Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Best Ramen in Tokyo: Yamanote Version


A first trip to Tokyo can be daunting. Shinjuku Station, to use the most extreme example, services close to 4 million people every day. A single train from Tokyo Station can take you non-stop to the northern reaches of Aomori; another down south to the island of Kyushu (sorry ramen fans, there still isn't a direct link from Asahikawa to Kumamoto). But one thing is simple and constant in this city; that lime green Yamanote line.


A train comes every 3 minutes. It takes an hour to loop the city. It stops at almost every ramen hub in town. Here are my top 5 ramen shops within a stone's throw of this iconic line.

風雲児 - Fuunji


Fuunji's smoky fish flavored soup is rich and satisfying. At first, I mistakingly thought it was a standard pork bone broth mixed with fish powders, with a few secret ingredients thrown in. But it's actually made with chicken bones. How they get so much thick umami out of that I don't know, but it's great. Expect lines.

My full writeup is here.

Exit the JR Shinjuku Station South Exit and turn right on the main road. Continue past the 1st large intersection. At the next signal, cross the street and go down the road there. You should pass a Starbucks coffee and police box on your right. Fuunji is just past that on the right.

Open 11-15, 17-21
Closed Sundays

Tokyo, Shibuya-ku, Yoyogi 2-14-3
The fiery bowl at Kikanbou gives you no choices, yet many. By choosing your level of both their signature 10-spice kara mix and numbing sansho pepper shibi mix you can go from safe (and delicious) to dangerous (and delicious) as you will.

My full writeup is here.

Exit the Kanda Station and walk north along the tracks for a minute or 2. Cross at the signal and turn right. Walk another minute. It's on a corner.
Or watch this video.

Open 11-16, 17:30-21
Saturdays 11-16
Closed Sundays

Tokyo, Chiyoda-ku, Kajicho 2-10-10

At the forefront of the cafe-style ramen trend in Tokyo is AFURI. The simple shio and shoyu soups, kissed with fresh yuzu citrus, pull in both hardened salarymen and health conscious ladies alike.

Full writeup here.

From Ebisu Station West Exit turn right on the major road. Walk past the first signal and turn right on a smaller street. You should see AFURI there.

Open 11am-late (about 4am)

Tokyo, Shibuya-ku, Ebisu 1-1-7

A relative newcomer, Nishio won a lot of praise for his shoyu ramen. Using corn meal in the noodle making process and mixing both chicken and fish stocks for the soup isn't very traditional, but it works wonderfully.

Full review here.

From Komagome Station, turn right on the main road. Walk down the hill. Just before the intersection at the bottom is an alley to the left. Nishio is just down there.

Open 11:30-15:30, 17:30-22

Tokyo, Kita-ku, Nishigahara 1-54-1

The Tokyo Ramen Street

A great selection of 8 different shops convene in the undergrounds of Tokyo Station. This is your one-stop-shop to try some of the best. You could come here every day for a week and still tell your friends that you experienced some of the best noodling in the city.

Now, there are only 4 shops, but from April 2011, there will be 8. Shops on these ramen streets change, here are the 4 as of writing.





From Tokyo Station, look for signs, ask a station attendant, or just wander until you find it. It's not hard, but hard to describe!

Open 11-22

I made a google map of these shops, but it doesn't always display correctly:

Yes, this list is flawed as there are no tonkotsu shops. I was stumped for great tonkotsu that is within sight of the Yamanote.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

ajito (Pizza Mazemen at ajito in Oimachi)



I still get asked occasionally about the ice cream ramen I ate some time last year. These people asking me surely aren't searching for the best bowl of noodles in town. You can search for the perfect bowl, or you can search for the weirdest bowl. It's your adventure!


Personally, I'm a big fan of the strange and unusual. So when I heard of a hidden gem in the suburbs of Oimachi that served a pizza mazemen, it went on the list.


ajito is a bit hard to find. I had a few travelling ramen fans from Singapore (by the way, check out my friend's blog for a Japanese ramen master's life in the city: Noodleholic) so the pressure was on. The shop is very nondescript, the English lettering being the only way we would have found it without consulting the local police department (they always know).


Two choices, standard and butatama. You can choose 3 sizes. Go with the small size. Medium was too much.


The butatama version, as slurped by my friends.


And the standard. That is a pile of anchovy powder on top. Freshly cut yellow and green peppers, onion, and tomato add a bit of health to the mix. The salami was a great touch, they could have easily gone with some sort of sausage topping and still called it the same thing. Noodles are standard tsukemen style, thick and heavy. Again, heed the shop masters warning that the M is けっこ大き - a little big. Oh, and there is a big pile of cheese under it all.


Fun stuff.


I made a video with AKB48 member Rena. Check it out!

北の大地 (Kitanodaichi in Shinjuku)

蝦夷らーめん 北の大地


Sorry for the lack of new reviews of late. Somehow, February filled up with work faster than a line at a new Ramen Jiro shop. With a total of 3 days off this month, and 2 of those already spoken for with out of town hiking, searching out new ramen shops has taken a bit of a break. And to continue the apologies; sorry for this review! The adventure behind this shop is based on the fact that it is close to a major bookstore, where I was perusing ramen mags.


Kitanodaichi is stuffed into one of the hundreds of buildings in the area around Shinjuku station. The menu has a few choices, though the 北 - kita in the title pushed me to try one of their miso offerings.


Cheese and mushroom miso ramen. The mushrooms were a nice touch, and I'd like to see them paired with miso more often. The rest of the bowl was rather normal.


Better reviews on the way!

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More Info Here

Saturday, February 12, 2011

ボニート ボニート (Bonito Bonito in Oimachi)

ボニート ボニート


Vegetarian ramen does exist, but the one or two times I've come across it has been a complete failure. Climbing the meat-acceptance ladder usually brings us to the pescetarian. Although rare, ramen with only fish does exist. Until now, the only one worth mentioning was Ivan Plus. Enter Bonito Bonito*.


Bonito around the world. Also known as katsuo in Japan. I almost never hear the English used word, skipjack tuna. It looks like the origin is Italian. The more you know.


The menu has a few items, though everything revolves around the shops arabiki blend, a fish powder made from katsuo and niboshi.


The sardine and skipjack powder is blended with a simple stock and shoyu. Before coming in, I expected the soup would be in the udon style. Thin and clear.


The rough blend ended up being thick and cloudy. Bits of fish flakes coat every noodle. Continuing the rough theme, Bonito Bonito uses thick chunks of menma from Kyushu, though I wouldn't call them that. More like takenoko. It's great stuff.


If you didn't get enough katsuo, pick up some products on the way out.


*I can't guarantee the ingredients anywhere on this site. To be honest, many Japanese people I've met don't seem to understand the concept of vegetarian or pescetarian. The absence of visible meat chunks is often enough for some people to consider a meal meatless. And it could be that one of the vegetable ingredients was roasted in chicken oil or lard.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

ほん田 (Honda in Oji)

麺処 ほん田


Honda is highly ranked, with a score over 90 on the Supleks ramen database. That's not a sure-fire indication of success, as just about any tonkotsu gyokai seems to get a bump in their reviews. But surely Mendokoro Honda, which is sitting at the coveted #1 position for 2011 should be excellent.


It seems that every station along the Kehin-Tohoku line, from Ueno to Omiya, is a bustling night spot. It makes sense, as many (around a million according to government data) hard working salarymen in Tokyo leave the city for cheaper residence up towards Saitama.


I like the logo, though I'd take a Honda over a Harley any day.

特製濃厚豚骨魚介らーめん - Special thick pork and fish soup ramen

Worthy of high regards. The meat on the left is more of a peppered pastrami style. The rest of it great, though I'm curious why they are ranked higher than other equally delicious shops. Maybe it's because the trek out to Higashi Jujo station builds anticipation as well as hunger. Or maybe it's that the shop offers other things, like a trendy shio.


Mendokoro Honda will be at the Tokyo Ramen Street from April, I'm very curious to see them go head to head with Rokurinsha.


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More Info Here

School Food in Takadanobaba

School Food


The Tokyo Ramen Guide is a book I wrote recently. Don't get your hopes up, it's just a Tokyo pocket atlas, with a little post-it note for every shop that I want to try in the future. But, alas, I usually only write the name and address, not the shop's hours. So TMD420G (that's the ramen shop's name) was closed when I arrived. Further research indicated that it is actually closed for good. The ramen radar pointed me to the nearest noodle-serving shop. School Food?


韓国料理, Koean food. Maybe they have some ramyeon. They sure have a lot of K-pop posters.


And they sure have a lot of Jinro.


There it is. I ordered a bowl of ramen and a side of kimchi gimbap. I watched as the chef opened a packet of dried instant ramen.


The addition of eggs and greens didn't bring this bowl to any higher state. Don't get me wrong, Korean instant noodles are a go-to winner for an easy bite. It really should have been just 300 yen though, 500 is a bit pricey for what was served.

No info, but found this tasty looking shop with the same name in NY and Korea. Obviously a different place.

Random Bowls with Ramen Fans


In a typical month, I meet up with 4 or 5 random travelling fans of ramen. Met up with the guys behind Ken Ken Ramen, a new pop up shop in San Francisco. There were mentions of their spicy miso being one of the first to sell out, so we went to my absolute favorite spicy miso place, Kikanbo. Spices from Japan, China, South Korea, and India.


Good luck Ken Ken Ramen, I'm happy to hear that you are aiming for authentic ramen as opposed to the American trend of fusion styles.


Later that week with Hiroshi...


Dokkan is great. Just ask for the 背脂煮干濃厚醤油ラーメン. Seaburaniboshinokoshoyuramen.


Though the shio was good too.