People love lists.
People hate lists.
Nothing is more divisive than a best-of restaurant list. Armchair critics are quick to talk about the time they visited Japan and had the most authentic ramen ever, and even quicker to discredit whoever wrote the list. I don’t blame them, as “foodie” is a completely normal hobby these days, and foodies need to eat. In the gourmet world, you have Michelin, the World’s 50 Best, Opinionated on Dining, Eater, Yelp, etc. Add in the local critics and you’ll have your calendars full of reservations for a lifetime.
Ramen has its share of lists as well. So how do you choose the best? Which list do you choose? Why not choose them all!
- For this definitive top 5, I started with Michelin. In 2018, they gave 21 shops a recommendation. Sure, the variety leans towards refined new-wave shoyu soups, but it’s a decent list. So let’s start with 21.
- Next, I chose from that list the shops I personally think are stellar. This brought the list down to 13.
- Looking to professional Japanese ramen critics, I grabbed the latest issue of Tokyo Ramen of the Year Magazine (第19回 業界最高権威 TRYラーメン大賞 2018-2019). This magazine ranks the best shops in Tokyo by category and is curated by the top dudes (and gals) in the ramen game. Shops that remain are down to 6.
- But what do the people have to say? Tabelog is the most used crowd-sourced review site in Japan. They have a category called 百名店 (100 famous shops) that serve as their best-of for a few categories. Ramen has a 百名店 for East, West, and Tokyo, so I was surprised when one of the shops on the list wasn’t included. We are left with 5.
If you have a problem with this list, take it up with, in no particular order, the French, the top critics in Japan, the Japanese people in general, and me. On a side note, there is no tonkotsu ramen on this list. So I’ll just defer to Yelp, which gives Ichiran the gold medal.
SOBAHOUSE Konjikihototogisu - SOBAHOUSE 金色不如帰
Tokyo, Shinjuku-ku, Shinjuku 2-4-1
New location in an alley near Shinjuku Park.
Hototogisu has been serving ultra-refined ramen since 2008. A chef's favorite, the old location was a hidden gem. Now, with a Michelin Star and more convenient shop in Shinjuku, expect their popularity to really grow. The soup is accented by clams and topped with a cep mushroom paste for extra umami. Please note that photography of anything other than your bowl is prohibited.
Tokyo, Nerima-ku, Nerima 1-29-16
Gyokai style (plenty of dried fish in this one) that is hard to categorize. The soup is made from pork backs, whole chickens, and a fishy dashi. Thick noodles and thick-cut menma are from the master's history with famed Watanabe in Takadanobaba. A bit out of the city center, this one might still be off the radar of most foodies.
Ramen Yamaguchi - らぁ麺 やまぐち
Tokyo, Shinjuku-ku, Nishi-Waseda 2-11-13
Yamaguchi does chicken ramen right. The soup is all chicken with a touch of Japanese dashi. The slow-cooked chicken chashu could possibly be the best non-pork topping in Tokyo.
Note: This photo is from a limited bowl made with three kinds of chicken and wild boar. It was amazing, but their normal stuff is equally great.
Nakiryu - 創作麺工房 鳴龍
Tokyo, Toshima-ku, Minamiotsuka 2-34-4
The lines can be long. Very long.
Soup made from beef, chicken, and oysters is right up any ramen hunter's alley. Personally, I think the tantanmen, their soup base mixed with an original spice mix, is tops.
Ramen Sugimoto - らぁ麺 すぎ本
Tokyo, Nakano-ku, Saginomiya 4-2-3
Never crowded. Score!
A disciple of Sano-san, the late ramen master who took ramen to the gourmet level. Classic ramen to the core. Sugimoto makes noodles using Sano-san's personal noodle machine. How rad is that!