If you think Tokyo ramen is just a slightly better version of packaged instant noodles for broke college students then prepare to have your mind blown.
Or maybe you already know how great Japanese ramen is, but don’t know where to get it in Tokyo. In that case, we’ll get you off to a good start so you can stuff your face with noodles soon after your plane hits the ground in Tokyo (If this is you, feel free to skip the next section and go straight for ramen recommendations).
Let’s get started.
What’s different about Japanese ramen
Those cheap instant noodles totally destroyed the reputation of this beautiful noodle and it’s a shame.
Ramen in Japan is like pasta in Italy. There are many different styles, the best places make the noodles and soup from scratch, and when done right it blows your mind. Both have many possible combinations and one style can vary dramatically from another.
So, for ramen, there are a few main differences to know before you start trying it out:
- First, there’s the broth. It’s generally pork, chicken, or fish based—sometimes a combination of the three.
- Second, there are the noodles which can vary from straight to curly and can be thick or thin.
- Finally, you have the toppings. Sliced pork, seaweed, bamboo shoots, and a boiled egg are common, but it really depends on the place. Some get really creative with their toppings in order to stand out.
When you’re first trying ramen, the biggest consideration should be the broth. Tonkotsu (pork-based) is generally going to be the heaviest, but it’s also one of the most popular. If you don’t mind a heavy meal then this is a great place to start. If not, go for a lighter broth. We’ll help you decide below.
In Tokyo, you can try it all
You can find fantastic ramen all over Japan. Each region has a specialty of their own and many people visit different parts of Japan just for the ramen. So, from the perspective of specializing in a particular type of ramen, Tokyo isn’t the top place. Fukuoka probably is. I mean, that’s where tonkotsu comes from and there are subtle variations all over town.
But, the thing that’s great about Tokyo is that you can try it all. The best ramen restaurants in other parts of Japan often have a Tokyo location. If not, there’s someplace that specializes in that type of ramen. Beyond the classics, there are lots of new takes on traditional ramen here, too.
So, you can have it all! Except that you have limited time so your gonna need to prioritize…
Except you have limited time so you’re gonna need to prioritize…
Where to start:
Since your biggest issue is going to be too many options, we’ll narrow it down by recommending a handful of places that are all pretty different. This way, you can either try the one that sounds most appealing or try them all, depending on how much time you have.
You may want to start off with a Shoyu (soy sauce) based ramen. This is Tokyo style and Maruhachi Soba takes it up a notch by adding roasted leek to the broth. Then, there’s the chashu (roasted pork)… it’s sliced thick with a strong taste that’s one of the best we’ve ever had.
5-11-42 Minami-Shinagawa, Shinagawa-Ku, Tokyo
If you’ve read our Fukuoka ramen guide, you already know about tonkotsu, the local ramen style in the Kyushu region of Japan. It’s a pork bone based broth with a thick, creamy consistency that has become world famous after a few of Fukuoka’s best ramen places expanded internationally. Well, this is a great place to try it in Tokyo.
1−13−２ Shibuya-ku, Jingūmae
AFURI Ebisu（AFURI 恵比寿）
Light but addictive ramen that stands out for using Yuzu (Japanese citrus). We recommend Yuzu-Shio, but they also have regular Shio, Shoyu, and Tsukemen, too. At the counter table, the staff asks which chicken oil you prefer: Tanrei or Maroaji. Tanrei is the standard and Maroaji is thicker than Tanrei. Due to its popularity, there are 8 locations in Tokyo.
1-1-7 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
One of the best ramen shops in Shibuya. Tonkotsu Gyokai soup with no chemical seasoning. They blend pork with seafood, chicken, and a little soy sauce to balance it out. This makes it lighter than the usual tonkotsu broth. Open 11:30-15:30 but be sure you go early in the day because they close when the soup is finished.
1-14-9 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
The chicken-and-vegetable-rich soup is thick like potage. It often has a wait of over an hour since there are only 8 seats inside. Good news! They opened another location close to the original shop. If you want to save time, go to Echika fit.
Ginza A Bldg, 4-4-1 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Echika fit 4-1-2 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Get ready for Tokyo ramen
Hopefully, we’ve not only inspired you to try (or retry) ramen in Tokyo but shown you exactly where to start. These five options will let you taste most major styles of ramen or if you only try one, you’ll know it’s going to be good. Keep in mind that everyone has their preferences. You can find loads of conflicting opinions about what the best places are so, by all means, try a different place if it works better for you.
One thing about Tokyo is that while everyone argues about which places are best, anything you try is likely to be really good. After you try it, you’ll know that those packaged noodles in the store are not really ramen.