I traveled a fair amount around Japan in 2019. No epic month-long ramen quests (next year’s 2020 list will be quite insane) but I hit up some gems nonetheless. Looking back over this year’s list, I realize that most of these were influenced heavily by the experience. Traveling for ramen is a joy and I hope my readers will take the time to leave the big cities for some bowls a bit farther out. And I hope the little stories that made these bowls special to me can make them special for you.
Feel free to take my lists into account, or grab a copy of the excellent Best of the Best Ramen for all your slurping needs.
中華蕎麦うゑず - Uwezu
59-1 Shimizuarai, Showa, Nakakoma District, Yamanashi
Yamanashi Prefecture a few hours from Tokyo by car
Even the most rookie ramen hunter knows Tomita. If you don't, go stream the movie Ramen Heads immediately. This shop west of Tokyo was opened by his disciple, and it is in my opinion just as good. Heavy tonkotsu gyokai soup with wheaty homemade noodles and incredible cuts of meat.
生姜ラーメン みづの - Mizuno
2 Chome Tokiwadori, Asahikawa, Hokkaido
Asahikawa, a city in Hokkaido
I was up in Asahikawa for work and strolled into one of the few famous shops I hadn't been to. Mizuno is an uncommon bowl of ginger ramen, and it is old school. While eating this bowl, I met another traveler and we ended up spending the rest of the day together. Although they moved away from Japan a few weeks later, I made a lifelong friend at this inconspicuous ramen shop.
海老麺総本家 地元家 - Jimotoya
14-1 Kamedamachi, Hakodate, Hokkaido
Hakodate, in the south of Hokkaido
My favorite Hakodate shio ramen shop closed, so I had to find the next best thing. Jimotoya is heavily shrimp flavored and divine. My new favorite.
大阪麺哲 - Mentetsu
2 Chome-10-27 Sonezaki, Kita Ward, Osaka
I met up, as I usually do, with fellow ramen blogger Ben from Friends in Ramen on a trip to Osaka. He suggested Mentetsu and who was I to argue. The shop is known to have an ura menu, a secret menu known only to those in the know. I asked what the ura special of the day was and the master told me no such thing exists. It was only later that I read on their Twitter page that you should NEVER ask what the ura menu is, you should check the internet and know before you go. My bad. Either way, their tororo (grated Japanese yam) topped ramen was slimy and full of umami flavors.
人類みな麺類 - Jinrui
1 Chome-12-15 Nishinakajima, Yodogawa Ward, Osaka
Known as "Human beings everybody noodles" in English, Jinrui Mina Menrui commands massive lines for their refined shoyu ramen topped with thick-cut pork. The night before this bowl, I was drinking with a ramen friend at Bar Nayuta (my favorite in Osaka) and the owner of Jinrui sat next to us. My friend didn't get the memo, he only heard mention of the shop's name. He then proceeded to give his "honest" opinion of one of Jinrui's sister shops. He usually eats ramen, but this time he really put his foot in his mouth.
製麺処 蔵木 - Kuraki
1 Chome-10-12 Obiyamachi, Kochi
Kochi in Shikoku
I randomly wandered into this shop in Kochi City and was blown away. Heavy pork tsukemen with bits of offal in the soup. I'm always drinking when in Kochi, and this was the perfect post-booze bowl. Recommended, just make sure you don't skip Kochi's seafood scene when you are in this part of Japan.
橋本食堂 - Hashimoto
4-19 Yokomachi, Susaki, Kochi
Susaki is south of Kochi in Shikoku
I got an influencer gig (I know, I know) at Susaki City, about an hour outside of Kochi City. The town is famous for Shinjo-kun, a local mascot. This Japanese river otter with a bowl of ramen on his head took me around to all the sights. We had to hit up the number one shop in town, and boy did it deliver. Served in a hot pot with a raw egg, local mature chicken, and plenty of heart (are all the ramen shops here run by grandmas?).
ラーメンエアーストリーム - Ramen Airstream
510-1 Horikawakoizumicho, Toyama
The full name is 化学調味料無添加&自家製麺 ラーメンエアーストリーム, which means homemade preservative-free miso and noodles. The miso "factory" is actually an old Airstream trailer that sits in front of the shop. The miso ramen with tomato and cheese was full of flavor and miso funk.
麺屋鶏冠 - Tosaka
Oita, Miyakomachi, 2 Chome−2−26
Oita in Kyushu
I was drinking at a local standing bar, wowing the local rednecks with my Japanese ability. When people ask, I tell them about my Ramen Adventures, and the dude next to me invited me to his favorite next-door spot. Creamy local chicken. I'm in!
Kagoshima, Sakanoue, 4 Chome−19−67
Kagoshima in the south of Kyushu
Many years ago, in Kagoshima for work, I matched with a local girl on a dating app. Though the timing wasn't so good and we never met in person, she stalked me on the internet and found my love of ramen. This shop, a few stops from Kagoshima Central Station, was her recommendation. Years later and I made it. Excellent chicken ramen, with many other choices for return customers. Though I can't remember her name, I'll never forget this bowl.
ハンディクラフトワークス - Handicraft Works
111-1 Iseno, Yashio, Saitama
Far into Saitama
Handicraft Works does churrasco-topped ramen and mazesoba. I love mazesoba for playful, no-rules styles like this. I was joined by a fan of my site, who I met the day before at Kagami in Ginza. He had accidentally gone there instead of Kazami, a mistake many people make these days. I'm always happy to meet my fans!
らぁ麺 とうひち - Touhichi
33-6 Omiya Kitahakonoicho, Kita Ward, Kyoto
Touhichi is one of Japan's most celebrated mega-refined chicken styles. If you like Rocking Billy or Idashoten or the like, you'll like this one. Nearby is a famous temple, one of the best I've been to in Japan. Immediately after going here, three separate friends asked me if I had been to the temple, and all of them told me to keep the place a secret. Tourism is rampant in Kyoto, and being alone in a beautiful place is harder and harder to do. So though I can't tell you the name, I can tell you that this inconvenient corner of Kyoto is a hidden gem.
天理スタミナラーメン - Tenri Stamina
29-4 Nishimikadocho, Nara
Years ago I was touring around the Ki Peninsula on my motorcycle. I saw a beautiful girl on a 600cc Ninja sports bike and struck up a conversation. We rode the twisty roads and hills together for the rest of the day. At some point, she mentioned that Tensuta, a local chain, is her favorite ramen shop. Though I haven't been to the main shop, I finally made it to one of their branches. Spicy "stamina" style ramen. Perfect for motorcycle guys and gals.
猪骨ラーメン - Shishikotsu Wild Boar Ramen
5516 Omishimacho Miyaura, Imabari, Ehime
On a remote island in the Seto Inland Sea
Wild boar ramen! The chef/owner is a local hunter, and he wanted to do something with the boar that he shoots on the islands between Hiroshima and Ehime prefectures. Very local, and very interesting. I found out later that the chef actually went to the Osaka ramen school that I work with. He sent them a box of bones and they worked out a recipe. Awesome!
欽山 - Kinzan
4-10 Kataharamachi, Takamatsu, Kagawa
Just a solid, deeply flavored toripaitan ramen in the heart of udon country.
Le Sel Organic Ramen
4 Chome-148-6 Kiyomizu, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto
Organic ramen course in the heart of Kyoto featuring local snacks, a mini bowl of ramen, rice, and a dessert. Half a year after opening, they were given a Michelin Bib Gourmand award.
さんわ - Sanwa
Ehime, Imabari, Hakatacho Kinoura, 甲1650-1
Another spot on a small island in the Seto Inland Sea
I was on the famous Shimanami Kaido, a 80km cycling road between Onomichi and Imabari. This is the most famous shop along the road. Shio ramen with local ingredients. Bicycle parking in front.
自家製麺うろた - Urota
3-14 Shinmachi, Fukushima
Yup, that's ramen. Every "paint" is a homemade sauce using fruits and vegetables. This is a goofy bowl and the flavors are a bit wild. Ramen tends to fall under the category of "brown food," so something like this is a welcome diversion.
つけ麺 繁田 - Shigeta
Hyogo, Kobe, Nada Ward, Sakuraguchicho, 5 Chome−1−1 1F
Kobe is a bit of a ramen wasteland. Hyogo Prefecture (where Kobe is) has some top shops, but if you are around the main station, this may be your best bet. Intense niboshi flavors and homemade noodles.