Tokyo: 5 Ramen Shops to Visit During the Festival

Ramen Beast
Sumisu serves a satisfying shio ramen blended with the taste of toripaitan, a smooth chicken soup.

With the expert help of the popular Instagram account Ramen Beast, here is The Hollywood Reporter's guide to the best places to eat the eternally popular Japanese dish in the Roppongi area.

Once considered hearty fast food for Japan's working class, ramen has evolved into one of the country's most innovative, and achingly fashionable, cuisines that has spawned its own dedicated subculture of movies, magazines and, of course, social media accounts. 

Ramen has graduated rapidly from the simple bowl of noodles served in broth, and today each region of Japan boasts their own spin, with the most popular regional styles being the Hakata style tonkotsu from Fukuoka, the Sapporo miso from Hokkaido, the Kitakata style from Kitakata, Fukushima Prefecture, tsukemen dipping noodles from Tokyo and the classic Tokyo style shoyu. But there plenty more, and those listed are certainly not the best. 

With the bewildering number of styles and the estimated 10,000 ramen shops in the greater Tokyo area alone, picking out the best places to go can seem overwhelming. To narrow things down a little, The Hollywood Reporter's guide to the five best ramen shops to try during the Tokyo International Film Festival will focus on the Roppongi area, where many of the screenings and events are taking place. And to make sure we know our shoyu from our tsukemen and help us find the right places to "crush a bowl," we've enlisted noted ramen expert Abram Plaut, the Tokyo-based American behind the popular Instagram account and iOS app Ramen Beast. Plaut, who visits between 200 and 300 shops a year, also works as a full-time ramen consultant, helping to open restaurants overseas including a second outlet of Mensho in San Fransisco in 2020 with ramen legend Tomoharu Shono. 

Menya Sumisu

Plaut: "Sumisu (pictured above) serves a satisfying shio ramen blended with the taste of toripaitan, a smooth chicken soup. The shop is named after master Sumi-san, who hails from Kyushu. The influence is apparent, as noodles here are somewhat similar to the style popular in Kyushu. This bowl falls on the lighter side of the tori-paitan spectrum — it's creamy but very drinkable. One hundred percent chicken with no pork and no MSG. Noodles come ordered from the purveyor Mikawaya Seimen. The bowls also come topped with tori chashu and a meatball made from ground chicken. The shop also serves tori tsuke soba (dipping ramen), shoyu ramen and shiru nashi tantanmen, but the ramen is recommended. Since 2012."

Open: Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.; evening hours 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday 11:30 a.m.; closed Sunday.

Menya Sumisu, 〒107-0062 Tokyo, Minato City, Minamiaoyama, 2 Chome−2−15 ウィン青山 1F, +813-3497-5828

Rakkan Nishiazabu Gold

Plaut: "This small shop tucked away on a quiet side street in Nishiazabu serves excellent shoyu ramen. President Ryohei Itou hails from the Tachichikawa area, and he is proud to call his ramen 'Tachikawa style.' Similar to Hachioji style, with a clear shoyu soup, thin curly noodles, diced onions and sliced pork chashu. One thing that separates this bowl is the use of olive oil in the soup. Light, golden and refreshing. Rakkan has a couple of other locations in Tokyo, as well as one in downtown Los Angeles that opened in 2017."

Open: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

Rakkan Nishiazabu Gold, 1 Chome-8-12 Nishiazabu, Minato City, Tokyo 106-0031, +8180-4059-6667 

Kisurin

Plaut: "A premier destination for tantanmen in central Tokyo. Using Japanese techniques but hewing fairly close to the original Chinese flavors, Kisurin specializes in "Dan Dan Soup Noodles," as it's called on the menu. The soup is a creamy sesame-base, with fiery chili oil for frosting. The bowls come in five spice levels, ranging from 1 (very mild) to 5 (very spicy). Pro tip for the extra-hungry: Get the 'paikou' topping, a curry-spiced grilled pork cutlet."

Open: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.; evening hours 5:30 p.m to 9 p.m.; closed Sunday.

Kisurin, 3 Chome-7-9 Akasaka, Minato City, Tokyo 107-0052, +813-5573-4119

Hashizume

Plaut: "This offshoot of the Shinagawa-based Hashizume Seimen noodle factory has been open since 2012 and specializes in dishes containing fresh noodles made with a variety of different ingredients. Before selecting your soup, you must choose from a range of noodle options, such as noodles made with burdock root, Moroheiya, sansho and tomato, among others. The menu seems to change frequently and can vary from chili-infused tantanmen, green curry chicken dipping noodles or clear, chicken-based soup. The shop is neat, chic and typical of the upscale surrounding area of Hiroo. The dishes are all well-prepared and look and taste intriguing. A shop worthy of multiple visits for those who like fresh noodles."

Open: Monday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; evening hours 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.; closed Sunday.

Hashizume, 5 Chome-16-10 Minamiazabu, Minato City, Tokyo 106-0047, +813-6277-2183

Kaotan 

Plaut: "Kaotan is more of a shack than a shop. It's been open for over 30 years, and is open until 5 a.m. or 6 a.m., depending on the day of the week. The ramen here is shoyu-based and flavored with roasted onions. It's a very simple ramen, old-school nostalgic Tokyo style. After some heavy drinking, the soup is especially delicious. The onions give it a sweet taste, which is by far the bowl's best feature. The chashu is juicy and fairly respectable. The gyoza dumplings are big and filling. Wontonmen (ramen with wontons) is also on the menu. The master only works during the lunchtime hours, with apprentices manning the late shift."

Open: Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m to 5 a.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 6 a.m.; closed Sunday.

Kaotan, 2 Chome-34-30 Minamiaoyama, 港区 Minato City, Tokyo 107-0062, +813-3475-6337