The de facto representation of Tokyo’s downtown, Ikebukuro Station boasts a wide range of ramen restaurants. Just like the East Exit, the West Exit also has its own famous eateries, each restaurant just as fastidious in quality as the last, the fruit of their devotion to their craft.
This time around, we’ll be showcasing the 3 famous ramen/tsukemen restaurants loved by the locals around the West Exit.
1. Enji: Incredibly Savory Tsukemen Served in Veggie Potage
Broth so thick you’d mistake it for potage, the ever popular tsukemen restaurant “Enji” serves the dipping noodles in extra-rich broth. The richness comes from a soup stock made from chicken and pork bones boiled over a long period, as well as bonito and mackerel flakes, dried sardines and shrimp.
On top of the meat and seafood, Japanese yam, onions, apple (yes, apple!) are also some of the ingredients used to give a one-of-a-kind depth to the flavor.
Customers get to choose between the smooth yet chewy and thick “mocchiri men” and the springy “haiga men” filled with the fragrance of wheat. Both options suit the thick broth well, soaking up the flavor as each strand is dipped into the mix.
One way of enjoying this is to slurp the noodles with gusto. Doing so will tickle your nostrils with the aroma of seafood, while your taste buds get assaulted by the umami of the pork bones and the sweetness of vegetables and fruits. For the first bite, it’s recommended to just lightly dip the noodles into the soup to appreciate the flavor of the wheat itself.
The store’s most popular item, the “Vegetable-potato-ajitama Tsukemen with extra meat (1100-yen tax inclusive), uses a perfectly runny flavored egg as well as additional servings of juicy chashu for a very cost-efficient dish where the flavors come out nicely from the flame roast during the food preparations. The chashu in particular stands out with its overflowing juiciness, surging out with each bite.
A popular method among the regulars is to add sardine flake powder or bonito flake powder found on the condiments section of the seat once you’re halfway through the meal. Adding vinegar and pepper also lets you play around with the flavors so that you don’t get tired of the meal.
Even when you’re done with the noodles, you’re not done with the meal. Add some extra soup into the broth from the kettle on the table and enjoy a watered-down version of the broth as soup, where the seafood, pork and chicken essence shine through along with the veggie paste for a fresh experience that makes full use of the broth’s depth.
Vegepota-tsukemen Enjiベジポタつけ麺 えん寺
- Address 2-48-2 Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo 171-0014
4-minute walk from the North exit of the Yamanote Line Ikebukuro Station
- Phone Number 03-3985-6405
Hours: 11:30-16:00, 17:30-23:00 (11:30-22:00 on Weekends and Public Holidays)
2. GaGaNa: The Pinnacle of Salt and spice
A little further from the previous recommended store is “GaGaNa Ramen”, which is right beside Rikkyo University. The place is famous for their “Red Offal Ramen”. which uses spicy miso and ultra-fiery capsaicin. On the day of our visit there were flocks of salarymen and female varsity students crowding in groups enjoying the gob-smacking ultra-fiery spice.
The “Red Offal Ramen” (880-yen tax inclusive) isn’t just about spice. Once your order reaches the counter, the offal is already on the burner tenderized to a fine roast which brings out its strong flavor.
The establishment also use national-grade black wagyu beef boiled in special-made sauce and grilled crisply, making it accessible to first timers of offal as well. If offal isn’t your cup of tea, grilled chashu is also an option.
The soup is a blend of seafood of Tonkotsu base, with the key ingredient being the capsaicin which adds the definitive spicy touch to bring together the savory bits and the spice. Not just the offal, but the beansprouts, cabbage, chives and potherb mustard as well are topped in copious amounts.
If that isn’t enough for you, one can call for the “deluxe topping set” for 300-yen, which adds a boiled egg, nori seaweed, bamboo shoots, and chashu on to your noodles, for a 120% value to your meal. Dig into the spice with gusto and relish with your chopsticks!
While we only ordered a non-spicy bowl, you can crank the fire up to max by opting for the level 3 spiciness option, though it’s only recommended for those who really love a good kick in their spice. The second you get a bite of the firm noodles your sweat gushes out, and the various flavors start spreading in your mouth, from the aroma of the meat to the crunch of the bean sprouts and cabbage, all in one breath as you take in the rich soup.
As your sweat glands start doing their work, the establishment offers a unique form of refreshment. While usually serving puer tea, between the hours of 2pm and 6pm coffee is also served, both iced and hot.
Menus are available in 7 different languages, including English and Chinese, a sign of their red-hot passionate “omotenashi” spirit of service.
- Address 3-33-17 NishiIkebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo 171-0021
15-minute walk from the West exit of the Yamanote Line Ikebukuro Station, 2-minute walk from the Tokyo Metro Ikebukuro Station
- Phone Number 03-5927-1661
Hours: 11:00-22:00 (closes at 21:00 on Sundays and Public Holidays)
3. Hulu-lu: The Gold Experience of Shio Ramen
In a store so colorfully Hawaiian you wouldn’t think it a ramen restaurant at first glance, Hulu-lu serves a superb bowl of shio (salt) ramen. Just as the atmosphere of the restaurant implies, the eccentricity of the shopkeeper’s taste is a mainstay of the area, and their bowl of shining gold shio ramen “Shio SOBA” (800-yen tax inclusive) is the quintessential pudding of their proof.
Kibi black chicken, whole chicken, and fragrant vegetables are what makes the base of the umami-rich soup for a simple yet flavorful taste, accentuated with a mix of herbs like rosemary and seafood extract which results in this exquisite bowl of shio ramen. On the surface floats a coat of chicken oil, which flavorfully expresses the quality of the free-range chicken they use with its depth.
Using their own original blend of domestic wheat, the noodles are prepared with water straight from Hawaii for a unique smoothness and bite. The compatibility with the shio soup base is also exceptional, for an invigorating aroma that tickles the nose, courtesy of the chicken, pot herb, bamboo shoots and capsicums. In the lower portion of the soup, minced chicken bits adorn the bowl, which changes the flavor of the soup as you proceed into the meal, an original idea by the owner Kichikawa.
The shio SOBA is available in the spam set (1000-yen tax inclusive), which includes onigiri with a slab of luncheon meat on top wrapped in seaweed and perilla layered in between the meat and rice, the perfect companion to go with the ramen.
Niboshi SOBA and Toripaitan SOBA, and even spicy tsukemen are some of the options available on their limited-time menu that changes daily. as well as their seasonal menu, a unique assortment just like the atmosphere of the shop itself.
- Address 2-60-7 Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo 171-0014
10-minute walk from the West exit of the Yamanote Line Ikebukuro Station
- Phone Number 03-3983-6455
Hours: 11:30-15:00, 18:00-21:00 (morning shift ends at 15:30 on weekends and public holidays)
Closed on Wednesdays
Written by: Hosei Sato
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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