When I tell people that some of the BEST ramen I’ve ever had was actually in the bowels of a monolithic train station, they tend to give a inquisitive look at best. Who can blame them? They must think of me as being delusional while describing the succulent tastes all whilst visions of rodents and filth occupy their minds. Though I would never touch anything in a place like New York’s Grand Central Station with a two meter pole, c’mon — this is Japan we are talking about! There are delicious slices of heaven hidden away in every nook and cranny.
Anyway, the place in question with the amazing ramen that we’ll be exploring today is none other than Tokyo Station’s famous Tokyo Ramen Street. This mecca featuring scrumptious noodles is a small underground alleyway nestled into the one of labyrinthine corridors of the colossal Tokyo Station. Tokyo Ramen Street is situated in an area call Gransta that connects the Yaesu and Marunouchi sides of the station. Of course contrary to common logical tenants, Grandsta is home to more than 100 different shops and gourmet restaurants.
Tokyo Ramen Street is often billed as a “battleground” due to the fact that several extremely high caliber restaurants from all over the country coexist here. In fact, to put the level of quality into perspective, all of the initial players were hand selected for the 2011 grand opening. Many of these players remain today. If you find yourself craving some mind blowing ramen, I can literally not think of a better destination. Just be prepared to wait in lines of up to an hour or suck it up and go at odd hours (Pro Tip: Line + Restaurant = Amazing Food in Japan).
How to Get There
Getting to Tokyo Ramen Street is simultaneously elementary and incredibly complex at the same time. Seeing as it is located in the depths of Tokyo Station’s underground, all you really need to do is hop on the Yamanote line and you’ll be there in no time. Check Hyperdia or a similar service for the best routes from wherever you’re going.
Once you actually get to the station is where things get tricky. You’re going to want to make your way through the passageways of Tokyo Station towards the Central Yaesu exit. Once you pass through the gate you should see signage above directing you towards Tokyo Ramen Street. You’ll find it on the right hand side but if you start seeing vendor after vendor selling character goods you’ll know you’ve gone the wrong way and ended up in Grandsta’s Tokyo Character Street.
Unfortunately the limits of written word do not allow me to aid you much further in finding this hidden ramen heaven. When in doubt either look for ridiculously long lines or just ask the train station staff. They are getting much better at helping tourist these days with the government is pushing to up the average English language ability.
Tokyo Ramen Street’s Shops
If you actually manage to find Tokyo Ramen Street within the station’s maze, you’ll be presented with yet another challenge; choosing a shop. With the competition ranking among the absolute BEST in the country, this isn’t exactly an easy task! Nevertheless with the stakes so high it’s literally impossible to go wrong. Whatever you ultimately decide to order will be mind blowingly tasty and leave you wanting to come back for more.
The objective favorite of Tokyo Ramen Street is none other than Rokurinsha, the store that originally created the concept of tsukemen. For those aren’t in the know, tsukemen is a type of ramen where the broth and noodles are served separately. As such, instead of being bathed in the soup, tsukemen calls for the diner to quickly dip his or her noodles such that they are perfectly seasoned with flavor but never become soggy.
If that sounds like a symphony of awesomeness in your mouth, you’d be darn right; there’s no better place to experience tsukemen than Rokurinsha. That said, eating tsukemen is not without its own challenges. From the moment you are served you have about eight minutes to complete your meal before the bowl of broth gets cold and the dish loses its magic. The tsukemen is still quite good but there’s no comparison to the first warm, delicious bites.
Those who are either not in the mood for tsukemen or would rather avoid Rokurinsha’s hour long wait are in luck though. Tokyo Ramen street has many other high quality options to choose from. Here are several suggested shops I passed on but definitely want to go back for…
Run by the head of the Japan Ramen Association with a focus on shio (salt flavor) ramen with beef tongue from Sendai.
This is where you go if you want to try something new or experimental like a three cheese maze-soba.
Really good tanmen with 350g of stir fried vegetables. Also has some amazing karaage or Japanese-style fried chicken.
Considered to be a “rising star” for the Tonkotsu (pork bone broth) type of ramen.
Really good Edo-style chuka-soba (Chinese soba) along with several options for the vegans out there!
This place is said to have really good shio (salt) ramen with Hokkaido noodles in a chicken and seafood broth.
Honestly, you really just can’t go wrong at Tokyo Ramen Street…
How to Pay for Ramen
Tokyo Ramen Street operates solely on ticket vending machine systems to streamline the ordering process. After waiting in line and entering the shop you’ll be presented with a machine displaying all of your available options. Fret not however, usually all of the buttons will have accompanying pictures so you’ll have some idea of what you’re ordering. If you still can’t make a decision, the most popular selection is typically located in the the upper left hand section.
To pay, simply insert your money into the slot provided. Press the button corresponding with your order and take the small ticket the machine spits out. Don’t forget to grab your change. The machines also accept IC cards like a Suica or a Pasmo as payment options. Once you have made your purchase, a staff member will guide you to your seat and collect the ticket.
Other Nearby Attractions
As mentioned before the entirety of the Tokyo Station complex is a honeycombed with shops and restaurants. There is literally so much to do in this one station that you could spend the better part of a day just exploring its hallways. That said, if you’re going to visit Tokyo Ramen Street I highly suggest you also check out the aforementioned Tokyo Character Street if you didn’t end up by there accidentally when navigating the station. Much like Tokyo Ramen Street, this area features 21 select stores with well-know popular characters such as Hello Kitty and Snoopy. It’s really a sight to behold!
Lastly, the Tokyo Station area has a whole slew of things to do. In fact there is so much to do that it would be an article in and of itself so I won’t go into detail here. Nevertheless, due to the transience of being located in a major train station, Tokyo Ramen Street can be easily enjoyed en route to another location.
Until next time travelers...