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.

ramen case-K

〒275-0011 千葉県習志野市大久保1丁目16−18

〒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!

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房総式ラーメン 人力船 - Bososhiki Ramen Jinrikisen

〒275-0011 千葉県習志野市大久保1丁目16−18

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.

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中華そば 螢 - Chukasoba Hotaru

〒337-0053 埼玉県さいたま市見沼区大和田町1−1813-1

〒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.

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MENYA 食味の道有楽 - Menya Kuiaji Doraku

〒277-0835 千葉県柏市松ケ崎435-1

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.

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麺ハチイチ - Men Hachihachi (81)

〒180-0004 東京都武蔵野市吉祥寺本町2丁目21−10

〒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.

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crab台風 - crab Typhoon

〒103-0014 東京都中央区日本橋蛎殻町1丁目9−5

1 Chome-9-5 Nihonbashikakigaracho, Chuo City, Tokyo 103-0014

Central Tokyo

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.

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迂直 - Uchoku

〒167-0032 東京都杉並区天沼3丁目10−16-102

〒167-0032 Tokyo, Suginami City, Amanuma, 3 Chome−10−16-102

Ogikubo

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.

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鶏そば 山もと - Torisoba Yamamoto

〒180-0006 東京都武蔵野市中町1丁目19−8

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.

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味噌っ子ふっく - Misokko Hook

〒167-0043 東京都杉並区上荻2丁目40−11

2 Chome-40-11 Kamiogi, Suginami City, Tokyo 167-0043

Ogikubo

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.

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味噌ぶりnoodleみやみや - Misoburi Noodle Miyamiya

〒206-0011 東京都多摩市関戸2丁目24−23

〒206-0011 Tokyo, Tama, Sekido, 2 Chome−24−23

Seiseki Sakuragaoka

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.

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らーめん飛粋 - Ramen Hiki

〒144-0052 東京都大田区蒲田5丁目2−5

5 Chome-2-5 Kamata, Ota City, Tokyo 144-0052

Kamata

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.

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Antcicada

〒103-0002 東京都中央区日本橋馬喰町2丁目4−6

2 Chome-4-6 Nihonbashibakurocho, Chuo City, Tokyo 103-0002

Crickets!

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!

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本格柚子塩らぁ麺 - IRUCA

〒203-0053 東京都東久留米市本町1丁目4−28

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.

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函館塩ラーメン 五稜郭 - Hakodate Shio Ramen Goryokaku

〒167-0032 東京都杉並区天沼3丁目28−7

3 Chome-28-7 Amanuma, Suginami City, Tokyo 167-0032

Ogikubo

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.

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ぜんや - Zenya

〒352-0011 埼玉県新座市野火止4丁目10−5

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.

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麺処 しろくろ - Mendokoro Shirokuro

〒168-0074 東京都杉並区上高井戸1丁目1−7

1 Chome-1-7 Kamitakaido, Suginami City, Tokyo 168-0074

Hachiman-Yama

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.

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中華蕎麦きつね - Chukasoba Kitsune

〒157-0062 東京都世田谷区南烏山3丁目3−1

3 Chome-3-1 Minamikarasuyama, Setagaya City, Tokyo 157-0062

Rokkakoen Station

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.

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ラーメン 健やか - Ramen Sukoyaka

〒180-0006 東京都武蔵野市中町1丁目28−1

1 Chome-28-1 Nakacho, Musashino, Tokyo 180-0006

Mitaka Station

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.

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