The best ramen shop in Tokyo should be a tiny mom and pop joint in the basement of a high-rise, where they make the broth following a decades-old secret recipe and stained dish towels sit drying by a small fan in the back. It should be like Jiro Ono’s sushi spot. What it shouldn’t be is a chain—the McDonald’s of ramen. Yet, having tasted our way through numerous outstanding bowls throughout the city, we can say that the best ramen in Tokyo is at Ichiran, a chain specializing in classic tonkotsu (pork) ramen.
When you walk into an Ichiran location, you’re greeted with a bright red ordering screen dotted with buttons. You tap away to order your bowl and then proceed to your telephone booth. Yes, your telephone booth. No actual telephone, but that’s what most resembles your dining area, where you’re sectioned off from other guests and left to slober broth all over yourself like a giddy farm animal. A Scantron-esque sheet waiting in your cubby allows you to customize your dish with different toppings and different noodle types. Waiters appear, or rather half appear, from behind a roll-up shade and deliver your food. It’s a system designed for a lonely meditation on broth-soaked noodles.
But, if there’s ramen worth savoring like a secluded monk, Ichiran’s is it. The pork broth is deep and flavorful, the noodles perfect no matter where you choose on the “Extra Soft” to “Extra Firm” texture spectrum, and the Original Red Sauce, an Ichiran classic, infuses the salty broth with fire.
Whether we ever get the New York location we’ve been promised, remains to be seen.