With my 14-nights adventure in Japan at an end, here’s my top 4 best ramen in Japan that you must try. Why four? Cause anymore would make the list too easy. Of course, this is not, by no means, a complete list and mainly focuses in West Tokyo – Shinjuku area – and Kyoto that I personally tried.
This wildly popular ramen restaurant chain is located all over Tokyo and Osaka. I feel their many locations is a way to prevent everyone from coming to one spot.
The rich and flavorful tonkotsu broth is the reason why people are flocking to Ichiran. Ichiran lets you customize your order; everything from the amount of oil to the firmness of the noodles. Adding the spice is a must, in my opinion, as the spice adds a nice extra layer to the broth, creating a more exciting profile.
My favorite extras are an egg and seaweed. If you order an egg, be prepare to peel it yourself. Extra noodles can be order after finishing your initial serving for ¥150 or ¥130 for a half order of noodles, as much as you want.
Plus, unlike many other restaurants, you will be seated in individual booths with dividers and binders. You will not even see the face of your server. Very unique and Japanese experience. Just you and the ramen.
Some of the locations are open 24-hours which makes Ichiran very convenient at odd hours. Our 24-hours Ichiran was near Shinjuku station.
3. Mutekiya – Ikebukuro, Tokyo
Close to skipping due to being “ramen-out” at the last leg of the trip, but I’m so glad I made one last trip on the last night to Mutekiya.
If you like tender pork and a fatty, rich broth, then you will definitely have to give Mutekiya a try; truly savory and filling. Mutekiya gives you thick slices of chashu along with an egg, bamboo shoots, and leafy vegetables on most variants. I went with Nikutamamen for about ¥1,050 which comes with three slices of chashu. There’s also fresh garlic with a crusher and spicy pickled vegetables at each seat, along with self serve jasmine tea.
Since there’s usually a queue at Mutekiya, a staff will come out to take your order while in line and will have the bowl ready a few minutes after sitting down. Extremely efficient system.
2. Sugari – Kyoto
This was one of the better and unique ramen experiences I had in Japan. And to think, I decided to come to Sugari, a hidden restaurant with no English menu, last minute after skipping another ramen joint.
Sugari came up Yelp with only 16 reviews but only a block away from my hotel; I figure, why not. Luckily, one of the reviewers had instructions on how to order.
This small ramen joint specializes in tsukemen with yuzu noodles. The dipping broth was very flavorful but simple. The savory and salty broth with the light citrusy noodles really help balance the meal out; very unique.
The kicker, for me, is that Sugari uses flame grilled pork, you can see the burnt marks on the small chunks of pork and pork fat. These morsels were a bit chewy and delicious; probably the best “chashu” I had during the trip.
In addition, the atmosphere of this place was enchanting; feels like a secret slice of an older era Japan, but this is Kyoto after all. After entering a low unmarked door, you’re presented with a short, dark alley way with a ticket vending machine at the end. You’ll then encounter a courtyard with a blooming cherry tree, at the time, and an open kitchen. You will not know any of this is there judging from the inconspicuous front.
1. Fuunji – Shinjuku, Tokyo
My number one spot was a tough one, but I have to give Fuunji the title. I made this trip a mission to try tsukemen style and this place – and Sugari – really open my eyes to the world of tsukemen.
They have tradition ramen and tsukemen but the speciality here is tsukemen. The special tsukemen, which I got, costs ¥1,000 and don’t mind all the consecutive “Best Ramen” awards on top of the vending machine. And, expect a long queue that forms outside and inside Fuunji.
The dipping broth is truly a flavor bomb in your mouth. Incredibly rich, creamy, porky, fishy, and salty – all good things. In addition, the dipping broth is loaded with pieces of chashu, bamboo shoots, onions, seaweed, and an egg.
The noodles were decent; thick and chewy. But, the thing that pulls everything together is the chef; he’s a rockstar of ramen. A dash of showmanship and expertise, watching him practice his craft was very entertaining. You swear he was in a Japanese rock band before discovering his calling. Runs the kitchen with an eye on detail, handles preparation, manages the line and seatings, greets, and thanks every customer all with a smile. Do not worry, you will know who he is.
I totally recommend Fuunji if you find yourself in Tokyo, even if you don’t necessarily like ramen. You can at least said you battled the queues to try the “best” ramen in Japan. I had a friend return twice in the same day.
*Honorable Mention* Rokurinsha – Tokyo Station
This is a very popular tsukemen joint located in “Ramen Street” in the basement of Tokyo station, on the Yaesu South Exit side. Look for the one with the long line.
Rokurinsha’s dipping broth is good. Rich, salty, and fishy were the dominant flavors. They do give you a lot of noodles so a great value for your yen. I just rather have Fuunji if I wanted tsukemen in Tokyo.
*Honorable Mention* Afuri – Ebisu, Tokyo
I was feeling under the weather when I came to Afuri. I definitely have to try this place again.
Afuri specializes in shio ramen, salt-based, with a twist of yuzu for a bit of a citrus, which is not overpowering. This is a bit different from all the tonkotsu ramen I had during this trip. Although good, I prefer the more rich tonkotsu style ramen. Please give this a try if you like the lighter broth of shio and shoyu ramen.
Staff was super-friendly, by the way, and they have full English labeled vending machine. Afuri also has many locations throughout Tokyo; I went to the Afuri near Ebisu station.
*Honorable Mention* Kikanbo – Northern Tokyo
Having two locations in Kanda and Ikebukuro, Kikanbo specialize in miso based ramen, really spicy miso ramen, to be exact. I was really excited for this place before coming to Japan; I enjoy testing my threshold.
I had the second hottest level for both spice, red chili and numbing spice. The ramen was exciting at first but the numbing spice made the ramen really boring to eat half way through, as I couldn’t taste anything. I think this is a very fun ramen to eat with your friends, however. Next time, I’ll reduce the numbing spice level.