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The best Tokyo ramen shops of 2016

From classic bowls to cutting-edge mixtures – we round up the best ramen joints to open over the past year

Tokyo's ramen scene is in a constant state of upheaval, so just keeping up with all the new openings can be a hugely time-consuming task. In 2016, newcomers tried to stand out in a multitude of ways, rolling out unique topping combinations, cooking up soup from luxury ingredients like lobster and abalone, and even incorporating influences from obscure foreign cuisines. Although the past year once again made us stand up and take notice of the unbeatable level of noodle innovation going on in the city, it also helped us realise that traditional ramen – chuka soba, Hakata-style tonkotsu, Tokyo 'double soup' – is still going very strong. We sent out our famed ramen hunters to scour the streets for the very best of 2016, and here's what they came back with: 20 shops you really should check out to start the new year right.

Reviews by menchuck and Time Out Tokyo editors

The top 20: 1-10

Mengyo

The sea bream painted on the wall is a bit of a giveaway, as this shop specialises in soup made from said fish, known as madai in Japanese. They open at 11am on the dot, but their immense popularity means that people queue up from long before that, leading to the soup usually running out before evening. Inside, the space is somewhat cramped with a mere eight counter seats but liberally decorated with wood carvings and little bonsai of snappers and other seafood. And the ramen sure exceeds expectations: the sea bream is sourced directly from Tsukiji every day...

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Kinshicho

Issho

Although Asagaya's Issho is firmly a tonkotsu specialist, you wouldn't be able to guess it from the shop's appearance: this sleek joint has none of the usual tonkotsu-esque trappings, classic rock is played on loop and the entire place looks almost, well, healthy. The staff are, however, meticulous when creating their signature broth, a thick but surprisingly elegant mixture that isn't too smelly and is made in separate pots for each part of the cooking process – all in order to draw out the maximum flavour from the pork bones...

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Asagaya

Motsuke

Hachioji is home to many an excellent ramen joint, including the popular Motsuke – or Hokkori Chuka Soba Motsuke, to give its full name. The flat, medium-thick egg noodles are homemade and use only the best domestic flour, giving them a firm springiness, while the chicken-based soup is simple and light but undoubtedly tasty and full of flavour. Make sure to also explore the extensive topping and side menu, which includes wontons, rice with tuna tartar and much more...

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Hachioji
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Irohaya

Irohaya is a rather modest place: set in the ramen 'battleground' of Asagaya, its only outwardly distinguishing feature is a simple white awning with the name chalked on it. Their chuka soba is simple and served in an old-school way, with the noodles folded into a curved shape similar to the hiragana for no, but simplicity is exactly what makes this bowl tick. The thin noodles are homemade, and the chicken and shiitake broth is quite refreshing...

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Asagaya

Furumen

Ramen is widely acknowledged as Tokyo's premier post-drinking gourmet pleasure, but finding the right shop to satisfy your cravings can be a little challenging with all that alcohol clouding your decision-making. A solution to this dilemma is offered by the so-called ramen bar (or ramen izakaya), which combines the worlds of sipping and slurping. Opened in May 2016 a quick stroll east from Roppongi Station, Furumen is the work of Koei Furukawa, the man behind Nishi-Azabu gourmet izakaya Furuken, and takes the noodles-and-booze recipe one step further...

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Roppongi

Yamaguchi Ratsushiki

A branch outpost of Waseda's Bib Gourmand-recognised Yamaguchi, this Toyocho shop wows with its Special Mabo Mazesoba, a spicy mixture that comes sprinkled with locally grown coriander. Masochists who need even more fire can rest assured that there's always a helping of green Sichuan pepper powder at hand. Slightly different from regular Sichuan peppercorns, these are picked when still young and raw from a similar hua jiao plant, and create a slight numbing sensation when eaten. On the other hand, if you can't quite handle your spice, let the staff know...

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Koto
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Kai

Opened in February 2016, this Kuramae shop is very seafood-focused, centring especially on shellfish. Their soup is made from a variety of marine treats, with clam broth forming the base and mussels also thrown in for good measure. This flavourful concoction is then put to good use in the Kai Shio Ramen, an umami explosion that packs enough shellfish flavour to almost make you feel guilty for robbing the oceans of their treasures while indulging until the last drop. The toppings are all very traditional – bamboo shoots, wakame, mitsuba – and complement the soup perfectly...

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Asakusa

Torisoba Nanahasu

Located in a secluded back alley two minutes' walk from Kanda Station, this place has a rather sleek, modern Japanese interior. It's actually the sister shop of Nanahasu in Nihonbashi, but this particular joint focuses on all things bird for their ramen. They go a bit further than the classic clear chicken broth recently celebrated among noodle enthusiasts, instead opting to create more complex dishes such as a completely duck-based ramen (the Kamo no Koi Dashi Soba, ¥850), as well as one that mixes chicken and seafood in a double stock and then tops it all off with a salty sauce (Torisoba Shio, ¥800)...

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Kanda

Misoburi Noodle Miyamiya

If you're a fan of miso ramen, get thyself to Seiseki-Sakuragaoka pronto and pay your respects at the up-and-coming Miyamiya. Owned by a proper miso maniac who has managed to blend seven different types of the stuff from across the country to create his signature Miso Noodles, the shop is famed for its exceptionally flavourful and deep broth, which gives away a hint of seafood among the rich miso. You'll also find some slightly unusual, Italian-style toppings such as minced meat simmered in tomato and wine, chopped onions and bell peppers...

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Tama
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Kaede

This sister shop of Hanamichi in Nogata, Kaede is found along the Ome-kaido, a ten-minute walk north from Ogikubo Station. Very popular ever since its opening in April 2016, it's easy to spot thanks to the red and black awnings. As is the case at Hanamichi, miso features heavily here – go for any of the three signature dishes of Miso Ramen (¥800), the spicier Karamiso Ramen (¥820) or the soupless Aemen (from ¥820) for proof. The broth is firmly animal-based – a mix of pork leg and venison – and is extremely rich, dense and complex but refreshing, making it an easy crowd-pleaser. The Nishiyama noodles are sourced directly from Sapporo...

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Ogikubo

The top 20: 11-20

Yuu

Found along the tracks just a few steps from Okubo Station, the counter-only Yuu welcomes eager slurpers with a powerful aroma of char siu pork being roasted. The orthodox choice here is the Shina Soba (another name for the classic Chuka Soba), but most first-timers actually go for the Miso Soba, a hearty mixture made by blending a chuka soba soup with several varieties of fine Tokushima miso. Topped with pan-fried leek, the concoction looks richer than it is, going down swimmingly together with the thin noodles...

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Okubo

Kazami

One of the quirkier joints to open in 2016, Ginza's Kazami has made a name for itself on the back of a very unlikely ingredient: sake lees. Found in a narrow alley, it's very stylishly decorated and could pass for a high-end eatery if it wasn't for the exclusively noodle-focused menu. The speciality here is the Sake Kasu Noko Soba (¥980), a symphony of flavours built upon an additive-free soup made with chicken, pork, asari clams, oysters and high-end sake lees from Kyoto's Fushimi. Add thin noodles – another Kyoto import...

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Ginza

Kibi

Look for the lantern hanging outside of the entrance to this Meidaimae ramen-ya, the latest effort by Tokyo-wide noodle champions Kibi Group. Fans of old-school chuka soba (¥700) and tsukemen (¥800) are sure to find the nostalgia-packed but ever so slightly updated versions served here very satisfying; the simple shoyu soup, the medium-thick noodles, the soft char siu – everything's just right...

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Meidaimae
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Nemuru

Despite the constant flood of ramen shop openings in Tokyo, very few new joints manage to catch seasoned slurpers by surprise. Hongo's Nemuru is one of these standouts; a representative of the 'double soup' (meat and seafood) school of ramen that's become something of a Tokyo standard over the past decade, it bucks the trend with a reliance on dried squid broth for the seafood part. The umami-packed, slightly bitter combo of calamari and tori-paitan is on full show in the Noko Ika Niboshi Chuka Soba...

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Hongo

Hatsugai Shoten

Hailing from Saitama's Asaka, this offshoot of chuka soba specialist Zuizan draws both Nerima locals and noodle-lovers from further afield with its surprisingly light tori-paitan take on the classic Tokyo-born dish. Flavoured with a sauce made from scallops and kombu seaweed, the refreshing soup is given one last sprinkle of briskness with a sliced lemon topping. But as the soft, flavourful chicken and pork char siu and orthodox noodles make clear, Hatsugai's creation is still chuka soba – albeit a very adventurous version...

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Nerima

Ukanmuri

Hakata is of course best known for its tonkotsu, but the Fukuoka neighbourhood has also given birth to another noteworthy type of ramen: the Hakata mizutaki. Savour an additive-free version of this creamy chicken soup at Nerima's Ukanmuri, which serves up bowls that won't leave you feeling too weighed down afterwards. Except for the soup, all the components – thin noodles, kikurage mushroom and leek toppings, classic ajitama – are directly from the tonkotsu handbook...

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Nerima
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Hakata Issuitei

Tonkotsu-focused openings are dime a dozen every year, but finding an authentic Hakata-style, no-frills joint among the newcomers is actually harder than it sounds. Our top pick for 2016 is Issuitei, opened close to Shinjuku Gyoen by a true Hakata native. You'll notice the unmistakable aroma from quite some distance away, but arriving at the shop might result in a surprise: this is no dirty and cramped ramen-ya of old, but a spacious, almost sleek eatery...

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Shinjuku-Nichome

Genei Roppongi

The award of most stylish Tokyo ramen-ya to open in 2016 has to go to this Kyushu import, found in an alley up towards Midtown. Hailing from Fukuoka, where they're running one of the city's highest-ranked noodle joints, the folks behind Genei are most famed for their experimentation with Iberian pork – as evidenced by the signature Geneiryu Ramen (¥920), a semi-light tonkotsu creation flavoured with XO sauce and broth from scallops, shrimp and other marine delights...

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Roppongi

Tanaka Second

Revered for its play with luxury marine delights like Chiba lobster, abalone and sea snail, this Akihabara spot serves up limited-edition mixtures like mazesoba with anchovies and ramen dunked in an umami-packed seafood broth – the exact ingredients for which vary by day. Combined with their range of homemade noodles, these make for a slurping experience worth making the trip for. We're particularly fond of the Aji Niboshi Shio Chuka Soba...

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Akihabara
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Basso

The glass-and-steel interior and huge windows make it look like a fancy café, but Basso – the third effort by the guys behind Ikebukuro's Basso Drill-Man and the superb Shinagawa – is a no-frills ramen joint through and through. Grab a seat by the counter and watch the staff speedily whip up a bowl of classic-looking chuka soba, topped with a naruto fish cake for a nostalgic touch. Basso's shoyu soup is rich and powerful, but gets balanced out nicely by the ample leek toppings...

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Kagurazaka

Hungry for something else?

The best of Tokyo in 2016

This year's best eats, art, music and hotels, plus superb shops and architectural highlights

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By: Time Out Tokyo Editors

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