Taste of Japan: Ramen shops near New Sanno in Tokyo

Image by 123RF, photos by Michael Ryan
Image by 123RF, photos by Michael Ryan

Taste of Japan: Ramen shops near New Sanno in Tokyo

by Michael Ryan
Stripes Japan

For many, ramen is one the quintessential Japanese foods they look forward to trying when they visit Japan. However, entering a restaurant and ordering from a menu could potentially be an intimidating feat. But, with this Out the Gate series, our aim is to help fellow servicemembers, civilians and their families find some good spots for good eats or fun experiences to enjoy their stay overseas.

For this edition of Out the Gate we took to the streets of central Tokyo near the New Sanno Hotel and Hardy Barracks (Akasaka Press Center) seeking ramen shops suitable for military families.

We tried five ramen restaurants in the area and rated them – one to five stars – for taste, cost, amount of food, kid-friendliness, English-friendliness, ambience, access, and bathrooms. By no means is this series of articles authoritative or all-inclusive but should hopefully provide some useful advice to the novice visitor. Check out how the ramen spots fared below!

Keep an eye out for future Out the Gate articles for exciting foods and experiences. And, if you have a couple of ideas you would like us to scope out for you, let us know!

AKA NOREN

 

This well-established Kyushu hakata-style ramen shop offers firm noodles nestled in a rich, pork-based broth.  Akanoren is a 25-minute walk from the New Sanno and 10 minutes from Hardy Barracks.  You’ll know you’re at the right place when you find the red curtain hanging over the door. It is of modest size and seats around 12 at small tables and 12 more at the counter, but it also has an additional small dining room for six more guests. The ambience at first seems serious but lightens up as one realizes there is American jazz softly playing in the background and there are pictures drawn by children posted on the walls.  If you get a Japanese menu, ask for the well-translated English menu which includes photographs.  As far as ramen goes, this place is good and although the 25-minute walk from the Sanno might prove taxing for small children, the crew gave Akanoren 4 stars overall. 

Some additional observations: As explained on the English menu, you can order more noodles for 150 yen (kaedama) to add to your depleted bowl of broth if you are still hungry – a great deal.  We recommend you also order the wonderful suigyoza (boiled gyoza) and make sure you grate some sesame seeds onto them before dipping them in soy sauce and wolfing them down.  When you’re done, just walk to the door and the staff will have the bill ready for you to pay – cash only, no credit cards. On average, expect to spend about 1300 yen (about $11.50) per person (not including alcohol). Overall, this may be the best hard-core ramen place we reviewed in the area – it is popular so try to get there near opening time to avoid waiting for seats.  Akanoren is a chain restaurant, so check to see if there is one in your area.

AKA NOREN

106-0031 Nishiazabu 3-21-24, Dai-5 Nakaoka Bldg. 1F

 

KEIRYUKEN

This ramen shop is the closest to the New Sanno Hotel of all the five we reviewed. From the hotel street entrance, take a right and you’ll find Keiryuken and its red tile façade in front of the bus stop. The restaurant is primarily a neighborhood Chinese restaurant but also serves a number of Japanese dishes including ramen.  This is a family operation, and you’ll find the twin daughters working the tables and other family members in the kitchen. The ramen here is good – three stars, but everything else about the place is 4 to 5 stars.  It is extremely family friendly, has a great English-language menu, decent prices, and offers a wide variety of Chinese and Japanese food.  They do also have beer on the menu. It is cash only. Try the Keiryuken, which includes a bowl of ramen, shoyu (soy sauce) or shio (salty) flavored) broths, and fried rice at less than 800 yen.

KEIRYUKEN

4-2-38 Minami Azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo

 

AFURI

                                     

This popular chain is known for its broth with is a touch of yuzu – a Japanese citrus fruit somewhat like a lemon.  The ramen offered at AFURI is not as rich as most ramen restaurants but the flavor is still delicious.  The broth’s light flavor, appeals to the young and, more specifically, to young ladies. We visited Afuri’s Roppongi Hills branch, which has about 20 counter seats. Order your bowl at the machine at the front of the restaurant. After completing your order, a receipt is printed which you then hand to the waiter/waitress upon entering.  Even though the ordering was ‘point and click’, it was not as intuitive as one would expect but everyone in our group managed to work through it.  Credit cards are OK and beer is served.  Upon being seated at the counter, it is interesting to watch the staff construct your order, and in no time, a beautiful bowl of ramen will be placed in front of you. One of the nice touches at Afuri are the paper bibs available to make sure you don’t get ramen broth on your shirt or blouse. The shop keeps a trendy atmosphere with a young staff and pop music playing in the speakers. The menu prices were average, and the flavor was very good, so we gave it a solid 4 stars.  We all walked away very comfortable – not overstuffed. A solid choice, especially if you are in the Roppongi Hills area!

AFURI

106-0032 Roppongi 6-4-1, Roppongi Hills Metro Hat / Hollywood Plaza B2F

 

IPPUDO

This Japan-based chain has recently gone international advertises itself as one of the most famous ramen shops in the world. Most of the choices at Ippudo are tonkotsu pork-based broth and include some spicy options. We visited the Ippudo near Roppongi Hills, which has the feel of a ramen shop in the States. The music was playing American music, the English menu was to the point and our ramen and gyoza were tasty. Seating was a mix of counter and table seats, beer is available, credit cards are accepted, and the toilet is a very nice Toto.  As famous as Ippudo claims to be, we found the ramen to be good but not great – the expanded number of choices to include spicy ramen will appeal to some, and if you’ve been to one in the States, you might want to try Ippudo here in Japan for comparison’s sake.  Overall, Ippudo is a safe bet rating an overall good.

IPPUDO

106-0032 Roppongi 4-9-11, 1F 2nd Odagiri Building

 

KAOTAN RAMEN

                                         

For our last stop on this ramen journey, we tried Kaotan Ramen across the main road from Hardy Barracks. This spot is a dilapidated shack at the downhill end of Aoyama Cemetery and looks like Disney designed it as a ramen hideout for cartoon bandits.  It’s small, cramped, the bathroom is frightening, and the seating is bench style.  In spite of what seems to be mountain of negatives, this place somehow managed to rate the highest of all the ramen places we visited. Kaotan has honest character and serves up a very good ramen.  Credit cards are OK, it’s got a decent English menu, and it is so scary, the kids will love it.  We rated this as absolutely the most authentic ramen experience. If you are looking for a ramen adventure you will never forget, this is the place!

KAOTAN RAMEN

2-34-30 Minami Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo

        

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