Soba may look simple but it's actually quite complex. On the surface, you have the cold soba, where you dip the chilled noodles in a separate sauce before eating. Then there's the hot soba, which is served in a warm dashi broth along with a variety of toppings.
Of all the major noodle types in Japan – especially in comparison to ramen and udon – soba is considered the most artisanal of them all. Each soba master has their own skills and secrets, whether it be the sourcing of their buckwheat, their perfected ratio of buckwheat to wheat flour, or their signature kneading and rolling techniques. Some masters are even known for their purist approach as they make the noodles with 100 percent buckwheat; this takes a lot of skills as this flour is notoriously hard to work with.
Whether you prefer a cheap slurp-and-go meal or a more refined noodle experience at one of the top soba institutions in the city, there's a lot of options out there for every budget. To help you get started with your soba adventure, we've curated a list of our favourite restaurants, featuring both old and new schools of soba.
One of Tokyo’s most venerable noodle joints, this soba shop has been in business since 1884. The restaurant is extremely down-to- earth, and you can tell it’s good just by looking at the queue that forms outside before it even opens. The power-packed yet comforting dashi broth is also available for takeaway.
Kyorakutei is a good place to get an education in soba. This old-school restaurant in the backstreets of Kagurazaka features a grinder in its storefront window, where the noodle master makes soba by hand. You’ll also get to compare the two different types of buckwheat noodles: the regular soba, which is made by cutting a small percentage of wheat flour, and the juwari soba that’s a craft by itself as it uses pure 100 percent buckwheat.
Darker in colour compared to the regular soba, the juwari soba at Kyorakutei is one of the best we’ve had. The texture is firm with a bit of give, and it has a beautiful nuttiness that makes it delicious even on its own. The best way to appreciate the texture and flavour is to eat it cold with a side of dipping broth.
Start slurping at this upscale Roppongi eatery, which has found success in both New York and Tokyo. New York soba fans grieved when owner Koichi Kobari called it quits in the Big Apple to take over his late father’s soba shop in Tokyo. Honmura An’s menu is available in English and features an extensive list of wines from California. Besides their handmade soba, the restaurant also offers tasting menus highlighting the best seasonal produce and ingredients. We are particularly fond of the house special uni soba.
Located along the Meguro River, this quaint soba restaurant is open for both lunch and dinner – prepare to stand in line for the former, and ensure you make a reservation for the latter. They’ve got all the classics here, from your tempura and tororo soba to the refreshing sudachi soba that’s always a good option in the warmer months. The soba noodles are made from scratch, and depending on your order, are adjusted for the perfect flavour, texture and consistency.
Owner Hiroshi Kouga has been making soba for over 20 years. The restaurant’s small size is deliberate as it enables Kouga to have better control over the quality and consistency of his food, while allowing him to pay more attention to his customers. The buckwheat is brought in from farmer mills in Iruma (Saitama Prefecture), and the restaurant uses a careful ratio of buckwheat to wheat flour to create that ideal texture. Popular items on the menu include the decadent uni soba; their lunch sets are also noteworthy.
In operation since the 1780s, this widely acclaimed soba shop turns out two types of buckwheat noodles, one using ground buckwheat for a darker colour, and another using the polished buckwheat grain to create a whiter noodle that’s just so silky smooth. If you’re getting seiro or dipping soba, you’ll be given spicy and sweet soba tsuyu separately so you can mix to taste. The shop also offers dried version of their noodles and packaged sauces for you to recreate at home.
Open 24 hours a day, this soba shop offers quality food at rock-bottom prices – everything is well under ¥1,000. Simply order your soba at the vending machine up front and you’ll be served in a matter of minutes. Sagatani doesn’t skimp on quality: they make their own soba with buckwheat that’s ground up at the front of the restaurant. You can also add on toppings such as fried chicken, tororo grated yam and even eggplant tempura. With prices this low, you might as well pile it on.