Tuesday, July 30, 2013

東横 (Toyoko in Niigata)



My company usually puts me up in the Toyoko Inn, one of Japans premier business hotels. Business hotels are generally a no-frills deal; room, TV, shower. I actually recommend Toyoko Inn. There are branches all over the country, usually next to the station, and you always know what you are going to get. I've stayed at some off-brand business hotels that were less than ideal.


So when a friend recommended a ramen shop by the same name as my hotel, a few minutes walk from my hotel, I had to go.


Toyoko is super old school.


Greasy, worn out menus were unnecessary, as the standard miso with extra vegetables is the way to go.


Known for overly salty broth, Toyoko serves their noodles with a side of clear, hot broth. Dilute it as much as you want, but I recommend slurping those noodles as is.


The super strong taste is popular with, for some reason, a bunch of older Japanese rock bands. Sorry, I'm no expert on the sounds of Akanofuru and Heroine, Champagne, or Big Mama.


Sorry about that.


新潟県新潟市中央区南笹口1-1-38 コープオリンピア笹口1F
Niigata-ken, Niigata-shi, Chou-ku, Minamisasaguchi 1-1-38
Closest station: Niigata

Open 11:00-22:00
Tuesdays 11:00-14:00

Sunday, July 28, 2013

あごすけ (Agosuke in Joetsu, Niigata)



I showed up at Agosuke at about noon. I figured the wait would be minimal, this being Joetsu and all. Joetsu is on the southern side of Niigata. Very far from the bullet trains that connect Tokyo with the rest of the prefecture. Not a place you would expect a line.


But the line was massive. At least 50 people. A testament that ramen isn't just a big-city-Tokyo thing in Japan.


The menu at Agosuke is deep. Shoyu, shio, with corresponding kotteri (thick) versions. There are also limited gentei bowls, and certain bowls that are only available for lunch or dinner. Add to that side dishes, and this place is meant to pleas everyone.


I'm a big fan of limited bowls, but wanted to take this rare opportunity to try the original. So I compromised with an order of limited gyoza. Packed with fresh vegetables and some spice, these were a good choice.


And the original bowl of shoyu. Another good choice. The shop, true to their moniker, uses an ago soup. That's fried flying fish. It is much lighter than, say, a niboshi (sardine) or katsuo (skipjack tuna) based broth.


If you have the appetite, go for extra chashu. Only 300 km from Tokyo!


Official Site Here

Niigata-ken, Joetsu-shi, Shimomonzen 1650
Closest staiton: Naoetsu

Open 11:30-14:30, 17:30-21:00
Closed Wednesdays

Friday, July 26, 2013

Ramen Riders! まこと食堂 (Makoto Shokudo in Kitakata, Fukushima)



With temperatures in Tokyo soaring into the 35 degree range, we all set out north for the weekend.


Fukushima to be exact. The above photo was taken at the Ebisu Circuit up in the Bandai area. World famous as a premier drift racing track, it also caters to motorcycle racers.


And there is a zoo on site. Yeah, cost of admission to ride the track includes a fun day at the zoo.


Completely random, completely awesome. Only in Japan.

When we woke up at the campsite on Sunday morning, rain. Not super heavy, but enough to curtail a day of touring in the mountains that we had planned. I had managed to even sway the other riders to hit the mountain roads until 11am, then head down to Shirakawa, a town on the border of Fukushima and Ibaraki for a lunchtime bowl.

The rain had everyone jumping onto the expressway for an early ride home. Only two of us remained. Two die-hard ramen fans. But it was only 6am. What ramen shops are open at 6am?


Bannai, Makoto Shokudo, Ippei, Abe Shokudo, Kiichi, and Asian Shokudo. That's where!

Even though it was about 30 minutes out of our way, Kitakata is one of the only places in Japan with an asa-ra culture. Breakfast ramen. Legit.


This is Makoto Shokudo. With a 60 year history spanning four generations, you know you're going to get a hearty bowl.


Standard Kitakata style. Wavy noodles in that simple shoyu soup, heavy on the niboshi. Tender chashu.


The shop is huge, with individual Japanese-style rooms available for families, as well as a counter and tables next to the kitchen.


Did I mention this is the owner's house? Don't go upstairs!

This spot was packed at 7:30am.


The owners (3rd and 4th generation) spoke some English, so be sure to have a chat if you head up here.


Fukushima-ken, Kitakata-shi, Otazukimichishita 7116
Closest station: Kitakata

Open 7:00am-19:00
Sundays 7:30-15:00
Closed Mondays

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

69'N' Roll One in Akasaka

69'N' Roll One


6 = Ro
9 = Ku

69 = Rock!


The mega-famous, some would even say number-one-in-the-world ramen shop, has opened in the middle of Tokyo. In Akasaka of all places. Akasaka is home to IT firms, TV production headquarters, hotels, and money. There aren't many ramen shops, but you can easily find expensive Belgium beer, tapas, and some Michelin-starred kaiseki cuisine. And now 69'n'Roll One.


Let me say that the original shop in Machida was a total dualistic nightmare. On one hand, the ramen was amazing. Often given the number one award for whatever magazine or association was giving out awards at the time, this was a must-eat for any true ramen fan. On the other hand, the shop was randomly closed most times I went. When I did make it, they enforced that crazy no sound rule. No sound but the slurping of your ramen. Some people respected that about it. I didn't. To put it frankly, it is a dumb idea.


Now the new shop in Akasaka. They completely flipped everything! The shop is big. You probably won't have to wait long, and using your phone to text while you sit, chatting with friends, it is all good. There is a big American diner feel going on here.

But then there is the ramen.

While the original shop was lovingly made day in and day out by the master, or by his meticulously trained disciples, this new shop feels amateur. The kitchen is hidden away in the back, so your guess is as good as mine.

Skip this one, and head to Tsuta instead.


Official Site Here

Tokyo, Minato-ku, Akasaka 3-7-11
Closest station: Akasaka

Open 11:00-23:00

Monday, July 22, 2013

まぜまぜムタヒロ (Mutahiro Mazemaze in Kokubunji)



What's with Mutahiro and Kokubunji Station? The first shop is on the south side. The second shop is on the north. Why even bother with a third, you've got the town covered!


But it is all about style with Mutahiro. Different shops for different styles. While the other two do a niboshi and chicken ramen, respectively, this new one is mazesoba.


I've got my VIP sticker on my phone, and this is opening day.


I should mention why I think this is strange, opening a third shop here. Kokubunji isn't such a massive station. Less than 20 minutes from Shinjuku, there are at least five other stations in the vicinity that would get more business. But maybe it isn't about business. Maybe it is just all about love for Kokubunji.


And this dude has it!


The mazesoba definitely falls below the other two on my list, with the mound of moyashi bean sprouts being a massive negative point for me. I just can't get into them, and the fact that they are classified as a vegetable is kind of a joke.


But with the heavy tare and plenty of stir-fried pork, the bowl comes together in the end. Check this one out after the others. Who knows, maybe you live in Kokubunji!

What will shop number four be? Jiro-kei? Tantanmen? Give it an about a year, at this rate.


Official Site Here

Tokyo, Kokubunji-shi, Honcho 2-13-8
Closest station: Kokubunji

Open 11:30-15:00, 18:00-23:00
Closed Tuesdays

Saturday, July 20, 2013

塚田農場 (Tsukada Nojo in Shinbashi)



What is a ramen shop? If it is somewhere that has ramen on the menu, then this small chain of izakayas is a ramen shop. Otherwise, Tsukada Nojo is just a tasty place specializing in chicken from Miyazaki prefecture.


Tsukada Nojo highlights local cuisine from the south of Japan. Definitely not a famous area for ramen.

That is a nice way of saying that the toridashi tsukemen wasn't that hot. And that was after drinking a whole bottle of Miyazaki shochu, a Japanese liquor made from sweet potatoes.


But the rest of the menu was fantastic.


にら釜玉 - Garlic chive topped with an egg yolk. That radioactive-orange yolk, mixing with the sharp ponzu and slightly bitter veggies was a standout dish.


地鶏炭火焼 - Local chicken fried with charcoal. This is the shop's most famous order. The charcoal is supposed to not only add flavor, but health benefits as well.


地頭鶏たたき - Local chicken sashimi. This might be off the menu during the hotter months, but the rest of the year, raw chicken is on the menu in Japan. A wonderful texture that might remind you of fish, if you didn't know.


Add another point card to the stack!


Official Site Here

新橋2-14-6 新橋さちビル2F, 港区, 東京都 105-0004
Tokyo, Minato-ku, Shinbashi 2-14-6
Closest station: Shinbashi

Open 5:00pm-12:00am