10 Ramen Joints You Should Not Miss In Shinjuku Tokyo

By Kenji Kitabayasho, who swapped the rice paddies of Akita for the bright lights of Tokyo for university, and is still here 20 years on.

Edited by Kathryn Foley

Eating ramen in Tokyo is a unique experience, unlike anywhere else in Japan really. As a long island, the country is home to many different types of ramen, with each region having its own artfully crafted speciality. These variations were the result of different cultures you’ll find across Japan as well as the produce traditionally available in those areas. If I had to narrow it down to one area to slurp as many different types of ramen, I’d recommend Shinjuku, an inclusive area where everyone is accepted and anything goes! From trying 24 hour ramen in Shinjuku (a local tradition after a night out) to completely wacky, unusual types to purists’ ramen, there are hundreds of bowls of ramen in Shinjuku to try. What you consider to be the best ramen in Shinjuku depends on what style you like, so here are 10 places to try if you’re wondering where to eat ramen in Shinjuku.

It’s thanks to Shinjuku’s history that you can find so many regional variations of ramen. It was a crossroads and an important trading area, and with such high traffic of people from all over Japan there were always newcomers here, and even today the district is inclusive to strangers. And since it’s an area where so many people passed through, Shinjuku food is plentiful, as everyone still takes time out from their busy travels to eat and drink! It’s also thanks to its high traffic and inclusivity that ramen chefs from all over Japan come here to set up shop selling their own region’s speciality - and to make a name for themselves. Before you get started trying the best ramen in Shinjuku, keep in mind a few tips. First of all, never use your chopsticks to point at things, this is considered terrible manners (this also applies when eating sushi). Also be aware that some places won’t serve foreigners. It’s not because they don’t like you, but simply because they are afraid of making mistakes with poor English. So if you can, go with a Japanese local.

Afuri

Afuri is a small place, with only twenty seats, but that's common here. Their speciality is yuzu ramen, which is something you won’t really find outside of Japan. Yuzu is a type of Japanese citrus fruit, which gives the broth an unusual flavour and keeps the it light. It won’t be what you’re expecting when you first taste it, but the tangy twist makes for a welcome change, especially during the summer months when you may not feel like a rich, meaty broth. They also make a delicious chilled version, where you’re served two bowls. In one will be your noodles and other toppings, and in the other a chilled broth. Instead of combining it all in one bowl, you dip the noodles in the broth - perfect for when it’s too hot outside! Just remember to bring cash, as they don’t take cards.

Menya Ishin

Menya Ishin is a tiny, ten seater ramen shop where they also serve yuzu shio ramen, as well as my favourite soy-based broth. Again, the yuzu version is light, and has a brightness to it that you don’t find in other types thanks to the tangy yuzu flavour which lifts the broth. They hand-pull their own noodles, and as well as the usual egg, pork or chicken topping, you can order a type that comes with delicate wontons floating in the broth. I prefer the shoyu variety though, which uses soy sauce as the base, and has a deep, salty yet sweet umami flavour to it.

Ippudo Takadanobaba

This is quite a big ramen shop, which is open until 4am every day except Sunday, so you can almost count it as 24 hour ramen in Shinjuku! Ippudo is a chain which is loved by families as well as people looking for a bowl of ramen on their way home after a night out in Tokyo. They specialise in Hakata style ramen, which is made with tonkotsu (pork bone) broth. Tonkotsu ramen is the speciality of Fukuoka, a city in Kyushu which is Japan’s largest southerly island. The best tonkotsu ramen shops will simmer their broth for hours on end, and some even claim to cook it for a whole day. The broth is a milky white, opaque colour which is just so silky and creamy, it’s delicious! As is typical for Hakata ramen, the noodles are very thin, but you can choose how firm you would like them to be cooked, from soft to chewy. They serve lots of different toppings so you can mix and match, which makes it popular with almost everyone as you can customise your ramen how you like it!

Shisentantammen aun

This is a really stripped back ramen shop, the kind that people come to on their lunch break or way home from work for a quick, easy and delicious bite to eat. The decor is nothing special, but people only come here for the food! They specialise in dan-dan noodles, which actually originate in China, and are used to make my favourite kind of ramen, tantanmen. This is spicy, quite heavy style of ramen which was inspired by a spicy Sichuan dish, so it doesn’t hold back on the chilli! We call heavy ramen kotteri, which are not clear, light broths but heavy, rich soups. The broth is based on a soy style broth, with the addition of sesame butter which creates a creamy, rich soup that’s the perfect accompaniment for the fiery minced meat which the broth is topped with. It’s usually made with spiced minced chicken or pork, which is quite a heavy addition compared to other ramen toppings, but it perfectly matches the richer, slightly thicker than usual broth. If you love chilli, a steaming bowl of tantanmen at Shisentantammen aun is the ultimate dish!

Ra-mendainingu domiso

Ra-mendainingu domisois a tiny, nine seater ramen shop - the kind you’ve maybe pictured when you’re imagining a really authentic spot where you’ll find the best ramen in Tokyo! The open kitchen takes up most of the space, and everyone squeezes in along the narrow bar. They specialise in miso based ramen, which originated in Hokkaido, the most northerly of Japan’s main islands. Hokkaido ramen is usually classified as kotteri (heavy), since in this northern part of the country we have a lot of snow, so a rich, meaty ramen is the perfect way to warm up. This style of ramen is usually topped with butter, corn, bean sprouts and sliced pork, which is exactly how I order mine!

Tai Shio-soba Touka

Tai Shio-soba Touka serve a really unique style of ramen, which you won’t find everywhere. Shio means salt, which is a common form of seasoning for broth, and tai snapper is the fish used to flavour it. The broth is classified as assari, which means ‘light’, and it’s an unusual but delicious variation you should try. Even though the broth has a distinctly fish flavour, it’s still topped with a thin slice of pork, which goes together better than you may have imagined. They also add a tiny amount of yuzu, which adds another refreshing, bright element to the broth when combined with the thin soba noodles.

Ebisoba Ichigen

Ebisoba Ichigen is a small chain, which has branches in Sapporo, Hokkaido and two shops in Tokyo. They use shrimp in their broth, which adds a rich, salty but slightly sweet flavour to the broth. You can choose which base you’d like from miso, shio (salt) or shoyu (soy sauce); the saltiness of shio goes best with the shrimp and really brings out its flavour, but the miso variety is creates a more unusual combination - perfect if you’re looking for something new. As well as the usual toppings of a soft boiled egg, scallions and a thin slice of pork, they add shrimp tempura and shrimp powder which adds another layer to the heavy soup. The only thing you need to be aware of is that the vending machine ordering system is completely in Japanese, so you need to come with someone who can order for you!

Ramen Jiro

Ramen Jiro should not only be on your list of must eat ramen in Shinjuku, but in Japan! It’s a chain, and they have branches all over the country which are famous for the giant portion sizes - you’ll be presented with an absolute mountain of vegetables and multiple slices of pork instead of the usual one, and you can even ask for extras. Unless you haven’t eaten for a few days, do not order extra! It’s considered bad manners not to finish a bowl of ramen, so make sure you come with a big appetite. People who love this place absolutely adore it, and it’s so famous across Japan that it almost has a cult following! It’s not really the best ramen in Shinjuku, but it’s one to experience if you’ve had a long day of sightseeing and need a huge, steaming bowl of ramen to refuel with.

Mitaseimenjo

This ramen shop serves Tsukemen ramen, which is one of my favourite styles and a more unusual way of eating. You get one dish which is piled high with thick udon noodles, another bowl of broth and another for your toppings. At Mitaseimenjo, you can choose if you’d like the spicy or non-spicy broth, as well as the size of your portion of noodles, but the toppings are standard (an egg, sliced pork and scallions). You then dip the noodles into the soup, and after letting them soak up the rich flavours of the broth, you can eat them. The soup bowl is actually smaller than the noodle bowl though, so you repeat this process a few times, and you can ask for more broth if you run out. It’s quite rich, as they use fish, pork and chicken as the base, but it creates a delicious, hearty soup which perfectly goes with the spices.

Fūunji

Fūunji certainly one of the best places for ramen in Shinjuku - something every local knows and something you’ll quickly realise, as there is nearly always a queue here. I’d even say their iconic Tsukemen ramen is some of the best ramen in Tokyo. It’s a squeeze at only fifteen seats, and people will literally be standing behind you as you eat as they wait for their turn. They serve two types of ramen, but Tsukemen, the style where you sip cold noodles into your bowl of soup is the one to go for. Their broth is silky smooth, rich and creamy thanks to the deeply flavourful chicken stock which is used as the base, which they add seafood to, giving another delicate, salty layer to the simmering pot of soup. The toppings include the usual pork and egg, but they add crunchy bamboo shoots and a sheet of nori which harmoniously blends with the salty ocean flavours.

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