As many of my friends know, I really like ramen. So when I had the chance to take a trip to Japan with my girlfriend Jielu, I jumped at my chance to try some of the best ramen. I decided that I would write a review/ranking of all the different ramen I had in Japan.
My ranking is predicated on a few things in descending order: broth, noodles, toppings, and meat. I know that many people care about the quality of the meat (chashu), but quality broth and noodles trump a terrible chashu for me.
I’ve added one tsukemen restaurant to this list because they also serve ramen, but if you go you should definitely order the tsukemen.
I realize some of these restaurants have funny names or might be difficult to find if you search ‘best ramen restaurant Japan’ on Google. However, as far as I could tell this website is used by Japanese people to rank ramen websites, so I tried to visit some of the top ones.
Without further ado, here are my rankings and reviews for the ramen shops I visited.
Human Beings Everybody Noodle
Kyoto Torigawa Tonkotsu Yottekoya
This is the best ramen I had in Japan. It’s off the beaten path, but if you take the Oedo Line from Shinjuku it’s only about five minutes from the station. You’ll know you’re there when you see the line.
We arrived ten minutes after opening, but the line was already ~20-25 people deep. Unlike some of the other popular destinations (shout out Fuunji) the line doesn’t move too quickly. We waited about an hour and a half to get seated.
Once you get to front of the line you get to order from the classic ticket machines. I ended up ordering the large ramen and a beer.
Slightly crappy photo of their ticket machine
Unfortunately, they don’t allow pictures inside so I don’t have any photos of the food. Their broth is sardine based and includes homemade noodles and bamboo shoots.
I’m not a fan of sardines, but the broth luckily didn’t taste like sardines to me. It had deep flavor and the noodles were quite chewy when you first bit into them. I do think the sardine broth helped the smell of the shop, because when you first walk into the shop you’re hit with a wave of flavor if that makes sense.
Menya Kissou is an example of doing more with less. There were five components to their ramen:
They do more with their five ingredients than any ramen I’ve had in the US or elsewhere. I loved it.
If I ever go back to Japan, Menya Kissou will be one the first places I visit.
I know this is cheating because Fuunji is technically a tsukemen shop, but they had noodles in soup so I’m counting it. Just like every other great restaurant, Fuunji comes with a long line. We arrived at 8:00pm and they close at 9:00, but we had to wait across the street.
Luckily for everyone, the line moves extremely fast. The first thing you notice when entering is how efficient the whole operation is. You take a ticket from the machine while 20 spots out from the front, and you actually line up standing behind people eating. Slightly weird, but it didn’t seem like anyone minded.
The line waiting patienty behind people eating
I think the chef’s name is Fu Unji, and he’s constantly smiling and has some theatrics while cooking the noodles. Everyone else is completely silent, except for the really loud slurping in the shop.
When you sit down you get the option of medium or large noodles, with no extra charge either way. The size refers to the amount of noodles rather than the size of the noodle. I chose the large and was surprised with how much they give you.
My first impression after dipping the noodles was that the tsukemen broth was extremely powerful. Even after a momentary dip, the noodles retained a ton of flavor. The noodles were slightly salty (from the broth) with a very full taste (not sure how else to say this, but it filled your mouth), and they were delightfully chewy and firm.
The broth included a full egg, bamboo shoots, and seaweed and green onions. I tried drinking the broth but found it far too strong to drink alone.
I loved the whole experience, and would go back every week in Japan if I lived in Tokyo.
Human Being Everybody Noodle
Yeah, this is a really weird name. This must be something with how they translated the characters in the shop’s name, as I’m pretty sure it means something to the extent of ‘the people’s noodles’. Their name makes it difficult to find reviews of them online in English, but they are ranked top 5 in Japan on the ramen forum.
I’m going to simplify it to HBEN when typing because the name is too damn long.
As always, there was a pretty long line and we showed up 10 minutes after they opened. We went for lunch during the week, and I was surprised with how many businessmen were standing in line. Who lets these guys skip work to wait for noodles? I want to work for those companies.
The inside of HBEN is much more spacious than the other comparable shops. There’s a counter, two tables, and an upper level. Unlike other shops, there’s a server that takes your order rather than relying on the machine.
I got the shellfish ramen (their specialty) with extra noodles and gyoza. I don’t have much to say about the gyoza besides that it was pretty good. The broth for the ramen was clear and not too heavy, but I thought it lacked the flavor I would’ve preferred.
The interesting noodles
The noodles were different than any other noodles I had, and I think they were flavored internally. You can see in the picture above that there are little flakes inside the noodles. I’m not sure what’s in them, but I found it to be an interesting detail.
I didn’t find anything particularly enthralling about the ramen besides the noodle composition. The soup was flavorful but not overly so, and the noodle texture was decent but not amazing. I had a good experience eating at HBEN, but I don’t think I’d make the journey next time.
Ichiran is probably one of the most famous ramen spots in Japan. Famous foodie YouTubers like Simply Dumpling have gone on record to say it’s their favorite ramen stop. Despite this, I had relatively low expectations.
Ippudo in NY is another extremely hyped up shop, and I found that to be very disappointing. If I had high expectations, Ichiran would have done the same for me.
We arrived at the shop at 5:30pm on a Saturday and there was no line. This was a surprise to be sure, but a welcome one.
You order from a ticket machine (no surprise there) that gives a surprising amount of flexibility. Once you purchase your ticket a member of the staff hands you a form to fill out regarding your ramen preferences. I’ve included my order below.
Sorry it's rotated, not quite sure how to fix
You can either sit at a table or a one of the booths. I elected for the booth because it seemed to be the more authentic Ichiran experience. You hand your order and tickets through the booth, and then they close the window until the food is ready. Definitely a unique experience, but I kinda liked it. There are a few ramen spots in Chicago I frequent alone, and it would be nice if they followed the same system.
Once you hand them your order, you get another piece of paper to fill out if you want to order additional toppings/noodles after you receive your ramen. I thought it was a nice touch because sometimes you don’t know what you want until you start eating.
They give you your hardboiled egg before the ramen arrives. I was surprised that you had to peel it yourself. Maybe it gives you something to do while they’re cooking your ramen?
The ramen itself was ok. The broth had good flavor without being too rich, but it wasn’t exceptional in any way. The noodles were slightly thinner and less springy than I would prefer. The chashu was good, but then again I don’t really care about the quality of the chashu. The egg was nice and salted, but what ramen restaurant doesn’t know how to boil an egg?
It was also on the more expensive end of ramen in Japan. I think it was like $16-17 all in. The pricing is par for the course in the US, but most ramen in Japan was in the $12-13 range with extra noodles. I don’t think it was justified.
All in all I wasn’t unhappy with the ramen I received, but I wouldn’t go back very frequently even if I lived in Japan.
Kyoto Torigawa Tonkotsu
This is not worth traveling for. However, it is perfectly serviceable ramen. We were on our way to the Sega Joypolis in Tokyo (which is totally worth it btw, best indoor amusement park in the world) and needed something to eat so we stepped in.
There’s nothing really to write about the experience in the shop either. It operates almost exactly like an American restaurant. You’re seated, a waitress comes to your table to take your order, and you pay at the counter when you’re done.
I tried the Tonkotsu ramen because that’s what they said they were famous for. The broth was a little oily then top-tier ramen places, but not enough that you really noticed.
The noodles had the right level of firmness and the bamboo shoots were pretty tasty. It was overall a good bowl of noodles that I think you would struggle to find in the US. Not because they are significantly better, but it’s just not how it’s done here.
It was a satisfying bowl of ramen, but not worth traveling for. If you’re starving and want to eat before enjoying an afternoon at the Joypolis, this is the place to go.
It’s quite difficult to find this place. They’re located on the lower level of a train station within a food court, but the directions aren’t immediately clear online or on the signs. Once you reach the lower level of the food court you’ll have an easy time finding the shop because it has the longest line.
Afuri Ramen’s specialty is their Yuzu Shio ramen. For those of you that don’t know what Yuzu Shio is, the best way I can describe it is citrus-y. Personally, I prefer a more meaty flavor so that preference will directly influence my review.
Afuri's specialty ramen
The broth was clear and smooth to drink, but you are hit with the immediate Yuzu flavor. For some people that’s a plus. For me it detracted from the experience.
The noodles were thin but firm, and there wasn’t a whole lot of them. The pork was also a little tough for my taste. You did have an option for sous vide chicken so I might have made a mistake in my ordering.
Overall, the Yuzu flavor was a turnoff. My girlfriend loved the soup so I guess it’s an individual thing. I wouldn’t return because it’s not my type of ramen, but if you like those flavors and you’re in the area give it a shot.
Tenkaippin Kyoto Ramen
Definitely my least favorite ramen in Japan. I’m not even sure what to say about it. The soup was really oily and near the end it was sticking to the noodles as I pulled them out of the bowl.
It was probably one of the only times I haven’t finished a bowl of ramen. We were duped because it was really busy at 9:30PM, but that might have been more of a factor of its convenience than quality.
Anyways, if you’re in Shinjuku, don’t go here.
That’s all for my ramen review. Thanks for taking the time to read it! If you’re in Japan in the future I’d be happy to talk more about why I liked each one and how to get there/the lines you’re likely to face. Until next time.