The ultimate Bianco Guide to: Ramen in Tokyo
Let’s be honest - there is no way to create an ultimate guide to Ramen in Tokyo (I am sorry hehe). But still there is a ray of hope, I can create a list that will sure as rain make you happy because of every ramen drop (drop tops) that is cooking in a hot pot (cookie).
So there are about 20,000 Ramen shops (called Ramen-Ya) in Tokyo, and you will definitely find it pretty hard to choose the right one due to the sheer amount of options and bowls.
There are so many Ramen-shops and neon signs that you will inevitably find some streets somewhere in the middle of nowhere that will easily trump your whole city’s ramen game within a space no longer than ten metres, which probably means about 7 Ramen-Ya. Tokyo’s passion for ramen cannot be overstated.
So even though already every little ramen shop will likely kill everything your ramen town has to offer, there are some Ramen-Ya that have turned super Sayan, have become Godzilla-like figures, they are street legends, urban myths, and even holy institutions for the best bowls on the planet.
After spending the last three years low-key building up my ramen knowledge and Tokyo network, this time I knew I had to dig deeper into shoyu, shio, miso and tonkotsu flavored broths, so I started to build up a list of the most fire ramen places I could find.
Through the help of some Japanese Ramen nakamas, the internet, Instagram, and my forever-hungry attitude, this list will def please your tummy and will give you a zero to 100 start into Tokyo Ramen life with some extraordinary spots to go to.
The best thing about this list is that it will not stop (same as my Club sandwich list, check it out, its liiiit, no seriously its lovely).
Since I will visit Tokyo on the regular till the day I die, this list will turn into an ultimate guide over the years to come, and I will not stop till some ramen chef in Tokyo will recognize me with the words “You’re the German idiot with the stupid ramen tattoo, right?“
So, let us start this list and some basic information.
First of all, Ramen is not expensive. Not at all. From 550 to 1400 Yen (very rare) you will find every bowl of your dreams – that’s about 5 to 12 Euros. You can even have Michelin star ramen for 7 bloody euros, so do not believe the pricey hype of expensive Tokyo. This town treats low-key food lovers quite well. Don’t keep visiting the shitty hyped neighbourhood of your town to eat a 13 Euro/pound blow-up-doll bowl of ramen my friends, travel to Tokyo instead and get some real sex for less.
Another hint about finding good ramen in Tokyo is that you will always have a hard time finding the restaurant, even tho you have it on your google map, in your notes and laptops. These spots are hidden everywhere and most of em don’t have a big ass neon sign with their name written on it. I will still try to get you on that right geo tag and I’m pretty sure shit will work out quite well for you using this. You also can and should ask anyone around you if you are having a hard time finding the right spot. The Japanese are always there to help you and your belly to get fat.
Once you make it into your desired Ramen spot you actually could and probably will end up in front of a Ramen odering machine/chef/menu with no English skills at all. Don’t feel stressed now and either ask around in the shop if there is a specific ramen you want (use an image or google translate), or simply say “omakase“ to someone of the team that works in there. “Omakase“ became my best friend in restaurants all over Japan and it simply means that the chef gonna decide what’s best for you. So once they know you’re sure about that “Omakase“ way - sometimes they are afraid of bringing you stuff you don’t like so make sure to show your willingness to try real Japanese food - you will get the best food the chef is capable of. Use it everywhere where you’re having problems with your food game and be excited for what you get - enjoy it.
But now, let’s finally start with a collection of steaming bowls and slurping noises that will make you very happy… and a little bit fat. But that’s ok.
The ultimate Bianco Guide to: Ramen in Tokyo
Let's start with an OG Ramen-Ya called Kiraku. This place has been in the game for more than 60 years now and its chef is a Taiwanese immigrant so everything in this place is literally OG noodle “soupish“. There is no fancy schmancy interior design, no special bowls, and almost no service, but nonetheless this place is amazingly lovely. Even though this place might look like a train station in North Korea, you will really feel the vibe of authentic Ramen. Actually they call Ramen Chuka-men here, which just means Chinese noodles. The shoyu (soy sauce based) broth tastes really, really strong here, and the overall taste could be described as a combination of the essence of one big smokey and fried onion (which is as accurate a description as I can think of).
So Kiraku offers a really strong and good taste that you should absolutely combine with their perfectly cooked wontons, smart sliced pork, and some cold beer. Easy.
Not far away from Kiraku you will find Menya Owada, and if you go there at night you will get the chance to see your first glimpses of shady Shibuya nightlife filled with Yakuza, escorts, and other strange services people will offer you while walking down the path towards glorious ramen. So even though I love Shibuya I will always call it the Japanese Ibiza - everything is fine here (which is probably not the case in Ibiza), but you’re still surrounded by a couple of cheap and bad clubs and average restaurants, as well as some drunken casualties. Again, I still love this area a lot, but just make sure not to spend every day here. This is isn’t even close to everything Tokyo has to offer.
So to get your Ramen just pass all these drunken people (at night), and offerings of special massages (when you’re a boy, at least) and casual ramen spots (you’re looking for the real deal remember) and head to Owada to meet your real needs. This place is actually listed incorrectly on google maps, so just go the destination below and then ask one of the friendly Yakuza, or whatever those shady looking tuxedo boys are, for directions. Show em this picture and they’ll be happy to help.
So let’s finally talk about the Ramen now! Owada has a very salty (I love that) and very tasty (I love that), broth that is much lighter than it actually looks. The place is really small and is filled with Japanese salarymen and hip hop music. In fact, when I was tasting that tricky and interesting spinach in the ramen mix Jay-Z was telling me that I cannot knock the hustle. I agreed and continued enjoying my Ramen hustle. On top of that there was some thick and sexy grilled pork on top and some really thick and sumptuous noodles which make this bowl perfect yet and a challenge to finish. So if you choose to go there at midnight get ready for a fight because eating Ramen at 1am is something new, lovely and sweat-inducing in your life. You will love it and likely start sweating.
Let’s head to a sweet angel called Afuri. You might actually come across this place a couple of times throughout Tokyo and you will be relieved every time by their light and soft Ramen. Some of the joints on this list will really play with your nerves and cause some beads of sweat to appear, but Afuri is a different breed. Their Ramen is infused with yusu which is a type of citrus in East Asia and the key in creating this light bowl. I recommend their signature chi yu (chicken skin) ramen with a perfectly grilled pork belly (char siu). This ramen is incredibly refreshing and something you cannot miss.
After Afuri it's time for a change - so get out the way of that lightly flavoured Ramen and pull out the real guns, ok? Ginza Kagari’s signature dish, and the reason why people line up outside, is their Tori Paitan Ramen.
Tori Paitan is a Kyoto-style ramen with a chicken-based broth made by pressure cooking poultry. It is creamy, incredibly rich in flavour, and absolutely fucking amazing. While all the Tori Paitans I had in Kyoto before this were slightly lighter, I really cannot complain about the thickness of Ginza Kagari. This broth is amazingly tasty, as I said super thick and full of umami! On top of that they have some chicken slices as a topping and bamboo shoots from my favourite town Kyoto (read the guide). Again, this place is an absolute must, so follow my birdcall and get that Tori Paitan, brrrrrrrr brrrr.
MENYA MUSASHI BUKOTSU
Let’s stick with heavy bowls and go to Ueno and a shop called Menyamusashi Bukotsu. It is just around the Ameyoko market, where you will find lots of – well, everything. This market is insane, and luckily for us you will also find one of the ramen places straight out of your dreams.
The crew in this Ramen-Ya is pretty young, the music is loud, and their signature Ramen style is called Tsukemen, which basically means dipping soba, aka you dip your noodle into that sweet lovely broth instead of having everything already in one bowl. Their roasted pork filet almost melts on your tongue, and their boiled egg is perfectly on point. There really isn’t that much more I can say about the whole experience. This ramen really is amazing and the young crew behind it is more hip than young money records.
We actually went here for a second time because this Ramen really was (as I told you) amazing, and by the end we managed to taste all three broths including the squid ink ramen bowl. The Squid Ink is slightly more expensive than every average bowl you will get in Japan but definitely worth a try. Nonetheless, you should def go for the Tsukemen first, because we had a hard time finding something better than that, and one of our crew even put it in the number one spot of a long and heavy Ramen hunt. Again, having tried them all, I highly suggest you start with the Tsukemen on the very left upper side of the Ramen odering machine and get ready for some love.
I am really struggling to find the words to describe Kotetsu. Just look at the picture and try to imagine how good this one was. The chef again is very young, and his signature ramen is a very clean shoyu (soy) broth with a slight hint of fish. The broth is perfect and their char siu (roasted pork, remember?) is out of this world, not only because of the look, but also because of it is cooked until it is unbelievably tender. On top of that there are some amazing wontons, and moreover you just pay 650 yen for that one bowl (which is about 5 Euros). This definitely was one of my favorite ramen bowls of all time, and the neighborhood around that place is so lovely and perfect.
Shimokitazawa is full of vintage and second hand stores where you can dig for some really good finds. Also, the houses here are small so you will finally see some sky again and realize again how well Tokyo is treating you and that you should def explore all the small neigbourhoods on top!
But let’s head back to Shibuya now and go to Asuka. This place is a heavyweight champion of tonkatsu (deep-fried pork cutlet) toppings, which are served upon a lovely bowl of Tantanmen. Tantanmen ramen is a spicy broth containing vegetables, chili oil, Sichuan pepper, minced pork, and scallions. On top of that (yes… on top of that) they also put that deep fried pork cutlet - and yes - this is just great. The spiciness of the broth is actually addicting. You just can’t stop slurping the broth even tho you’re full as you could possible be. It’s not too hot but still hot. It’s hard to explain but the taste is somewhere between bbq chips and fried onions. I really loved it even though I ate it while having one of the worst and most deadly hangovers ever and I was still full from some lunch before (don’t do that, it’s way too heavy for madness like that). The fried pork was super tender by the way and the thin noodles were perfectly cooked. Most importantly though, I survived that day.
Hayashi is straight out the picture-perfect Ramen books. This place is so straight and simple I really fell in love with it. There are just 3 options on the machine and the whole place is super quiet while everybody sits in silent concentration surrounded by walls full of awards and prices. Besides the slurping of your neighbours, you won’t hear a single voice utter a word while you enjoy a perfect bowl of Ramen. Lovely.
However, it’s actually not that easy to get your bowl at Hayashi because this place is only open for a few hours a day from 11:30 to 3:30, and it might even close earlier if they run out of Ramen. So since there is a line from the very first minute this place opens you should be smart and come here quickly and as early as possible.
But let’s talk about the ramen. The broth is probably the most balanced soup I tried in Tokyo, some might even say ordinary but I really loved it. The ramen is super straight, a basic monster, a concentrated version of a really good and authentic ramen. Do not miss it, go there and feel the power of the baddest basic bitch alive.
Yokohama is pretty close to Tokyo and is a place you should not miss, especially when you want to flee out of your Shibuya madness even if just for a day. A good friend of mine pointed out I really should go to Hitofunbari since this place is og and special at the same time.
Hidden in a casual Japanese housing complex you will find the doors of Hotfunbari and the old men behind the counter will serve you a seafood, bonito and tonkotsu mixed broth you def will like a lot. At the same time, this place will take you deep into the casual ramen and working culture of Japan. This is no buzzed and hype food guide place for ramen, yet still this Ramen-ya was always packed the time I was in there with people continuously coming in and sitting down next to me. The ramen was straight good without overdoing anything. A really fantastic ramen served by a friendly old man who seems to have been doing this forever. This place for me is the perfect example of how you find a delicous bowl of Ramen in almost every street, corner, and alley you come across in Japan and I cannot wait to go to all the other spots that my dear Kyoto friend put on my list for the next few years!
By the way don’t forget to check out Yokohamas China Town to dive into another Asian cuisine for a while. The lights, the food, and the people around there are something you should not miss when walking around Yokohma.
Sanji is a special place. First of all it’s in Ueno, where you find lots of nice markets as mentioned above. But most of all it is because this place serves a crazy crab ramen with a broth so tasty and salty it’s like nothing I’ve ever tasted before. The noodles are so thin and elegant and there are fresh onions in the mix that are incredibly refreshing. As if that’s not enough, you can even add a quail egg on top of that. To get the egg, push the 50 Yen button on the ramen machine, and be aware that this will get you three eggs.
I really really really liked this place, but I was not aware of the 3 eggs for 50 yen deal and ended up with 9 eggs and one badass ramen. Perfect.
Menya Hanabi Shinjuku
Since I had been to Kyoto last year and had Mazesoba for the first time (read it) I fell in love with this brothless Ramen. The amount of umami and sexiness you get when you mix the yolk with the rest of the bowl is just incredible and one of the best things I have ever eaten.
So Mensa Hanabi also serves this insane mix of amazing ingredients as well as adding its very own spiciness to the story and you really, really should go there and try it. Again, there are lines to expect so it is best to come about half an hour before it opens. It’s in a very grey and ugly part of Shinjuku so expect to only find beauty inside the bowl rather than outside of it.
The spiciness was just perfectly balanced (for me, my friend said it was supa hot fire), the noodles were amazing and the minced meat was super tasty. There is no way around a bowl of Mazesoba in Japan, so if you’re in Tokyo have one in this place!
SANMON NO TOKU
Let’s head to a strange, lovely, and totally tourist free place and dive into the world of Japanese after work madness. Sanmon No Toku (If I get that name right) is located one floor above an Izakaya mall which is simply a long hall full of little bars and restaurants where everyone from salary men to normal workers meet after work to eat, drink, and smoke. A good friend brought us down here and after we had our first armada of drinks and food we went upstairs to Sanmon.
This place also is an Izakaya, so next to your Ramen you also get raw liver, raw chicken (at your own risk) and lots of other stuff. The system here is slightly different and it’s called “cash on delivery“. You simply fill the bucket on your table with money and wait for the lady to bring you whatever she has to offer! However, you can still ask specifically for some Ramen and we were very surprised when she came back with two different broths, and absolutely nailed it with both.
We shared them all in a couple of smaller bowls, got slightly drunk and enjoyed the night. An Izakaya is a win-win situation and you def should try to find this spot (use the pictures).
Time for a ramen chain and probably the best of them all, open 24 hours a day and simply amazing. If you want to find more about it check one of my first Tokyo guides here (which also includes a lot of other amazing food).
KitaOtsuka is from a neighbourhood where you will find the only two ramen places with a Michelin star in Tokyo, so let it be understood that this area is blessed. Kita does not have to hide behind the stars because this place is amazingly good and heavy weight heavy at the same time. In here their special Char Siu ramen is packed with super straight grilled pork belly (a lot of it) that is smokey, oily and incredibly tasty. You can put some extra minced garlic on it if you want to create a big monster on your table that will easily send you to sleep afterwards. Therefore, I recommend NOT picking the big version of this dish and instead to just enjoy a small bowl with some big things and ridiculous taste inside. You can either sit at the chef’s table along the counter or go upstairs to find a cozy corner with an authentic vibe.
My good friend and ramen connoisseur Tomo aka poppo_jr brought me to this amazing place in the heart of Shinjuku. Once again we are diving into an old and og restaurant that has been doing its thing for an incredibly long time. The broth was slightly sweet and very clear, it reminded me of the perfectly cooked chicken broth your mother used to make you when you were sick.
Nothing against your mother, but these guys have finessed this thing to a whole new level and have added some really thick and juicy slices of pork on to it, then added an insane amount of noodles to it. It’s not easy to finish but def worth trying, plus the bamboo shoots in this mix were the best ones I have ever tasted.
I recommend going there in the evening and afterwards go 10 metres to the left into the Izakaya around the corner to start drinking and eating some small snacks. Sure, you just ate a heavy bowl of Ramen, but nothing can stop you now. Your body already knows what you are capable and a lemon sour in Tokyo is always a good idea. Do it.
Ramen Bokusei also is located around that lovely vintage neighborhood Shimokitazawa and again this places serves some light Ramen to please your tummy and fill you with energy. It’s almost like these people know that you will need energy to find some purple TNF labels and vintage sneakers.
Bokusei has no odering machine so just go there and “Omakase“ your way through it! You really will enjoy this one and the rock and roll music the old men are listening to while you eat your ramen. However, if this is your first time in Shimokitazawa, go to Kotestu from above first because it is one of the do or die places on this list!
Let’s finally talk about the Michelin star ramen and start with Tsuta. An insane experience, and easily one of the best bowls of my life. Here’s another link to another guide I already wrote including that place. Read it here, hehe.
Time for the Michelin star ramen number two and the temporary end to this list. On my last day in Tokyo I finally made it to the second star in Tokyo to complete my hunt/quest of never ever liking any Ramen outside of Tokyo (Except this one).
We arrived at Nakryu on a Saturday one hour before it opened and claimed spot 11 in the line. Only a few minutes later the line was packed with up to 40 people and there was no stop at all to this madness. You really should go there early, or be prepared to wait for a long time.
But again, let’s talk about the Ramen. Their signature dish is a tantanmen ramen which has two versions; spicy or super spicy. This is topped with some coriander and a really creamy broth. We had both versions and you can actually survive the super spiciness if this is something you have a little experience in. The broth really is amazing and it has a slightly nutty aroma that makes it one of a kind. The spiciness is at the perfect level and the coriander is something that is totally new for me on ramen, but is a very nice addition. The whole bowl is just amazing but hard to finish if you order some side dishes and a bottle beer to compliment it (I did that, don’t do it).
Since the Nakryu isn’t just known for its tantanmen, and since we were really trying to taste everything we could, we also got the shio ramen (there were three of us, and you only can order one bowl each). This bowl was actually (at least for two of us) better than the tantanmen because of the perfectly cooked, balanced, and seasoned broth as well as its super tender and buttery meat on top of the lovely won tons in it. This was a perfect bowl of ramen, a great assembly of ingredients, and I highly recommend you to vary your orders everywhere you go to get the maximum variety and taste out of every Ramen-Ya. There couldn’t have been a better end to the first entry in this never-ending guide, and all you have to do now book your flight to Tokyo to eat a damn bowl of Ramen and be happy and full forever (and wait for me to update this list soonish).