The best ramen in Tokyo – Slurp your heart out!
Many have tried to list the best ramen bars in Tokyo. But most of the ramen rankings we have found seem to only scratch the surface of the glorious Tokyo ramen scene. So, we decided take matters in our own mouths, and slurp our way through as many ramen bars as we can in 2020. After about a year of tasting, here is what we have found:
Jump directly to the list of the top 10 ramen bars in Tokyo
It is not difficult to make a top 10 list of amazing ramen bars in Tokyo. The amount of high-level ramen joints is ridiculous. In our opinion, however, the most famous ramen chains, like Ichiran, Tenkaippin, Hidakaya, Kagetsu or Ippudo, are not in the same league as the top tier ramen bars in Tokyo. We like all these chains, but none of them came close to ramen magnificence we found in our top 10 ramen bars in Tokyo.
Look no further!
The ultimate list of the top 10 ramen bars in Tokyo!
We are by no means ramen experts, but at least we are two writers who love ramen above all else. One has lived most of her life in Tokyo; the other is a Japanophile, expat Husky. Both are ramenheads. Together we have tasted, examined and fiercely debated which ramen is the best.
In other words, this lists combines the preferences of both a Japanese national and a foreign visitor. The former has spent the last 20 years looking for the best Tokyo ramen. Over the last year she has presented her ramen research and findings to her imported Husky.
But before getting to the best ramen in Tokyo, lets get the ramen facts straight!
Ramen History in a Nutshell
The roots of ramen stem from Chinese noodle soups that came to Japan in the late 1800s. Japan quickly embraced the dish, and by the early 1900s some specialized ramen shops appeared in Yokohama. Modern ramen, as we know it today, was developed after World War II.
Ramen is difficult to categorize. There are many elements to the dish, and all of them can be used as basis for ramen categories. For instance, ramen can be categorized by «tare» (concentrated flavor agent), «dashi» (broth), toppings, noodle type, serving style and more. It seems, however, that the most common way to categorize ramen in Japan, is by tare.
Ramen has since the late 40s become a national dish in Japan. There are countless variants, but most ramen recipes are based on the five main categories of tare, which are soy, salt, miso, sesame, and curry.
In later years, tonkotsu ramen (broth variation/categorization), tantan-men (toppings variation/categorization) and tsukemen (serving variant/categorization) have also become very popular.
Enough with the history lesson! Her are the best ramen bars we found in Tokyo:
Top 10 Ramen in Tokyo: Ginza Kazami
Most ramen bars experiment with classic ingredients. Some take it a few steps further than others, however. We have tried macha ramen, coffee ramen, halal ramen and Gouda ramen. Such eccentric ramen types tend to be fun then and there, but not something we necessarily feel the need to come back to.
Kazami, on the other hand, is quite unusual, but so good that I could not stop thinking about their ramen bowl for days after trying it the first time. And it is definitely a no-nonsense ramen bar. The immaculate interior, the dead silent atmosphere and the stone-faced chef immediately tells you that this place means business.
Kazami’s «Rich Sake-Kasu Soba» might be the king of unusual ramen bowls in Tokyo!
Kazami serves so-call «sake-kasu ramen», which means that the rich chicken broth is infused with a by-product from sake production. It might sound strange for non-Japanese readers, but sake-kasu is actually a quite common ingredient in Japanese cooking. The hint of acidity and rice makes this ramen bowl stand out in a most outstanding way.
The noodles are thick and chewy, the soup is rich but well-balanced, and the toppings match the dish, in the sense that they also are quite unusual. Tofu, Japanese mustard-spinach, parsley and red pepper springs is a combo not often found in ramen bars. The ramen bowls also comes with perfectly tender chashu and gooey egg; an experience not to be missed.
Top 9 Ramen in Tokyo: Ginza ABC Ramen
ABC Ramen might not be so special, but make no mistake; it is somewhat of a ramen institution in Ginza. This run-down ramen bar in the fancy part of town has served old school Tokyo ramen since 1977. And it is not without reason that ABC Ramen has remained a popular ramen bar in Tokyo since.
The key point that made ABC ramen take the ninth place on our list is the perfection of classic flavors in their house ramen bowls. The spicy miso ramen with added black and white sesame took us by surprise. The aroma and taste reflect age-old ramen traditions, and the unpretentious staff made us feel 10 times more welcome than the snooty clerks at Ginza Six.
Balance is key at ABC. The chashu is tender, the soft-boiled eggs are gooey, the noodles are chewy, and the soup is perfectly slurpable. Together they form a bowl that goes perfectly with the shabby locale, in the heart of Tokyo’s most uppity district. What about the price? Let's just say, it will keep your budget in balance.
Top 8 Ramen in Tokyo: Mendokoro Zen
«Zen Ramen», as we like to call it, entered our list by chance. We just happen to pass by this place one day in Sangenjaya, and decided to pop in for a quick bite. Little did we know that we would be served one of the most deliciously creamy tori-paitan ramen bowls of our lives.
The broth is hearty and rich, but so milky and frothy that it can almost be described as fluffy liquid. It is fatty for sure, but what better way to clog your arteries than slurping down savory liquid bubbles. The tangy sweetness is perfectly matched by the balance between the fatty soup and fresh vegetables.
The tori-paitan ramen bowls at Zen might be too rich for some. If rich, milky, savory soups is your cup up of tea, however («Mmm… ramen tea»), then Zen Ramen is not to be missed. The shop might look kind of average, but it serves grade-A ramen bowls that are perfect for lazy hangover days strolling around the cozy back alleys of Sangenjaya.
Find even better ramen bowls in the next chapter: Top 10 Ramen Bars in Tokyo – Part 2
Food, Culture & Society: How Political Crisis in Japan Spawned a Global Food Craze
The Journal of Japanese Studies: Slurp! A Social and Culinary History of Ramen
Nippon.com: A Cultural History of Noodle Slurping
Serious Eats: The Serious Eats Guide to Ramen Styles