The Best Noodles and Sushi in Tokyo
We spent about 2 weeks wandering the backstreets and neighborhoods of Tokyo, looking for the best combination of high end and everyday sushi and noodles. By no means is this a complete list since it would take years to fully explore Tokyo.. but this is what we were able to find in our short time there.
The morning we landed in Tokyo, we headed straight for Tsukiji Market. The first place that caught my eye and nose was this tiny Ramen stand that a ton of locals were lining up for. The master chef look totally legit as did the bowls of ramen and all the smells wafting out from the stand.
We ended up getting in line and getting a bowl for ourselves.. which was the right move.
It ended up being one of the best bowls of Ramen I've ever had that wasn't Tsukemen, Tori Paitan, or Pork broth based. It was actually a soy sauce based Ramen, which I usually don't like. But this one was had such a deep and complex flavor without being overly salty.
I'd totally recommend checking this place out next time you're in Tsukiji. I don't know the name but I've included a google map location as well as photos of the front.
Not many places in the world give Ramen joints a Michelin star, but Japan is one of those places. They've actually got a couple of Michelin starred ramen joints, and Ginza Kagari is one of them.
They won it because of their deliciously complex Tori Paitan, which is Ramen with a chicken based creamy soup base. I've only had Tori Paitan once at Tokyo Mensho here in San Francisco. I thought it was pretty good, but a bit pricey at $18 and not quite as good as the Tsukemen at Tsujita in LA. The Tori Paitan at Kagari however, was one of the best tasting bowls of Ramen I've ever had. It had such an intense chicken flavor with many layers revealing themselves with each bite. Like many ramen shops in Japan, they finished the dish with yuzu peel, giving it a bright nose and finishing flavor.
We had both the Tori Paitan and the Tsukemen variation. Both were amazing, so you couldn't really go wrong with either choice.
Pro tip: they do have two locations with their original location having outrageous wait times. The less popular location in the train station provides less ambiance but the same food experience with less wait time.
One of the best bowls of Tsukemen I've ever had, this nondescript Ramen joint is located inside the main Tokyo train station with a long snaking line at all times. If you don't know what Tsukemen is, imagine a deconstructed bowl of Ramen where the noodles are served separately from the soup. But in this case, the soup is super concentrated - so you just dip the noodles into the soup, which coats the noodles, and then you eat it that way. At the end of the meal, you can ask for them to dilute the dipping soup, which you should totally do.. because it's complete magic to drink that diluted soup at the end.
So back to the Tsukemen here - absolute heaven. The noodles were springy, thick, and chewy with the right curly texture to soak up all that yummy dipping soup. The soup had this amazing complex umami flavor that I just could not get enough off. They also add Yuzu on top of the bowl to give it that extra oomph. I used to think Tsujita in LA had the best Tsukemen, but Rokurinsha has them beat in spades. It's also one of David Chang's (Momofuku) favorite places to eat Tsukemen.
If you can't tell already, I'm in love with the noodle restaurants in Tokyo. 😁
This place is no exception and is one of the original 'soupless' ramen joints I discovered back in my first trip to Japan in 2013.
The bottom of the bowl has a flavorful sauce, along with super tender pork chashu on top. The cool thing about this restaurant is that all the sizes are the same price. So if you're super starving, you can get the extra large for the same price as the medium size.
They really need to open one of these here in the states because we were eating here as often as we could. What they serve here is what is called 'soupless' ramen with roast beef and poached eggs on top. They place a delicious oil-based sauce at the bottom of the bowl which you're meant to stir around and coat the noodles with. On top there is delicious, tender roast beef along with a runny egg, daikon radish, and other spices. I can't really describe just how good this place was in words, but with all the choices we had in Tokyo, we found ourselves here more than once.
We stayed in residential area of Setagaya for a couple of days during our stay in Tokyo and went wandering around one night in search of an authentic noodle shop. We found ourselves in a tiny place called Jyajyaoiken, which served only one thing - a soupless noodle variation. It actually reminded me of a Chinese dish called Zha Jian Mian since it had sliced cucumbers, ginger, green onions, and some kind of meat/bean sauce in the middle. No one spoke a lick of English nor did any menus have any English. We resorted to pointing and watching what the other locals did.
The noodles were perfectly cooked along with being balanced well with all the ingredients. The real kicked was the end where he cracked an egg into the bowl, poured some hot soup into, and semi-scrambled it. The result was this super yummy, eggy soup with remnants of the original dish all in it.
A bit hard to find, but an amazing value for lunch. If you find yourself in Shibuya at lunch time looking for some great quality sushi, definitely check this place out. It's on the third floor of a narrow building and took some wandering/guesswork to find, but I didn't find a better place for sushi at this price. Basically, at lunch they serve a 10 piece lunch set for 2000 yen which included Uni, mackerel, unagi, squid, tamago, and more. All the pieces were high quality and rivaled some of the best sushi places in San Francisco. In addition, we got seared fatty salmon and some otoro for basically next to nothing.
If you're looking to spend a little more for an unforgettable experience - Sushi Iwa is a 1 star Michelin that caters to both English and Japanese speaking customers. At around 7000 yen, the 13 piece Omakase was one of the most memorable sushi experiences I've ever had. Make sure you grab reservations through your hotel, airbnb, or concierge at least a couple weeks before you go.
The dining room fits max 6 people, as it's meant to be an intimate experience between you and the sushi chef. The moment you walk in, you notice how clean and simple the room is. The lighting is set in a way to highlight the sushi and the sushi chef. For the next two and a half hours, the six of us watched this sushi master at work. Most of the time we were all just silent, completely taken aback at how careful and intentional this chef was treating every piece of sushi. It was almost like we were watching an intricate ballet performance, except you were kind of part of it because you got to eat the creations in real time.
Every piece was spectacular, but the standouts for me were the Lean tuna, Toro, Uni, Anago, and Sea Bream.
If you like a particular piece in the Omakase, you can ask for extra or even replace certain pieces.
I had some mixed experiences with conveyor belt sushi in Japan, but this one was a surefire hit. If you find yourself in the cute and hipster Shimokitazawa neighborhood, definitely swing by here for a great value on quality sushi. Pretty much everything I got and ordered (you can order things instead of grabbing them off the conveyor) was good quality and reasonably priced. For example, I got about 26 pieces of sushi for around 2000 yen. ($20)
Have you have tried any of these places or are planning to go to Japan soon? Please let us know in the comments below!
Also, stay tuned for more posts about our other yummy food finds in Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto!