Ramen in 2020. It was a crazy year for the entire planet, but Japan got off relatively unscathed. Few shops closed down, but many shops reduced their business hours when the mayor of Tokyo asked. This meant that all your favorite shops were still up and running and accessible for ramen hunters.
As always, this is a list of shops I visited for the first time throughout the year that I find stellar. I include Kanagawa, Chiba, and Saitama on the Tokyo list because you could essentially hit any of these in an afternoon without too much effort. And hit them you should.
〒275-0011 Chiba, Narashino, Okubo, 1 Chome−16−18
Next door to JINRIKISEN
Refined chicken ramen with a daily rotating gentei list. Sure, these kirei shoyu ramen are a dime a dozen these days, but if something only costs a dime for twelve, and they are tasty as hell, I'll slurp them all!
房総式ラーメン 人力船 - Bososhiki Ramen Jinrikisen
1 Chome-16-18 Okubo, Narashino, Chiba 275-0011
Next door to case-K
Labeled as Boso-style, this ramen is unique. Customize your ramen a dozen ways with flavor enhancers (curry ramen anyone?) and toppings. Once your noodles are finished, the staff will add rice and heat everything in a sizzling iron pot.
中華そば 螢 - Chukasoba Hotaru
〒337-0053 Saitama, Minuma Ward, Owadacho, 1−1813-1
Not too far from Omiya
Shoyu, shio, miso, and tsukemen are all on offer at Saitama-based Hotaru. The miso is especially nice. It's darker than your average miso, matching well with the shop's homemade noodles.
MENYA 食味の道有楽 - Menya Kuiaji Doraku
435-1 Matsugasaki, Kashiwa, Chiba 277-0835
Behind a massive pachinko parlor.
A certified trek. Take the train out of Tokyo. Walk a ways. Look for the massive pachinko parlor. Ramen is in the back. Doraku has dozens of options for ramen, with unusual limited bowls using toppings like raw horse meat or spicy fish eggs.
麺ハチイチ - Men Hachihachi (81)
〒180-0004 Tokyo, Musashino, Kichijoji Honcho, 2 Chome−21−10
Kichijoji, home of Inokashira Park
Intense Jiro-style ramen at a shop run by a high-end izakaya means you can enjoy some premium sake with your ramen. Booze and a mountain of pork back fat isn't for everyone, but maybe it's for you.
crab台風 - crab Typhoon
1 Chome-9-5 Nihonbashikakigaracho, Chuo City, Tokyo 103-0014
Rich niboshi and crab soup with seasoned quail eggs. It's a fun bowl at Crab Typhoon. The spicy green sauce really ties this one together.
迂直 - Uchoku
〒167-0032 Tokyo, Suginami City, Amanuma, 3 Chome−10−16-102
Uchoku is the most talked-about shop in recent memory. Their konbusui (literally konbu water) style is a bit of a trend these days. Rich shoyu dipping sauce and homemade noodles served in a viscous konbu reduction. The amount of umami is through the roof. The line is also a bit bonkers. Best to line up well before they open.
鶏そば 山もと - Torisoba Yamamoto
1 Chome-19-8 Nakacho, Musashino, Tokyo 180-0006
Hidden in a basement.
Yakitori Yamamoto becomes Torisoba Yamamoto for lunch. Using only high-quality chickens, this spot is a hidden gem both in the daytime and the evening. Although this is a ramen best-of list, it is worth noting that their yakitori might be the best deal in town. They also specialize in aged nihonshu, a nice match for the smoky chicken skewers.
味噌っ子ふっく - Misokko Hook
2 Chome-40-11 Kamiogi, Suginami City, Tokyo 167-0043
Popular Ogikubo shops Kaede rebranded as Hook. This is Tokyo-style miso. A bit rough, the recommended spicy version is a tightrope act of creamy, spicy, and funky.
味噌ぶりnoodleみやみや - Misoburi Noodle Miyamiya
〒206-0011 Tokyo, Tama, Sekido, 2 Chome−２４−23
Miso winner out in the far reaches of western Tokyo. Miyamiya was the winner of a rookie of the year a few years back and has since fallen off the ramen radar. Consider this one slept on. Five or so different miso pastes from around Japan are blended for a balanced bowl.
らーめん飛粋 - Ramen Hiki
5 Chome-2-5 Kamata, Ota City, Tokyo 144-0052
Hiki is a solid Yokohama ie-kei style shop on the south side of Tokyo. For me, this style is often a miss, so when a shop like Hiki comes around and knocks my tastebuds out of the park, I have reason to celebrate. The chashu topping is particularly tasty.
2 Chome-4-6 Nihonbashibakurocho, Chuo City, Tokyo 103-0002
This restaurant (co-opened by my good friend Shota!) serves a gourmet course menu in the evening and ramen at lunch. As the name suggests, everything is based around insects. While no ants or cicadas were harmed in the making of this bowl, a few hundred crickets go into the soup. Crickets are high in the amino acids that we know and love as umami. Mixed with a few other umami ingredients, like dried fish and mushrooms, this bowl packs a punch. As far as the bugs go, the only indication that you'll find is the lone fried cricket on top. Give it a try!
本格柚子塩らぁ麺 - IRUCA
1 Chome-4-28 Honcho, Higashikurume, Tokyo 203-0053
Higashi-Kurume near Saitama
The master at IRUCA worked for a few well-established shops around Tokyo before opening his own place. It draws on the best from his experiences. The resulting bowl is refined and luxurious. Duck chashu, chicken meatballs, and yuzu. Beautiful.
函館塩ラーメン 五稜郭 - Hakodate Shio Ramen Goryokaku
3 Chome-28-7 Amanuma, Suginami City, Tokyo 167-0032
Hakodate-style shio ramen topped with shredded konbu from, you guessed it, Hakodate. This special konbu, called magome, is in danger of disappearing with the rising temperatures of our oceans, so get it while you can.
ぜんや - Zenya
4 Chome-10-5 Nobitome, Niiza, Saitama 352-0011
Niiza in Saitama
Zenya is one of Japan's most celebrated shio ramen shops. The line will be massive whenever you go, so make sure you plan ahead. It's simple stuff, but full of deep flavors.
麺処 しろくろ - Mendokoro Shirokuro
1 Chome-1-7 Kamitakaido, Suginami City, Tokyo 168-0074
Ramen embraces all types of health-conscious slurpers, with more and more tasty vegetarian and pescetarian bowls in recent years. Mendokoro Shirokuro serves the latter, using only ocean products in the soup. Keep in mind, though, that the toppings include delicious sous vide pork and chicken chashu, so you'll have to ask to leave those off if you are a fish-only person.
中華蕎麦きつね - Chukasoba Kitsune
3 Chome-3-1 Minamikarasuyama, Setagaya City, Tokyo 157-0062
Chukasoba Kitsune's gimmick is a big fat piece of seasoned fried tofu. It's a fusion between the popular udon dish and ramen, and it works.
ラーメン 健やか - Ramen Sukoyaka
1 Chome-28-1 Nakacho, Musashino, Tokyo 180-0006
Konbusui tsukemen is the trend that keeps on giving. Of the dozen or so high-quality shops doing this style, Ramen Sukoyaka stands out with a deeper mix of konbu and katsuo for maximum umami.