Our Favorite Ramen in Tokyo, Japan

There’s no shortage of ‘Best Ramen in Tokyo, Japan’ lists on the internet. We thought we’d take a different approach in sharing our favorites. Instead of focusing solely on highly-acclaimed, Michelin-starred places far from tourist areas or easy to find chains, we thought we’d do both.

Our rationale for this is pretty simple: meal time commitments will vary for different people. Some of you might be willing to invest the 3+ hours it’ll take to take the Yamanote Line to the Michelin-starred restaurants, wait in line (or get a ticket), and commute back to the city-center.

If you’re not a hardcore ‘ramen head,’ that level of commitment might be unrealistic, but you still might want to find something better than ducking into a random ramen shop near a train station. Accordingly, we’ll share a diverse assortment of choices in this list of our favorite ramen spots in Tokyo, all of which are excellent, but not all of which require the same dedication to experience.

Our ‘best ramen’ list is arranged in terms of ease/approachability. We’ll start with a couple of chain locations dotting Japan (including numerous outposts in Tokyo), followed by stellar options popular among locals and food tourists, and finishing with the Michelin-starred heavy hitters…

Ippudo – This is my favorite ramen chain in Tokyo, a spot with several locations dotting the city (including one in Ikspiari at Tokyo Disney Resort!). Ippudo just feels different than other ramen spots. Its restaurants are neither hole-in-the-wall stalls nor are they utilitarian. They’re spacious and well-designed, exuding hipness.

Then there’s the ramen itself, which is exceptional–rivaling the best independent ramen shops in Tokyo. The broth here might be best described as ‘clean.’ Not too oily or over-bearing, but with a subtle creaminess and flavor that clings to and elevates the taste of the semi-firm, thin noodles. Be sure to also order gyoza, as they’re spectacular.

Ichiran – One of the largest ramen chains in Japan, everyone visiting Tokyo should do Ichiran once. Not because it’s the best (or even in the top 20) but because it’s an interesting experience that speaks a bit to Japan’s sense of efficiency and utilitarianism. You start by ordering from a vending machine, which is not uncommon. Where things get different is after that, when you’re directed to a little cubicle separated from the kitchen by a curtain and from nearby patrons with divider walls.

There’s an intense orderliness to the whole operation, the novelty of which visitors will appreciate, but it’s also isolating. Ramen is almost never a communal activity in Japan, but this is even more detached from others than normal. As for the ramen, it’s fantastic–far better than you’d expect from McDonald’s-like operation aimed at churning customers. The relatively-light broth is good, but it’s the thin noodles here that are the star.

Fuunji Ramen – Located in Shinjuku and easily accessible for tourists, this is my second-favorite ramen spot in all of Tokyo. Prior to visiting, I had read that people regularly wait over an hour for this, which was a bit concerning. We arrived 30 minutes after they opened, and were able to swoop in after the first wave of patrons but before the dinner rush. This worked perfectly; we waited 10 minutes.

The ramen was nothing short of exceptional. I ordered the tsukemen, which had a thick, creamy fish/chicken broth that is about the paramount of umami. It absolutely knocked me out into an intense ramen coma, but I regret nothing. I have a list of other ramen spots we still need to try in this area, but it’s going to take every fiber of my willpower not to just return to Fuunji Ramen.

Ramen Dining JinGu – Another one that’s easily accessible for visitors, this one is very convenient to Harajuku. Ramen Dining JinGu was one of our first ramen experiences in Japan, so there’s some personal nostalgia involved, but we’ve done several return visits and I think it holds up.

The broth here is rich and creamy, made of beef and pork bone, plus chicken. However, it’s not overly heavy nor will it leave you in a ramen coma afterwards. Topped with roast beef and grilled pork slices, it’s the perfect option for serious carnivores.

Shinasoba Tanaka Second – Now, for something totally different. Shinasoba Tanaka Second serves up ramen with an anchovy base, and with a sense of flavor influenced by the ocean. The owner of the shop is a passionate surfer, which undoubtedly influences the choice of ingredients here.

Here, you’ll find broths that are mostly light and understated, but with nuance and enough flavor that they ‘work.’ Toppings range from abalone to spiny lobster to standard meats. It might sound gimmicky or abnormal, but this ramen is refreshing and delicious.

Kikanbo – Few ramen restaurants can be described as a feat of physical endurance, but our experience at Kikanbo was exactly that. We arrived here at the peak of Japan’s prolonged heat wave, elated to find no one in line. As soon as we were seated inside, that started to make sense: there was no AC and the heat from the kitchen made it a bit like a sauna. As soon as we had our bowls and started eating, it became abundantly clear. Suffice to say, my shirt was soaked in sweat by the end of our meal.

I have zero regrets. Well, one: that I don’t know when we’ll be able to revisit this oni (demon or devil) themed ramen shop on a cold winter day. The thick, miso broth was spicy (and we ordered bowls pretty far down the intensity list!) and heavy, making it the perfect cold weather option. It’s not just brut spiciness, though; in addition to two levels of intensity (‘heat’ and ‘numbing’) there’s a really complex broth underneath, with myriad flavors lingering in your mouth. The pork here is more like a shank than thin slices served elsewhere, and further adds to the heaviness of this ramen.

Nakiryu – One of Tokyo’s two Michelin-starred ramen shops, Nakiryu commands 60-90 minute waits and lines that wrap around the block even despite its semi-suburban location. Due to that commute and the wait, it’s probably not the ideal option for first-timers in Japan, but it is within walking distance of Tsuta for those who want to do a Michelin ramen double feature.

It’s really difficult to compare differing styles of ramen consumed months apart, but I think Nakiryu is my favorite. The broth here is like a symphony in your mouth, hitting both the creamy and spicy notes with grace and ease. It’s so good–addictively good–that you’ll have a tough time not slurping it all up. The thin noodles are likewise melt-in-your-mouth-delicious. (Our recommendation: order the tantanmen with kaedama–extra noodles.)

Tsuta Japanese Soba Noodles – As you can read in Day 2 of our Fall Tokyo, Japan Trip Report, we had to get up at 7 a.m. to score tickets to this Michelin-starred ramen spot. While the time and effort may be disqualifying for visitors with limited time in Japan, our Airbnb was fairly close to Tsuta, and we felt it was worth it. (We’ve waited in line longer at other ramen spots in Japan.)

Everything about Tsuta’s ramen was perfect, but the highlight was the broth. It was light but nuanced, and with truffle oil giving it added depth. I’m a total sucker for truffle oil, so that’s what really elevated it for me. The wontons were good on their own and had excellent texture, but something didn’t feel right to me about them being in ramen–I don’t think they added anything to the dish (everyone else in our party disagreed with me on that note). Highly recommended if you can make Tsuta fit in your itinerary.

Overall, this list doesn’t even scratch the surface of all the great ramen in Tokyo. There are literally hundreds–if not thousands–of ramen shops in the city, most of which are good at the very least (staunch competition makes it difficult for these restaurants to succeed if they’re subpar). Our goal with this list was to offer something more approachable, yet with multiple ‘tiers’ for becoming an advanced ramenhead in Tokyo. If you find even this overwhelming, just choose a ramen shop and give it a try. You’ll quickly find that the stigmas about ramen being for poor college kids are a remnant of the past.

For all of your planning needs–from places to stay to things to do and much more–please consult our Ultimate Tokyo, Japan City Guide. If you’re planning a visit to other cities, please check out my other posts about Japan.

Your Thoughts

Have you tried “good” ramen, be it in the United States, Japan, or elsewhere? What did you think? Are you looking forward to trying ramen in Japan, or do you still buy into the ‘food for poor college kids’ stereotype? If you’re a ramenhead, do you have any other recommendations for places to dining spots in Tokyo? Any additional tips or thoughts from your visit to add? Any questions? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!

2 replies
  1. Corene
    Corene says:

    Great stuff. The spicy place sounds perfect for my hubby, but I don’t think my son & I could cope, so we might have to give that one a miss (majority rules) despite the fact that the weather in mid-March would suit the place well. But the first 5 on the list sound great. We should be well fed during our 3 days in Tokyo. Thanks! We leave 3 weeks from today! Yay!

    Reply

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