Ramen Beast: Tokyo's Best Tsukemen Experiences

Ramen Beast: Tokyo's Best Tsukemen Experiences

The wildly popular variety of ramen known as Tsukemen was invented in Tokyo in 1961 at Higashi-Ikubukuro Taishouken, a legendary ramen shop run by the late, great master Kazuo Yamagishi. 

According to most accounts, Yamagishi-san's staff first started eating this new dipping-noodle dish during lunch breaks. Eventually, Yamagishi-san decided to try it out on the shop's menu. Soon the Tokyo masses were clamoring to get a taste of 'mori-soba,' as the dish was then called. 

The difference between ramen and tsukemen is simple. With tsukemen, the noodles and soup are served separately. The eater then dips the noodles, typically served chilled or at room temperature, into the piping hot soup before slurping them down. Tsukemen soup tends to be saltier and richer — better for dipping than drinking, allowing for bolder, more explosive flavors. The noodles also are usually thicker and chewier than ramen noodles, providing more surface area to transport the soup from bowl to mouth. The naked presentation of the noodles also raises the stakes: since they are served solo, it's all the more imperative that they be high-quality. 

Tsukemen gradually gained in popularity across Japan during the 1970s and 80s, before exploding during the new school ramen movement of the past two decades. Today, tsukemen is one of the most beloved styles of ramen in Japan. Even if you've crushed a thousand bowls of ramen, when you try tsukemen for the first time it's a ramen epiphany all over again — a portal into a new dimension.  


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Benten | 中華そば べんてん 

Style: Shoyu w/ Tonkotsu & Gyokai
Bowl to Crush: Tsukemen + Karami | つけ麺  +  辛味

Benten has been a pillar of the Tokyo scene since 1995. The shop briefly closed in 2014 — inspiring lament throughout the ramen world — but a surprise reopening in 2016 drew the lines back around the block. Benten serves both ramen and tsukemen in various varieties; everything on the menu is excellent. The beautifully balanced tonkotsu and gyokai — with a dash of vinegar for the tsukemen — packs a potent punch, but none of the flavors overpower the others. It's sweet, cloudy brown harmony in a bowl — spectacular flavor exploding with umami. Master Tanaka-san makes the noodles by hand daily, and runs the shop with his son. [Read Full Review]

Opening Hours: 11:30am-2:30pm
Days Closed: Sunday
3-25-2 Asahicho, Nerima-ku, Tokyo
東京都練馬区旭町3-25-2


Fuunji | 風雲児

Style: Chicken w/ Gyokai
Bowl to Crush: Tokusei Tsukemen | 得製つけめん

Unlike most acclaimed Japanese ramen masters, the creator of Fuunji, Miyake-san, never served an apprenticeship in another famous shop. He had worked at an Italian restaurant and was simply an avid ramen fan. After spending years systematically sampling many of Tokyo's best ramen shops, he decided that he had what it takes to launch a shop of his own. His creation has widely been regarded as one of the top tsukemen shops in Tokyo for years. Fuunji's soup looks and tastes a bit like tonkotsu-gyokai, but contains no pork. Although chashu comes as a topping, the soup is made only with chicken carcasses, katsuo, and konbu. There's so much umami going on here that it's almost a sensory overload. [Read Full Review]

Opening Hours: 11am-3pm, 5pm-9pm
Days Closed:  Sunday & National Holidays
東京都渋谷区代々木2-14-3 北斗第一ビルB1F
2-14-3 Yoyogi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
 


Ittou | 麵屋一燈

Style: Tori-Paitan w/ Gyokai
Bowl to Crush: Tokusei Noukou Gyokai Ramen | 特製濃厚魚介つけめん 

Sleek and minimal in every respect, this is new school Tokyo ramen at its finest. Menya Ittou opened in 2010 and has been ranked among Tokyo's top 20 ramen experiences ever since. The master, Yukihiko Sakamoto, now has five shops in the Koiwa area. This shop, the original, remains his best. Made with gyokai, tonkotsu, and chicken — the birds are specially sourced from a farm in Japan's Ibaraki Prefecture, northeast of Tokyo — the soup is rich, savory, and unforgettable. Along with some tender, slow-cooked buta and tori chashu, the bowls also come with ground chicken balls containing crunchy bits of cartilage and some interesting spices. The noodles are house made from six varieties of flour. Flawless. [Read Full Review]

Opening Hours: 11am-3pm, 6pm-10pm
Days Closed: None
1-4-17 Higashishinkoiwa Katsushika Tokyo
東京都 葛飾区 東新小岩 1-4-17


Kissou | 麺屋 吉左右

Style: Tonkotsu-Gyokai Double Soup
Bowl to Crush: Ajitama Tsukemen |  味玉つけ麺

Run by a husband-wife team, Kissou has long been regarded as one of the best ramen shops in all of Tokyo. The shop serves a superior tonkotsu-gyokai double-soup, house-made noodles and an outstanding egg with perfect consistency. Both the ramen and tsukemen are worth trying. Like many of the best, only open for lunch.

Opening Hours:  Mon, Tue, Thu, Fri, Sat: 11:30am-3pm
Days Closed:  Sunday, Wednesday, National Holidays
東京都江東区東陽1-11-3
1-11-3 Toyo, Koto-ku, Tokyo


Michi | つけ麺道

Style: Tonkotsu Gyokai
Bowl to Crush: Tokusei Tsukemen  | 特製つけ麺

Michi, tsukemen specialty house, is one of Tokyo's most hyped shops. The interior is intimate and tiny, with just eight seats arranged around the counter directly in front of master Nagahama-san's workspace. He prepares every detail of every dish with obsessive, methodical care. Each day the bowls are served with a different yakumi, or spice — past examples include pickled ginger, togarashi chili and diced negi. The toppings are all legit here — egg, nori, chashu, a chicken meatball and some hosaki menma — but it's really all about the soup: Made with chicken, gyogai and tonkotsu, Michi's soup is silkier, smoother and notably lighter than many of the top tonkotsu-gyokai soups, without sacrificing any of the depth of flavor or umami wow-factor. [Read Full Review]
 
Note: On Monday and Tuesday, Michi suspends its usual tsukemen menu and becomes 'Ramen Michi No Shio,' serving only shio ramen. 

Opening Hours: 11:30am-until soup runs out
Days Closed: None
5-28-17 Kameari, Katsushika, Tokyo
東京都葛飾区亀有5-28-17


Tomita | とみ田

Style: Tonkotsu Gyokai
Bowl to Crush: Tokusei Tsukesoba | 特製つけそば

Tomita opened in 2006 amid the peak of a tonkotsu-gyokai tsukemen craze then sweeping the Kanto region. (The literal translation of gyokai is 'seafood,' but in the ramen world it generally refers to soup made by boiling down Japanese dried fish and shellfish.) Tomita-san has cemented himself as one of the kings of this genre. For years his shop carried the highest ranking on Japan's online ramen database, and Tomita-san has won multiple titles as serving the best tsukemen in the country. Thick, creamy, mind-blowing soup, laden with liquefied chunks of pork and fish matter that stick to the handmade dipping noodles marvelously. No shortcuts anywhere. Not surprisingly, the shop consistently boasts one of the longest lines in the ramen world. [Read Full Review]

Opening Hours: 10am - until the soup runs out (maybe around 5pm)
Days Closed: Wednesday
1339 Matsudo, Matsudo, Chiba
千葉県松戸市松戸1339


Toshioka | 自家製中華そば としおか

Style: Shoyu w/ Tonkotsu & Gyokai
Bowl to Crush : Tsuke Menma + Karami | つけメンマ + 辛味

In mid 2014, the legendary Tokyo ramen shop named Benten closed its doors in Takadanobaba. One year later, Benten’s sole apprentice, Okabe-san, opened his own shop serving a very similar menu.  Word got out, and the ramen heads have flocked. A small shop with a barebones minimalist aesthetic, Toshioka has just eight seats arranged around a simple wooden counter, offering a nice view of Okabe-san manning the kitchen solo, preparing the bowls meticulously by hand. No music, just silence. Toshioka serves ramen and tsukemen in various varieties, all of it based on the Benten originals.  Luscious gyokai and tonkotsu soup along with Okabe-san’s handmade noodles. The menma, meanwhile, is soft, sweet and chopped small — easy to take down as you slurp. Also recommended is the spicy ‘karami’, a red chili-like substance to add to your bowl. [Read Full Review]

Shop Hours: 11am-2pm
Days Closed: Sunday
20 Bentencho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
東京都新宿区弁天町20


Warito | 和利道

Style: Tonkotsu Gyokai
Bowl to Crush: Warito Tsukemen | 和利道つけめん

Warito has been regarded as a legit shop from the day it opened. Master Kazutoshi Kumagai trained at Tetsu, the celebrated tsukemen shop in Bunkyo. Just like Tetsu, Warito's speciality is a potent tonkotsu-gyokai tsukemen. The soup is a deep, creamy umami-laden pants-crapper – seriously good. All noodles are house-made. The menu changes from lunch to dinner. The soup is pork-based for lunch and chicken-based for dinner. Both are lights-out. For tsukemen fans this shop is can't miss. [Read Full Review]

Opening Hours: 11am-3:30pm, 6pm-10pm
Days Closed: Wednesday
3-7-10 Aobadai, Meguro-ku, Tokyo
東京都目黒区青葉台3-7-10


Other Tsukemen Shops Worth Checking Out: 


Tetsu | つけめんTETSU 千駄木本店

Style: Tonkotsu Gyokai
Bowl to Crush: Tokusei Tsukemen | 特製つけ麺

One of Tokyo's original great tonkotsu gyokai tsukemen shops, in its heyday Tetsu's line stretched hours deep daily, as patrons waited patiently to slurp down a thick, viscous pork bone and seafood-based soup. Nowadays shops that serve this style of ramen or tsukemen are a dime a dozen in Japan, and Tetsu has gone on to open and operate a plethora of subsidiary shops. Still worth paying homage to the OG. [Read Full Review]

Opening Hours: 11am-4pm, 5pm-11pm
Days Closed: None
4-1-14 Sendagi, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo
東京都文京区千駄木4-1-14



Ganja | 頑者

Style: Tonkotsu Gyokai
Bowl to Crush: Kara Tsukemen | 辛つけめん

Master Oohashi-san comes from a family background of noodle-makers, and he prepares Ganja's superb noodles by hand every morning. The soup is rich and fatty, with morsels of dried fish and seafood that cling enticingly to the fresh, chewy dipping noodles. Ganja happened to be the very first ramen shop to put a dollop of fish powder directly in the bowl just prior to serving. This is now a common technique at ramen shops across the land, but Ganja was the first to do it.

UPDATE:  As of Fall 2017 this shop is set to undergo renovations and several months and will reopen during the latter half of the year. [Read Full Review]

Opening Hours: 11:30am-4:30pm
Days Closed: Sunday
1-1-8 Shintomicho, Kawagoe-shi, Saitama
埼玉県川越市新富町1-1-8


Maruchou | 丸長中華そば店

Style: Shoyu w/ Chicken, Pork & Vegetables
Bowl to Crush: Tsukesoba | つけそば

Open since 1947, Maruchou is a deep old school shop with a lengthy ramen and tsukemen lineage. Many of the regulars who line up here have been coming for decades. Shoyu tsukemen with a soup made from chicken, pork & vegetables. Juicy shumai and menma available on the side. A legendary West Tokyo lunch spot.

Opening Hours: 11am-3pm
Days Closed: Wednesday & 3rd Sunday of Month
4-31-12 Ogikubo, Suginami-ku, Tokyo
東京都杉並区荻窪4-31-12


BASSO Drill Man | BASSO ドリルマン

Style: Tonkotsu Gyokai w/ Chicken
Bowl to Crush: HOT BASSO

Master Shinagawa-san operates several shops, all of which are excellent. This flagship located in a quiet residential area near Ikebukuro might be his most respected spot. Handmade noodles and carefully crafted gourmet bowls.

Opening Hours: 11:30am-3:30pm, 6pm-9pm
Days Closed: Monday
2-9-7 Nishiikebukuro, Toshima, Tokyo
東京都豊島区西池袋2-9-7


Higashi Ikebukuro Taishouken | 東池袋 大勝軒 

Style: Shoyu w/ Chicken & Pork
Bowl to Crush: Tokusei Morisoba | 特製もりそば

The inventor of tsukemen and a true institution on the Tokyo scene, this shop forever has its place on the Mt. Rushmore of ramen greats. People come from far and wide to try the marvelous dipping noodles and juicy gyoza. There are now well over 30 ‘Taishouken’ ramen shops in the Tokyo scene, most with a lineage somehow linked to this shop.  

Opening Hours: Mon-Sat: 11am-11pm; Sun & Holidays: 11am-10pm
Days Closed: None
2-42-8 Minami Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo
東京都豊島区南池袋2-42-8


Rokurinsha | 六厘舎 

Style: Tonkotsu Gyokai
Bowl to Crush: Tokusei Tsukemen | 得製つけめん

This legendary infamous tsukemen shop once regularly commanded lines of up to 3 hours long.  It got so bad that staff were hired simply to direct the massive lines infiltrating the neighborhood.  In the end, pressure from surrounding neighbors forced the shop to close. Today, Rokurinsha has a permanent location on Tokyo station's Ramen Street. While it’s more of a chain-style ramen shop now, it’s still respectable and conveniently located for a quick strike.  

Shop Hours: 7:30am-9:30am, 10:30am-10:30pm
Days Closed: None
Tokyo Ramen Street 1-9-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
東京都千代田区丸の内1-9-1 東京駅一番街 B1F 東京ラーメンストリート内



Morris | モリス 

Style: Light Tonkotsu w/ Chicken, Fish & Vegetables
Bowl to Crush: Tsukesoba Tokunose |  つけそば 得のせ

Morris' soup is a golden mixture of gyokai, chicken and pork — silky smooth and just marvelous. Both the thick tsukemen noodles and thinner ramen noodles have a springy consistency and bold flavor. The toppings excel, too. Named after former MLB pitcher Jim Morris, who shares the same birthday as the master, Morris is new school ramen at its finest. [Read Full Review]

Opening Hours: Mon-Sat: 11:30am-3pm, 6pm-10pm; Sun & Holidays: 11:30am-10pm
Days Closed: Wednesday
28-8 Oyama Higashicho, Itabashi-ku, Tokyo
東京都板橋区大山東町28-8


Gotou | ごとう

Style: Shoyu w/ Chicken, Pork, Vegetables
Bowl to Crush: Tokusei Morisoba | 特製もりそば

A particularly light tonkotsu gyokai — a subtle blend of fish, chicken and pork. The egg, chashu and menma toppings aim for humble classicism rather than gourmet technique. The medium-thick noodles are house-made and taste like it. The sense of balance and timelessness in your bowl should impress you. Master Gotou-san apprenticed at Higashi Ikebukuro Taishouken. He now runs his own shop alongside his brother and his wife. [Read Full Review]

Opening Hours: 11am-3pm, 5:30pm-9pm
Days Closed: Sunday
1-39-5 Komagome, Toshima-ku, Tokyo
東京都豊島区駒込1-39-5 B1F


Shū | つけそば 周 

Style: Tonkotsu Gyokai
Bowl to Crush: つけそば

Tsukemen specialty shop specializing in a rich tonkotsu gyokai soup. The housemade noodles are thick and chewy, and each bowl is served with a slice of lemon on the side for some added acidity. Everything here hand-crafted, everything legit.    

Opening Hours: 11am-2:30pm, 5:30pm-9pm (or the soup runs out)
Days Closed: Sunday
2-63-4 Itabashi, Itabashi-ku, Tokyo
東京都板橋区板橋2-63-4 一階

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