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

山梨県中巨摩郡昭和町清水新居59-1

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.

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生姜ラーメン みづの - Mizuno

北海道旭川市常盤通2丁目

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.

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海老麺総本家 地元家 - Jimotoya

北海道函館市亀田町14−1

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.

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大阪麺哲 - Mentetsu

大阪府大阪市北区曾根崎2丁目10−27

2 Chome-10-27 Sonezaki, Kita Ward, Osaka

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.

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人類みな麺類 - Jinrui

大阪府大阪市淀川区西中島1丁目12−15

1 Chome-12-15 Nishinakajima, Yodogawa Ward, Osaka

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.

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製麺処 蔵木 - Kuraki

高知県高知市帯屋町1丁目10−12

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.

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橋本食堂 - Hashimoto

高知県須崎市横町4−19

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?).

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ラーメンエアーストリーム - Ramen Airstream

富山県富山市堀川小泉町510-1

510-1 Horikawakoizumicho, Toyama

Toyama Prefecture

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.

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麺屋鶏冠 - Tosaka

大分県大分市都町2丁目2−26

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!

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Sakanoue Unique

鹿児島県鹿児島市坂之上4丁目19−67

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.

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ハンディクラフトワークス - Handicraft Works

埼玉県八潮市大字伊勢野111-1

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!

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らぁ麺 とうひち - Touhichi

京都府京都市北区大宮北箱ノ井町33-6

33-6 Omiya Kitahakonoicho, Kita Ward, Kyoto

NW 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.

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天理スタミナラーメン - Tenri Stamina

奈良県奈良市西御門町29-4

29-4 Nishimikadocho, Nara

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.

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猪骨ラーメン - Shishikotsu Wild Boar Ramen

愛媛県今治市大三島町宮浦5516

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!

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欽山 - Kinzan

香川県高松市片原町4−10

4-10 Kataharamachi, Takamatsu, Kagawa

Kagawa Prefecture

Just a solid, deeply flavored toripaitan ramen in the heart of udon country.

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Le Sel Organic Ramen

京都府京都市東山区清水4丁目148-6

4 Chome-148-6 Kiyomizu, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto

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.

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さんわ - Sanwa

愛媛県今治市伯方町木浦甲1650-1

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.

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自家製麺うろた - Urota

福島県福島市新町3−14

3-14 Shinmachi, Fukushima

Fukushima City

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.

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つけ麺 繁田 - Shigeta

兵庫県神戸市灘区桜口町5丁目1−1 1F

Hyogo, Kobe, Nada Ward, Sakuraguchicho, 5 Chome−1−1 1F

Kobe

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.

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