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


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.

Read more

生姜ラーメン みづの - Mizuno


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.

Read more

海老麺総本家 地元家 - Jimotoya


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.

Read more

大阪麺哲 - Mentetsu


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

Read more

人類みな麺類 - Jinrui


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

Read more

製麺処 蔵木 - Kuraki


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.

Read more

橋本食堂 - Hashimoto


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?).

Read more

ラーメンエアーストリーム - Ramen Airstream


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.

Read more

麺屋鶏冠 - Tosaka


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!

Read more

Sakanoue Unique


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.

Read more

ハンディクラフトワークス - Handicraft Works


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!

Read more

らぁ麺 とうひち - Touhichi


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.

Read more

天理スタミナラーメン - Tenri Stamina


29-4 Nishimikadocho, 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.

Read more

猪骨ラーメン - Shishikotsu Wild Boar Ramen


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!

Read more

欽山 - Kinzan


4-10 Kataharamachi, Takamatsu, Kagawa

Kagawa Prefecture

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

Read more

Le Sel Organic Ramen


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

Read more

さんわ - Sanwa


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.

Read more

自家製麺うろた - Urota


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.

Read more

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 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.

Read more