Husky & Onigunsô
Top 10 Ramen Bars in Tokyo - Part 3
Updated: Dec 22, 2020
The top 3 ramen bowls in the world?!
Don't miss out on the amazing Tokyo ramen bars we listed in part 1 and part 2!
Some readers might have wondered what we meant when referring to ABC Ramen as «old school ramen» (Part 1). This is because there is a significant difference between modern ramen and the ramen bowls that became popular in postwar Japan.
Jump directly to the list and the top 3 ramen bars in Tokyo
What is the difference between classic and modern ramen?
In Japan, «classic ramen» most often refers to chicken broth with an added shoyu flavor component, also known as «tare». These classic ramen bowls can be traced back to prewar Japanese ramen bars, some even as far as the late 1800s.
What is «tare» you say?
We explained it briefly in part 1 of this blog series,
and elaborated a little more about it in our Ippudo Review.
Before WWII, there were only salt and shoyu ramen. After the war, ramen chefs started to experiment with the recipes. This was when miso ramen and tonkotsu ramen was invented in Sapporo (Hokkaido) and Kurume (Kyushu) respectively.
A few years later, in 1955, tsukemen was invented by Taishoken, a ramen chain that is still going strong both in Japan and abroad. At the time, the dish was called «Mori Soba». However, Tsukemen is not commonly referred to as a classic ramen flavor.
Modern ramen is more of everything; its like bowls of liquid decadence!
The soups are richer, the spice levels are fiercer, and the flavor complexity is ridiculous.
In short, the classic ramen flavors are salt, shoyu, tonkotsu and miso. «Modern ramen» typically refers to tantan-men, tori-paitan, tsukemen or richer tasting and spicy variations of the classic flavors. Many of the currently popular variants came about in the 1980s.
Like all of postwar Japan, also ramen had to adjust its old school ways in line with the rapidly modernizing society. Whereas classic ramen was focused around one main flavor, the modern ramen bowls mixed broths from fish, pig and chicken into magnificent taste explosions.
It should be noted that the very popular and super-rich ramen types are not the only modern variants. The Tokyo ramen bars that have been awarded Michelin stars (or recommendations) usually serve less rich and more «sophisticated» soups, like tanrei ramen, for instance.
Japanese ramenheads are noodle-obsessed
An interesting difference we noticed when making this ramen list is that most foreign ramenheads tend to focus on the components of the soup. Japanese ramenheads, on the other hand, pay just as much – if not more – attention to the noodles.
The noodles in Japanese ramen bars have been developed and experimented with immensely since the postwar years. The thickness, the firmness and the ingredients have all been tried, tested, and perfected by countless shokunin chefs.
Maybe some of you remember the expression «Nodogoshi» from part 2 of this blog series? This concept of throat feeling connects to the Japanese obsession with noodles. It is like al dente pasta to Italians. If the noodles do not feel right, Japanese ramenheads will surely point it out.
In ramen bars of old (meaning postwar Japan) it was not uncommon to offer noodles made from different kinds of wheat for your ramen bowl. This option has disappeared from Japanese ramen bars today, but who knows, it might be the next retro thing in the ramen scene.
The question in this day and age, is rather who can balance the ramen bowls best. Who can come up with the most sophisticated blend of wholesome produce flavors and over-the-top, greasy soup decadence? Get set… Ready… Slurp!!!
And without further ado, here are the 3 best ramen bowls in Tokyo:
TOP 3 RAMEN IN TOKYO – KAMUKURA
Location: Tokyo Station/Ebisu/Shibuya
Kamukura is a small ramen chain that might make some ramen enthusiasts skeptical. The reason being that the head chef at Kamukura studied French culinary arts in order to develop his signature ramen flavor. In fact, he worked his way up to be head chef at a French restaurant in Japan before he started up Kamukura.
Thinking outside the bowl led Kamukura’s chef to
concoct a ramen flavor that impressed us a lot.
Now, some ramen purists might argue that the shoyu ramen bowl at Kamukura is not true ramen. We chose to include it because we definitely felt that we were slurping down one of the best shoyu ramen we’ve ever tasted. And boy did we go back for seconds… and thirds.
The soups are mostly of the thin variety, but at the same time the flavors are bursting. Imagine your favorite shoyu ramen bowl. The piping hot broth is oozing with smells of soy, chicken, pork and fresh produce. But then, the first slurp reveals another layer; a hint from the French kitchen. And an addictive hint it is, one that must be tasted to be believed.
Kamukura's «Oishii Ramen» is like a hybrid
old school shoyu ramen and French consommé
It goes without saying that the other ingredients are cooked to perfection, every time. In fact, Kamukura is the first ramen chain to introduce a «soup sommelier»-system, where only the chefs that pass the test can make their famous «Oishii Ramen». This might explain why the noodles are always perfectly chewy, the vegetables are always cooked to perfection, and the pork belly is as tender as James Blunt on a snowy day.
Kamukura doesn’t exactly have that ramen bar vibe that we prefer. It is rather sleek and modern, which fits nicely with the level of flavor sophistication. Don’t get me wrong; the atmosphere is far from as pretentious as your standard Michelin ramen bar. In this sense, Kamukura fills a gap, just between the classy joints and the best of the lowbrow ramen bars.
TOP 2 RAMEN IN TOKYO – ORERYU SHIO-RAMEN
Location: All over Tokyo
Number two on our list is a local Tokyo ramen chain, and also our favorite chain in Japan. Oreryu Shio-Ramen simply blew me away the first time I tried it. I could not believe just how thick and greasy these ramen bowls were.
It is at Oreryu where I really understood why Japanese people think of ramen as junk food, and what a glorious revelation it was. Oreryu serves as decadent ramen bowls as you will ever find. The soups are super-rich, the meats are extra fat, the noodles are thick, the eggs are gooey, and the vegetables are substituted with mountains of grated cheese.
Oreryu is not for the faint of heart, it is for ravenous ramen bellies!
In addition to serving the ultimate ramen grease bowl, Oreryu has managed to streamline the lowbrow atmosphere that we seek when searching for authentic ramen bars. We know, of course, that the interior is a construct of false authenticity, but the prefabricated atmosphere is more than good enough when it comes with world-class ramen bowls.
A final side note is that even though Oreryu specialize in shio-ramen, it is the miso ramen bowl that made me hopelessly addicted to this chain. If you want to experience a true staple of Tokyo's many ramen bars, then do yourself a favor and pay a visit to the mighty Oreryu. It might be too rich for some palettes, but sometimes – and by «sometimes» I mean «always» – a greasy ramen bowl is all you want.
TOP 1 RAMEN IN TOKYO – HULU-LU RAMEN
It is a wonder that Hulu-lu Ramen in Ikebukuro is not more recognized, because this place is truly in a league of its own. Putting together this list was in fact incredibly difficult. Not only was it unbearable to eliminate a bunch of great places from the list. Ranging the top 10 ramen bars was like choosing your favorite puppy of the litter.
The number one spot was never in question however. We definitely had some differences of opinion when it came to the order of the nine others. But to both the Tokyoite and foreign palette, there was never any doubt; Hulu-lu is by far the best ramen bowl in Tokyo.
It actually never ceases to amaze us how it is possible to make such a rich and greasy ramen bowl feel so light to the touch and mellow at the same time. The flavor dynamic of each serving is like a perfectly balanced symphony. It pleases the senses with smooth flavor combinations, and hits hard in just the right spots.
Hulu-lu rocks, even though hula-hula music eternally plays in the background.
The Hawaii theme of the tiny ramen bar, which seats about 12 people, is perfectly in line with the chef’s style and the flavor of his bowls. For a lack of a better description, lets call the atmosphere «tropical unpretentious».
On the menu, you will find four ramen bowls: Shoyu, shio, spicy and miso. Each of the ramen bowls are so perfectly balanced for their ramen type, that Hulu-lu puts all other ramen bars in Tokyo to shame. Don’t forget to check out the limited/seasonal bowl, as it usually offers some very experimental and unusual flavor combinations.
Now, the menu might suggest that Hulu-lu is an old school ramen bar, with ramen bowls based on recipes of old. The recipes have been perfected over a long time of course, but Hulu-lu is by no means old school. This is modern ramen at its best. Here you will get fish, foul, meats and produce mixed and balanced to a level of complexity that is beyond comprehension, at least for us at Husky Loves Japan.
This is why we just lean back and enjoy the experience every time we go to Hulu-lu. Please, never come here. We hate the long lines, and we want the place to ourselves. But also, we cannot hide this gem from the world. Hulu-lu is hereby crowned by us as the best Tokyo ramen bar.
There you have it! And to sum it up, here is the list in its entirety:
TOP 10 RAMEN BARS IN TOKYO
Hulu-lu Ramen – Ikebukuro
Oreryu Shio-Ramen – Harajuku
Kamukura – Ebisu
Chuuka Soba Tomita – Chiba
Chuuka Soba Mitsu Fuzi – Jiyugaoka
Menya Buraiton – Hatanodai
Men Koi Dokoro Hazeryu – Musashi Koyama
Mendokoro Zen – Sangenjaya
Ginza ABC Ramen – Ginza
Ginza Kazami – Ginza
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
Kyoto Journal: Shokunin and Devotion
Nippon.com: A Cultural History of Noodle Slurping
Serious Eats: The Serious Eats Guide to Ramen Styles
Taishoken USA: Our story
Time Out: Ramen noodles: Get to know eight traditional and new styles