest to get to. They will often have long lines and often run out of soup. If you make the effort, though, they are one of the region's most iconic bowls. Rich and creamy.
来久軒 - Raikyuken
〒843-0022 Saga, Takeo, 武雄町4190-2
Next to Mifuneyama Park, Saga Prefecture
You've heard of ramen soup cooked for 10 hours, but Raikyuken takes it to another level with a 10-day soup. this is achieved by moving soup to different pots at different times in the cooking process. The result is an elegant broth that tastes like fresh cream. While most Kyushu tonkotsu ramen settles with a simple soy sauce MSG mix for the tare, Raikyuken uses 10 secret ingredients in theirs. Wonderful bowl next to Mifuneyama Park, a must-hit tourist site in the area.
豚骨ラーメン 幸陽閣 - Tonkotsu Ramen Koyokaku
3-31 Shimodamachi, Saga, 840-0031
Classic tonkotsu with an iconic bright orange egg yolk in the middle. Koyokaku closed at one point and became a yakiniku restaurant. Customers demanded he add the ramen back to the menu. Eventually, he went full circle back into a ramen-only spot. The menu is simple: ramen with and egg or ramen without an egg.
丸星中華そばセンター 本店 - Maruboshi Chukasoba
2 Chome-7-27 Takano, Kurume, Fukuoka 830-0002
Kurume, Fukuoka Prefecture
In a world of refined gourmet ramen, Maruboshi might not be for everyone. This is truck-stop fare, literally. On the busy thoroughfare between Kumamoto and Hakata, Maruboshi has parking for dozens of big-rig trucks. With seats for almost 100 people, you can bet this place is popular. Ramen is a paltry 400 yen for a bowl. Many ramen lovers from around Japan say that this is the true soul of ramen. Pork, MSG, and happiness.
６ 北鉄輪 別府市 大分県 874-0041
６ 北鉄輪 Beppu, Oita 874-0041
Beppu, Oita Prefecture
Furari is an outlier in the Kyushu ramen scene. They serve a tasty bowl of tantanmen overlooking the onsen town of Beppu. Hot ramen followed by a hot bath. Enjoy your trip to Oita!
元祖木灰沖縄そば きしもと食堂 - Kishimoto Shokudo
5 Toguchi Motobu, Kunigami District, Okinawa 905-0214
Naha Island, Okinawa
Not really ramen, but Kishimoto's Okinawan soki soba is a local favorite. If you are ever in the area to check out the famous aquarium, you should probably stop by for a bowl.
らぁ麺 紫陽花 - Ramen Ajisai
4 Chome-20-1 Hachikencho, Nakagawa Ward, Nagoya, Aichi 454-0054
Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture
Ajisai is the #1 ranked shop in Aichi Prefecture by a long shot. Sure, it falls under the category of refined shoyu, a style that is the go-to for everyone's best-of-the-best, but it is still a wonderful bowl. Beautiful meats, a rich broth, and excellent homemade noodles. It's tough to decide between the shoyu and tantanmen. Both are tops.
つけ麺 丸和 春田本店 - Tsukemen Maruwa
1 Chome-150-1 Haruta, Nakagawa Ward, Nagoya, Aichi 454-0985
Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture
Maruwa is a legendary shop with roots reaching back to the original Tokyo tsukemen of the 1960s. Located next to a rice shop, this is history in a bowl.
総本家 好来道場 - Koraidojo
6 Chome-1-16 Haruokatori, Chikusa Ward, Nagoya, Aichi 464-0847
Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture
Many people trained in this "dojo" of ramen. Their style, called Korai-style, has a deep broth made with more roots vegetables than others. If you see a "ko" in a shop's name in Nagoya, chances are they trained here at one point.
らぁ麺 飛鶏 - Ramen Asuka
〒486-0953 Aichi, Kasugai, Miyukicho, 3 Chome−４−6-2
Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture
Chicken is the name of the game at Asuka. Whether you go for the creamy toripaitan or the clear ramen, you'll get a 100% specialty chicken bowl.
らぁ麺や 汐そば 雫 - Ramenya Shiosoba Shizuku
4-15 Shimosakacho, Mizuho Ward, Nagoya, Aichi 467-0827
Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture
Shizuku's light shio ramen is made with plenty of dried seafood for an umami kick. It's an outlier style in the rather heavy ramen obsessed city of Nagoya.
恵那く - Enaku
20-2 Ichijoji Takatsukicho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, 606-8185
While most thick soups in Kyoto are chicken-based, Enaku does the tonkotsu-gyokai-homemade-noodle thing you find all over Tokyo.
らーめん本竈 - Ramen Honkamado
〒983-0828 Miyagi, Sendai, Miyagino Ward, Iwakiribundai, 3 Chome−５−12
Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture
Kind of a trek to get to, but this one just outside of Sendai city hits all the marks for refined ramen. Plump dumplings are a must!
ふじ屋 NOODLE - Fujiya Noodle
〒064-0804 北海道札幌市中央区南４条西３丁目 第３
〒064-0804 Hokkaido, Sapporo, Chuo Ward, Minami 4 Jonishi, 3 Chome
Despite being on a touristy ramen street, Fujiya is many ramen lover's favorite miso spot. Will it be yours?
Japanese Ramen Noodle Lab Q
2 Chome Kita 1 Jonishi, Chuo Ward, Sapporo, Hokkaido 060-0001
New wave ramen for lunch and new wave yakitori for dinner at the Lab. They also have a lot of new wave wine, aka the natural stuff.
MEN-EIJI HIRAGISHI BASE
11 Chome-1-12 Hiragishi 2 Jo, Toyohira Ward, Sapporo, Hokkaido 062-0932
When it comes to tonkotsu ramen, you rarely find this level of attention to detail. You also wouldn't expect this up in Sapporo. The soup, cooked for around 10 hours, is accented with a dollop of yuzu dashi jelly. As it melts into the soup the flavors slowy change.
富良野 とみ川 - Furano Tomigawa
〒076-0161 Hokkaido, Furano, Rokugo Shigaichi, ５
Tomigawa embraces the local bounty of mid-Hokkaido. Most ingredients are locally grown and harvested. Smoked pork chashu. Homemade stoneground wheat noodles. Mountain vegetables. It's a recommended detour for people visiting Furano for their summer flowers or winter skiing.
つくばらーめん 鬼者語 - Tsukuba Ramen Onimonogatari
685-5 Enokido, Tsukuba, Ibaraki 305-0853
Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture
Onimonogatari's menu is deep. Their standards are a chicken soup ramen and a chicken soup ramen with niboshi, but on any given day they will have a few limited bowls, often using wild game (jibie in Japanese). If you are hungry, save room for the flavored kaedama; extra noodles with additions like duck sauce or green curry.
ふる川 - Furukawa
600-3 Yonezawacho, Mito, Ibaraki 310-0847
Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture
Simple, French boullion-inspired soup. Mussels, scallops, and shrimp provide the umami backbone, and it is recommended to go with the topping-less bowl to enjoy their homemade noodles.
らあめん厨房どる屋 - Ramen Chubo Doruya
2 Chome-8-6 Central, Utsunomiya, Tochigi 320-0806
Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture
A very interesting and unexpected bowl. Dotuya uses dried sea bream from Shimane Prefecture as their main ingredient, with an option of Échiré butter imported from France. The master does occasional limited bowls using other fish as well, and even does special classes for local elementary school students to teach them about making ramen.