The top 10 healthy spots
The main menu at this Kojimachi shop is twofold: 'Chuka (chinese) soba', a dish with clear soy sauce broth that blends meat and seafood flavours, and 'Special veggie soba', which includes a soup made of carrot puree, paprika-flavoured noodles, and generous vegetable toppings. Especially popular with Tokyo's ramen-loving ladies, Soranoiro even sells homemade veggie juice – although only 10 servings are available per day.
An offshoot of Jiyugaoka's popular Kageyamaro, this relatively newly opened ramen shop along Waseda-dori in Takadanobaba specialises in tori-paitan (milky chicken broth) soup. Its deep flavours are combined with fluffy, thick noodles in their signature 'shio-soba' (¥850), a light dish that's best enjoyed with a sprinkle of lemon.
With room for less than ten customers, this stylish Shinjuku shop is literally a hole in the wall. If you manage to snag a seat, however, make sure to try their pasta-like veggie tsukemen (¥950), served with chashu pork, zucchini, okra, yam, daikon radish and miniature tomatoes, with the dipping sauce flavoured with lemon. You can choose either niboshi- or shrimp-based dipping soup for your medium-thick noodles, and the soup is so delicious that you'll want to pour some rice into it and eat the rest as risotto.
Not many ramen shops have dessert menus, but Kugatsudo sure isn't your average ramen shop: located along Koen-dori in Shibuya's trendy Jinnan, this place looks more like a café than a noodle eatery, inviting you to stay and hang out on the sofas in the stylish white-painted shop. The noodles are soaked or dipped in a well-balanced 'double soup' (a mix of seafood and meat flavours), while the lunch and dinner sets come with sweets and are great value.
The talented ladies at this tsukemen speciality shop next to Shinjuku Gyoen serve a delightfully thick, pork- and chicken-based soup with their flat dipping noodles. The savoury, soy sauce-accented soup also comes with grated daikon radish, giving your bowl a touch of freshness that lasts all the way to the last slurp. Small eaters will be happy to hear that the 300g-pile of noodles can be downgraded by half, while toppings like soft-boiled eggs are also available.
The tomato-based 'double soup' (a blend of seafood, meat and vegetables) is the attraction at this tsukemen-focused eatery located just a short walk from Oimachi Station. Their 'tsukemen Rosso' (¥800, large size ¥900) is the signature dish, while curious options like the 'pizza soba' and the 'carbonara' (nothing like the original!) are also popular.
Italian flavours meet Japan's favourite fast food at Due Italian, a supremely individualist shop run by fusion experimenter extraordinaire Kazuo Ishizuka. The leek- and cheese-topped 'ramen fromage' and limited-edition 'foie gras daikon-men' are some of the more curious menu choices, but Due is still best known for its white ramen, the mind-boggling but actually rather tasty creation that combines Parma ham, mozzarella, basil and a whole bunch of familiar thin noodles.
The Persian fellow running this offbeat shop close to Higashi-Koenji subway station makes sure that all of his creations are free of additives and similar chemicals while serving up delicious, healthy bowls of noodles. The top choice here is the 'BiaBia Special' (¥1,000), which comes in a 'double soup' made of chicken and dried seafood, and is seasoned with tuna and three kinds of sea salt. The homemade noodles are on the thin side, while the soup gets its red accent and sour sweetness from dried zereshk berries, a popular Iranian ingredient.
The all-female staff at this Machida shop let the soup cool off overnight and remove all the extra fat, making for a low-calorie, healthy dish. Koshinbo's most popular menu item is the 'ajitama ramen' (¥800), served in a mild 'double soup' made from pork bones, vegetables and dried seafood. The noodles are thin and elastic, while toppings include eggs, leek, chashu pork, nori seaweed and lettuce. In keeping with the health-conscious theme, they also serve salads and portions with smaller amounts of noodles.
You certainly wouldn't go to this rough-and-ready noodle joint for the ambience, but if Hototogisu's decor – crudely painted black walls and an L-shaped counter – leaves much to be desired, the food is spot-on.The secret of its ramen lies in the balance between the pork and seafood stock, which really lets the flavour of the shellfish come through. Choosing between the 'ajitama soba' (soy-based) and 'ajitama shio soba' (salt-based; both ¥850) can be a heart-wrenching decision, but if you stop by on a Thursday, you'll be able to avoid that choice and go for the gokunibo (made with dried sardine stock) instead.