As 2018 draws to a close, I look back at the bowls that really stood out for me. This is not a best-of list in the classic way of best-of lists, rather a reflection on the places I visited for the first time this year. Some shops are brand new, and some shops are very old. All are places I would recommend without hesitation.

純手打ち 麺と未来 - Mentomirai

東京都世田谷区北沢3丁目25−1

3 Chome-25-1 Kitazawa, Setagaya-ku

Noodles made by hand without any machine in a funky shio ramen soup. One of the best shops in trendy Shimokitazawa.

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亀戸煮干中華そばつきひ - Tsukihi

東京都江東区亀戸5丁目13−2

Tōkyō-to, Kōtō-ku, Kameido, 5 Chome−13−2

Ultra-strong niboshi ramen that is great for me, but might not be what you are looking for. Do you love niboshi? Do you really, really love the stuff? Then come here asap.

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中華そば 吾衛門 - Goemon

東京都八王子市千人町3丁目3−3

3 Chome-3-3 Senninchō, Hachiōji-shi, Tōkyō-to

OG Hachioji-style ramen. Loads of diced raw onion and a line down the road. Technically Tokyo, but this shop is quite far out west. Open since 1959.

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ソラノイロ Factory & Labo

東京都台東区柳橋2丁目6−8

Tōkyō-to, Taitō-ku, Yanagibashi, 2 Chome−6−8

The vegan-friendly Soranoiro group just opened a definitely not vegan-friendly Jiro-style shop. Heavy noodles, heavy soup, and plenty of fresh vegetables.

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麺庵 ちとせ - Menan Chitose

東京都新宿区市谷台町18−5

18-5 Ichigayadaimachi, 新宿区 Shinjuku-ku, Tōkyō-to

A few menu items, but their tantanmen is a Japanese-style take on a Chinese dish done very well. Get the beer and chashu set on the side.

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葉山 - Hayama

東京都新宿区市谷薬王寺町1

1 Ichigayayakuōjimachi, Shinjuku-ku, Tōkyō-to

A one-man show. Homemade noodles in a niboshi-rich soup. You might have to wait a bit, but it's worth it. Makes a cameo in the ramen documentary "Ramen Heads."

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竹末 - Takesue

東京都墨田区業平5丁目14−7

Tōkyō-to, Sumida-ku, Narihira, 5 Chome−14−7

Near Tokyo Sky Tree

Japanese trout ramen topped with a multitude of meats. Just unique enough to stand out without being weird. Four or Five other equally unique bowls on offer to keep you returning.

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一笑 - Issho

東京都杉並区阿佐谷南1-9-5

Tokyo, Suginami-ku, Asagayaminami 1-9-5

Choose between a dozen or so topping bowls to enhance your ramen. Stamina-style? Numbing-style? Thai-style? Great concept!

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麺LABOひろ - Menlabohiro

東京都目黒区五本木2-51-5

Tokyo, Meguro-ku, Gopongi 2-51-5

Beautiful ramen from the 2017 rookie of the year. A touch of yuzu and pickled sansho spice for some serious aromatics. FYI, they have a foie gras ramen on the regular menu.

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宣久 - Thank You

東京都世田谷区南烏山3-24-7

Tokyo, Setagaya-ku, Minamikarasuyama 3-24-7

Ivan Ramen's former location.

The manager of now-closed Ivan Ramen opened his own shop in the same space. Many similarities, and many differences. The biggest difference is the broth made from maguro tuna.

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たんたん亭 - Tantantei

東京都杉並区浜田山3-31-4

Tokyo, Suginami-ku, Hamadayama 3-31-4

Seriously old-school shop out west of Shinjuku. Go for the mixed wontons but be careful of the amount; this is a lot of ramen.

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Bonito Soup Noodle RAIK

東京都杉並区大宮1-2-3

Tokyo, Suginami-ku, Omiya 1-2-3

Bonito from Kagoshima forms the base of this bowl. Deep umami in both the thin and thick versions of their ramen. Fun fact, it's only 50 meters from where I was in a motorcycle accident that required about six months of rehab!

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Tombo

東京都武蔵野市吉祥寺南町4-16-12

Tokyo, Mushashino-shi, Kichijoji Nancho 4-16-12

Rookie of the year ramen. The master worked at Saikoro for many years. He took his master's style and added his own touches to it. Clean styles with a limited miso in the evenings.

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Noodle Stand Tokyo

東京都渋谷区神宮前1-21-15 ナポレ原宿B1F

Tokyo, Shibuya-ku, Jungumae 1-21-15

Next to Harajuku Station

When Mirai up in Akabane closed, I was a bit disappointed. When they reopened in central Tokyo, I knew I'd be heading there often. Classic Tokyo-style, vegan coconut miso, and a soupless mazesoba topped with stewed beef. Fun shop run by a great couple. Look for my sticker on the wall!

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かしわぎ - Kashiwagi

東京都中野区東中野1-36-7

Tokyo, Nakano-ku, Higashi-Nakano 1-36-7

Kashiwagi is the spiritual successor to now-closed Imagawa. Lighter soup accented with clams in the dashi. Just far enough away from the center to be a hidden gem. Ramen with clams as an underlying ingredient is a trend these days. Who doesn't love ramen trends!

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