Best of the Best 2012

This is an old list I made back in 2012. It is still relevant today (2017).

Instead of a "Top 10 Ramen in Tokyo", I'm going with a "Top 3 Ramen in Tokyo", more or less.  The top 3-ish in 8 different categories.
  1. Shoyu - Mainly a soy sauce based soup
  2. Shio - Usually light, using salt to get the . . . saltiness
  3. Tonkotsu (straight) - Creamy smooth pork soup
  4. Tonkotsu (shoyu) - Pork and shoyu, usually a bit intense
  5. Miso - Miso paste is blended into the soup
  6. Spicy - Any ramen can be made spicy
  7. Tsukemen - Dipping noodles
  8. Original - Unique tastes
(click the shop's name for more information)



En is, simply, fantastic.  All the elements of a perfect bowl are there: the noodles are just chewy enough, the toppings are handmade with great care, and the soup yields squeals of joy.

Check the hours, and get there early, else your journey out into the west of Tokyo will be in vain.  Yeah, this one is a bit of a trek, but if you are serious about ramen, you won't give it a second thought.


Dokkan hails from Niigata, a part of Japan known for a couple styles of ramen.  This variety means that Dokkan is actually three shops in one.  Some days you will get a miso curry tsukemen, other days a fishy shoyu.  But on the days when Dokkan is there, you get what looks like inedible mounds of pork fat in a rich shoyu soup.  Trust me, you will devour every last bit of those fatty morsels.


A total newcomer on the scene in 2012, Matador blew everyone away.  While using beef bones to make the soup is uncommon, doing it well is a great feat, worthy of praise.  Don't worry, though, Matador has been praised by everyone in the ramen scene.

Yes, those are two giant slabs of roast beef on top, if you were wondering.

Nagi Golden Gai

No other ramen shop in Japan matches it's environment as well as Nagi Golden Gai.  Golden Gai, in the heart of Kabukicho, boasts the world's largest concentration of bars per square foot.  It's seedy, colorful, and crowded.  Expect a wait at Nagi here, even in the hours long after the trains have stopped running, for a few minutes at least.  Drinking on the street is allowed.

Oh, the ramen.  It's packed with more dried fish than your sober body could handle.  It works, though.  Every aspect is rough around the edges, but somehow that equates to an amazing bowl; a must-eat anytime you end up in this part of town.


Tsuta could have the best shoyu tare in town. A blend of three mega-premium soy sauces from small distilleries across Japan, this is the stuff that shoyu-dreams are made of.

Amazing stuff, right off the Yamanote line.



Ganko gets mixed reviews, but just getting to the shop is worth it.  Look for a sign-less storefront with a massive bone hanging out front.  The master has given birth to dozens of other shops, as shown on the fading family tree inside.  More black shops with bones hanging out front.

Be warned, the shop closes if the soup isn't perfect for that day.



Most straight tonkotsu ramen stinks.  A few popular shops in Tokyo are smell-able two or three blocks away.  And blocks are long around town.  Opinions range from a fine cheese smell to a downright rotten odor.

Muteppo surprises everyone with it's scent, or lack thereof.  For such an intense bowl, it is surprisingly easy to slurp.

Tanaka Shoten

This shop is the most OG tonkotsu in Tokyo. A bit inconvenient unless you can drive, though. Good luck, it is worth it.



While the streetside yatai scene in Tokyo is lacking, Gotaru makes me feel a bit like I am back in Hakata. A dinky little place, cramped and unassuming, this is where you can get that simple bowl. No nonsense Hakata style, stinky and creamy.



Fans of a food challenge should flock here.  The bowl is placed on the counter,  brimming with scalding soup.  Customers stand and sip the broth to  a manageable level before starting their quest to finish.  An intense quest indeed.

One of my favorite Jiro-kei shops, the style known for heavy broth and heavy dudes.

Sengoku Jiman

I'm partial to this mini-chain of ramen shops because they are all around my old neighborhood of Sengoku in the north of Tokyo.  This was the bowl for me when I caught the last train home, usually in a sake induced stupor.  Full of silky fat bits.  Get the vege version, which comes topped with an assortment of boiled vegetables.

Then order the oyagi set - rice and a semi-boiled egg - to dump in the left over soup.

The perfect hangover preventative measure.



Oyaji is a bit of a trek, but after you have tried the other miso ramen on this list, you'll probably be on the next express train out of Shinjuku for this bowl.

The blend of miso and fat is so rich and creamy, it might ruin you for all other misos.


Hanamichi is styled from Sapporo miso ramen, thought to be the epicenter of worldwide miso ramen love.  I think it is more Tokyo though, where local flavors will only get you so far, and a sense of gourmet is needed to get you on any best-of list.



The master, a salaryman working in China, ate spicy noodles daily.  Back in Japan, and disappointed at what was available, he quit it all to open this little shop.

Be very thankful for the fates pulling that one off.

Rashohon's balance of numbing sansho, textural nuts, and crisp veggies makes this the best tantanmen around.


When you sit down at Kikanbo, you are immediately taken into another world . . . hell!  Yeah, it's the rather comical Japanese version of hell, where the demons are brightly colored and almost cute in a way, but it is hell none the less.

Will you order your spice at the oni (demonlevel?  Choose how much hot spice and how much numbing spice you want, and be prepared for a burn.

They have a tsukemen shop on the same block.


For the closest thing to napalm in a bowl of noodles, Inosho delivers.  The soup is fortified with a massive mound of dried fish powder, turning this already scorching bowl into a viscous, noodle coating agent.

But it works.  The initial heat gives way to fantastic flavors, which gives way to the after burn.  Remember, the pile of spice on top should be mixed in with caution.



When I first tasted this bowl, I was shocked at the roasted fish and creaminess that could be achieved from simmering pork bones for a few days.  Then I found that it was actually chicken bones being used.

Details aside, you should brave the often one hour wait to eat here.

This is something you will never be able to experience anywhere else in the world.  Everyone I have forced to come here has thanked me for it.

King Kong

King Kong follows the standard Tokyo tsukemen routine, with a tonkotsu gyokai soup and some thick noodles.  It is the subtle choice of ingredients that make it stand out.  The most notable is blueberries.

You won't taste them, but the hint of sweetness is there.



Thai soup ramen is nothing new, you can get it at almost any Thai curry place in town (not recommended!)  Basanova takes it way further, blending Thai spices with their signature pork soup.  A little coconut cream later, this is one of the best unique bowls in town.


The shoyu here is fantastic, but the vegetable soba is a whole different experience.  Carrots, bell pepper, and about a dozen other veggies go into the soup.

Even the noodles get in on the health conscious side.  They are made with paprika to give them a unique color and taste.


This is the shop where I learned about my mild shrimp allergy.  Seriously intense, the soup is almost something I would expect at a nice Italian or Spanish restaurant.

The atmosphere of the shop is beautiful.  Sleek seating and comfortable seats.

A perfect break from a day shopping in the busy department store district this shop is in.

Minutes from Louis Vuitton.


Kagari is smack dab in the middle of Ginza, about 30 seconds from the Apple Store, wedged in a secret alley between a Harrods and an Italian suit shop.

The creamy tori paitan, with fresh seasonal vegetable toppings is my favorite, though the niboshi shoyu ramen is also on point.

Ramen Adventures approved books: