Ramen is a meal that is very special in Japan. Every ramen shop you come across is different with its own unique recipes using original soup, noodles and toppings.
Every ramen shop has its own twist, making it one of a kind. Some of these ramen shops grow into an empire and open up different branches all over the country. If you’re lost among all the options and want to try out some of the most famous ramen shops, then we have got you covered.
Here is a breakdown of some of the biggest ramen chains that you can find in Japan, even overseas. If you get hungry while wandering in Japan, look around and you will probably find one of these ramen restaurants.
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Ichiran is probably Japan’s most famous ramen chain. It is the ramen chain that everyone has to try at least once. They are famous for their tonkotsu ramen. Besides adding different toppings, they only have one consistent menu that has made them so popular.
The original shop opened in 1960 in Fukuoka and the first concept shop with the current design opened in 1993. There are currently 85 Ichiran restaurants worldwide, with seven of them overseas.
Ichiran is known for its solo dining booth, where each customer is sat in their booth, facing the wall and your order is taken and received without you ever seeing the face of the staff inside the kitchen.
The booth is equipped with an explanation of how to order, a copy of their restaurant motto, water, and order forms. The individual booth is said to help you concentrate on your food and focus on the flavours, rather than talking to those around you and the risking getting distracted. Some Ichiran stores have removable partitions, where you can open the booth up so you can talk more easily with your companions.
The menu is offered in English as well as Japanese. The order form allows you to choose the richness of the broth, spiciness, the amount of garlic, meat, and so on. This way, you can properly customize your ramen and have it the way that best suits you.
Within minutes of ordering, you will be served the most mouth-watering dish. Ichiran is definitely one of the must-try ramen shops and its unique style and flavour will surely satisfy your craving.
Ichiran shops, especially those in the city centre, are very popular and considered one of the best ramen places in Japan for many people. If you go during lunch hour or dinner time, you will probably have to stay in the queue for a while. Since most of the Ichiran restaurants are open 24 hours, however, we suggest you visit outside of the peak hours to avoid long lines.
For people that don’t like pork or can’t eat pork, Ichiran has recently opened a pork-free restaurant. Instead of using pork in the soup, they use chicken to create the broth, topped with a sweetened beef called “gyuyarou”.
The way they came up with this name is interesting. “Gyu” means beef and “yarou” means “right?”. It is said that the Ichiran specialists were deciding what to add as a topping and one of them said “gyuyarou”, meaning “it has to be beef, right?”. That’s how the beef topping became a part of the no-pork Ichiran ramen.
Similar to Ichiran, Ippudo is another famous ramen chain that has made its way to fifteen countries worldwide, including the United States, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Ippudo offers a few different types of ramen, along with sides, such as gyoza and fried rice.
Ippudo has renewed the image of Hakata Ramen, a style of tonkotsu ramen that used to be shunned by young people for being “scary, dirty, and smelly.” However, the store was designed to be easy for anyone to enter, especially women, with a focus on stylish and clean store design.
Not only do they offer tonkotsu ramen but also miso and soy sauce ramen. There are two main menus at Ippudo. The first is the original taste of Shiromaru, which has been popular since the beginning. The soup is cooked for 18 hours and aged for a day. The other is Shin-Akamaru, a pork bone ramen that has evolved based on the taste of Shiromaru, with extra richness and depth.
In addition, you may get Karaka ramen, topped with spicy miso, which is a mixture of hot spices, nuts, and balms based on white soup. This is a popular pairing because the heat of the spices and the taste of the pork bones match perfectly.
Tenkaippin is a ramen chain shop that originated in Kyoto. It started as a standing ramen shop in 1971, run by Mr. Tsutomu Kimura, whose company he was working at went bankrupt and was left with only 37,000 yen to his name. After hardship and consistent improvements, in 1975, Mr. Kimura opened his first ramen restaurant and continued on a successful business venture. As of 2019, there are more than 240 Tenkaippin stores from Hokkaido to Okinawa, including a shop in Hawaii.
Their rich soup, crafted by Kimura’s secret method, transforms ordinary ingredients like chicken bones and vegetables into an exquisite delicacy. The popular ramen of Tenkaippin costs as little as 720 yen. They also offer a cheap lunch set with ramen, mentaiko rice, and char siu rice.
Some of their shops offer unique ramen menus. For instance, “Kosasari” combines two types of soups, while “Ajigane” allows customers to adjust the soup concentration to their liking.
Korakuen is a ramen chain store with its headquarters in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture. It was founded in 1954; after that, their factory was built, and the business was developed for nationwide expansion. As of 2019, they have 528 stores all over Japan.
Korakuen makes ramen that is particular to the times and regions.
They offer ramen with tonkotsu, miso, and shoyu broths, available in a wide range of variations. The light soup is made with pork bones, where the pork umami is boiled; the noodles are flattened, with the soft char siu added on top. They have an extraordinary commitment to vegetables, and “Miso Vegetable Ramen”, which was launched mainly in eastern Japan, uses 300g of vegetables per cup.
Since the tastes differ according to the region, the Japanese braches are divided into six regions and menus are provided according to each region. In addition, they have stores in the food courts of shopping centres and prepare menus that can be easily eaten.
If you happen to be visiting a shopping mall or an outlet store, then you will probably need to stop by Korakuen to try out their unique ramen.
Kitakata Ramen 喜多方ラーメン
Kitakata Ramen is a local ramen that originated in Kitakata City, Fukushima Prefecture. Their Tokyo branch, called Kitakata Ramen Bannai, opened in 1987. Currently, their shops are expanding beyond the Tokyo metropolitan area to eastern and western Japan, as well as overseas.
Kitakata Ramen has three types of stores: Bannai, Koboshi, and Kitakata Shokudo. Although there is no significant difference in taste between Bannai and Koboshi, Kitakata Ramen’s popularity has increased and the name of Kitakata has become the lucky charm. The name “Koboshi” is now used widely among all the Kitakata Ramen shops.
The menu includes the basic Kitakata ramen; “Negion Ramen”, which has plenty of green onions; “Yakibuta Ramen”, which is filled with char siu and comes with a rice bowl; and “Negiyaki Pork Ramen”, which is pork ramen that comes with a lot of green onions. They also offer a special summer-only “chilled ramen”, which is available in both Japanese and Chinese styles.
Plus, they have some pretty hefty set menus. You can decide between ordering the “Gyoza Set”, “Roasted Pork Rice Set” or “Half Fried Rice Set”. The “Kids Ramen Set” for children includes dessert juice and toys.
Popular among families with children, Hidakaya is a convenient ramen chain store that also serves a wide range of dishes other than ramen. With an extensive menu featuring ramen, mochilon, affordable Chinese set meals, and sides, it’s like an izakaya. Currently, Hidakaya boasts over 365 stores.
Hidakaya’s recommended ramen is the “Vegetable Tanmen,” featuring a generous 350g serving of vegetables, meeting your daily veggie intake requirement. Priced at an affordable 490 yen per bowl, it’s a steal. Alongside this popular choice, they offer a range of other ramen options. For an extra treat, consider pairing your ramen with their special dumplings.
The food used in all of Hidakaya’s stores is manufactured in the central kitchen of the Gyoda factory, which is operated by a small number of employees, allowing costs to be cut and the price to be as low as it is. The menu is not only affordable but also simple and standard so that people of all ages can visit the store and enjoy a delicious meal.
Vegetarian, Vegan and Halal Ramen Places
Japan is increasingly offering vegetarian, vegan, and halal-friendly ramen options, keeping pace with global trends. Here are some of your options:
Afuri has eight branches around Tokyo and is famous for the use of yuzu (Japanese citrus) in their ramen, which is rare and unique. Among the different options they offer, “Yuzu Shio Ramen” is particularly famous.
The soup used in the shop is said to be prepared with the natural water that springs from the foot of Mount Afuri, the mountain that this chain is named after. The golden soup is the life of the ramen of Afuri. While extracting the umami of the carefully selected ingredients to the utmost, the transparent color adds to the refreshing taste of the soup.
Chi-yu, “Chicken Oil”, is finely extracted from whole Japanese chicken, and you can choose the amount of Chi-yu you like for your broth, blending it with various seasonal vegetables and roots.
Their vegan ramen option is made with 100% plant-based ingredients. Along with seasonal vegan broth, the ramen is served with fresh seasonal vegetables, and wheat noodles blended with lotus root without the use of egg).
Shinjuku Gyoen Ouka 新宿御苑らーめん桜花
Shinjuku Gyoen Ouka is a halal ramen shop in Shinjuku. With a Halal certification from Otsuka Mosque, they do not offer any alcohol.
Their homemade noodles in sea bream soup offer a delightful departure from traditional halal ramen, boasting a unique flavor profile. Topped with a frothy egg white and yuzu soup foam, the ramen delivers a refreshing twist. Additionally, the secret ingredient of tomatoes adds a subtly tangy kick to whet your appetite. Specially treated halal chicken ensures a savory and satisfying taste experience.
Feeling hungry yet? Enjoy visiting one, two, or all of these chain ramen shops and try out some of the best ramen in Japan. Since some of these chains have ramen branches overseas as well, you don’t have to travel all the way to Japan to try out these legendary flavours. If you can’t figure out which ones to visit, feel free to send us a message on Facebook Messenger or through Instagram!