If you remember ramen noodles as the last-resort dorm room food that you ate at midnight during your college years, then it’s about time to re-think what ramen is all about. While you can still buy the 10-cent packages of powdered flavoring and dried noodles that we all have a love-hate relationship with, getting ramen from a restaurant is an entirely different experience. Ramen is taking over the world, and while it’s always been a popular food offering in Japan, it’s becoming even more prominent in Western countries. It’s typically made using fresh seafood, vegetable, or meat broth, noodles of your choice, and plenty of proteins and veggies mixed in to make a truly hearty noodle soup. If you love ramen, or if you’re traveling and want to stop at a killer ramen noodle shop on the way, you’ll have to check out these top five restaurants.
1. Tsuta, Tokyo, Japan
Recently, Michelin released their 2016 guide to the best food you can find in Tokyo, and for the first time, a ramen restaurant was awarded a Michelin star. Michelin stars are only awarded to the best of the best, so clearly, this place is not to be missed if you can’t get enough of the flavors found in fresh noodle soups. According to Max Chang for NextShark, this restaurant is tiny and not too fancy in appearance—it can only hold nine customers at a time, which makes the wait time for a meal 30 minutes at the very least. You also receive a ticket from a vending machine that will get you your meal, which is quite unusual for those who are expecting a fine-dining experience.
When it comes down to the food choices, you’ll have to try the restaurant’s main dish, shoyu soba. The broth that’s used here is a soy broth, which also contains untraditional ingredients like red wine black truffle oil. The broth itself is made from three different aged soy sauces, and they each have their own unique flavor, giving the broth tang and sweetness. The soba noodles that are used are thin and made from Japanese wheat. If you’re interested in a saltier broth for your ramen, then try going with the shio soba, which has a broth made from Okinawa sea salt. You certainly cannot go wrong at this restaurant, so make sure not to miss it if you’re in Japan.
2. Ide Shoten, Wakayama, Japan
Japan strikes again with having one of the best ramen restaurants in the entire world. While it’s not the Michelin star-awarded restaurant in the country, it does consistently receive the highest praise from locals, visitors, and foodies worldwide out of any other ramen shop in the country. Wakayama may be small compared to Tokyo, but thanks to this family-run ramen business, it’s getting quite a bit of attention in terms of the food. If you visit this restaurant, expect a 30-minute wait on any given day of the week, too.
According to Danielle Demetriou for BBC Travel, this incredible popular ramen shop specializes in delicately flavored broths and the infusion of pork bones to give their broths richness. Most visitors come to this ramen restaurant to get the famous tonkotsu-shoyu, or ramen containing pork bones and soy sauce. When Demetriou asked Ide, the restaurant’s founder and owner, about his process, he said that he simply makes “noodles with my heart,” and that the process is simple when you do it right. Don’t be surprised to find cooked eggs and mackerel sushi on your table as an appetizer, either — it’s common practice for these to be ready for you to eat, even though you still have to pay for them. Go off the beaten path and find this ramen shop — it’s well worth it.
3. Tsujita LA, Los Angeles, California
Lucky for you, you don’t necessarily need to travel out of the country to experience some excellent ramen. Tsujita LA in Los Angeles takes the traditional idea of ramen and spins it into a fine dining experience you won’t want to miss. Their dishes are inspired by ramen dishes found in Tokyo, so you’ll be getting cuisine that’s as authentic as you can possibly get. They even received help from the owner of Tanaka-Shoten, a famous Tokyo ramen restaurant that has perfected its dishes and wants Tsujita LA to succeed as well.
The broth is what really makes Tsujita LA stand out amongst the crowd — they simmer their broth for 60 hours before adding it to the noodle, and the broth is made from chicken, fish, and pork for maximum flavor. You can even pick the texture of your noodles — if you like them on the harder side, you can ask them to cook it this way, or vice versa for very soft noodles. From sliced barbecue to soft-boiled eggs and bamboo shoots, the add-ons you can choose from are delicious and perfect for enhancing your ultimate ramen experience. With so many restaurants in LA to choose from, Tsujita LA is one not to be missed.
4. Bamboo on 2nd, Birmingham, Alabama
You might not have expected that Alabama would have an incredible ramen restaurant, but flavors don’t lie, and this place knows how to do it right. Bamboo on 2nd is an Asian-inspired restaurant and bar that has a chef native to Nepal to help them develop their flavors. Chef Abhi Sainju is self-taught, and he has worked tirelessly through his youth to learn how to cook and recreate classic Asian and Nepalese cuisine. These ramen dishes are not just Japanese-inspired, but you’ll also taste the flavors of Thailand, the Philippines, and Nepal when you come to this restaurant, making these dishes truly unique.
There are only four ramen noodle bowls to choose from at Bamboo on 2nd, but once you experience the flavors, you’ll realize that that’s all the variety you need. Their broths are known for their rich creaminess that’s seasoned with either pork or vegetables. The classic “ramen bowl” is everything you would expect out of traditional ramen — pork broth, shitake mushrooms, a soft-boiled egg, and wheat noodles, among other veggies and toppings. If you’re going away from the classics, choose the thukpa noodle soup, which is traditionally from Tibet in China and comes with house-made chicken broth, rice noodles, and veggies. Whether you’re going classic or not, these flavor combinations will make you want to visit Alabama again.
5. Shoryu Ramen, London, England
This ramen restaurant is the real deal — it was recommended by the Michelin Guide in 2014, 2015, and 2016 for their authentic take on this classic Japanese dish. Their speciality is Hakata tonkotsu ramen, which is originally from the Hakata district of the city of Fukuoka in Japan. The broth in this particular type of ramen is made from simmering pig bones for over 12 hours until the broth is rich, thick, and slightly salty. Straight and thin ramen noodles are then added in. The owner of Shoryu Ramen, Tak Tokumine, is a native to the city of Fukuoka and knows the proper way to make this broth, so you’ll forget you’re even in London once you take a bite.
Shoryu Ramen takes pride in every step of their ramen process, and they strive to make every dish perfect for each customer. As for toppings to go with your tonkotsu ramen, you can try a soft-boiled egg that’s been marinated overnight in soy, sake, mirrin, and ginger, or you can try adding slow-simmered barbecue pork to your dish, too. They also serve a hand-made gyoza, or pork-filled pot-sticker, that are crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. And don’t forget to enjoy a bit of sake with your meal — this restaurant has the largest selection of sake in the UK, and it’ll go perfectly with your noodle bowl.