Kesennuma Ramen Shops – 5 of the Best
Since coming to Japan, it has been one of my crucial missions to taste test all of the ramen shops in my area. Perhaps most known as of late for its destruction and city’s resilience following the 2011 disaster, the small city of Kesennuma is actually home to many mom-and-pop style noodle houses that have been around for decades! With so many to choose from, ordering chashuu (pork belly) ramen has been my go-to dish but I’m always excited to try something new or a shopkeeper’s personal favorite. Below are my top recommendations so far in the city of Kesennuma!
Price range: The price range for any style of ramen in all of the restaurants below are ¥600-900 before additional toppings, making them fantastic options for budget travelers.
Ramen Hormone Tsukasa
This ramen house has been around for over a decade is located upstairs in a small shopping building near an izakaya bar. Parking is quite limited so your best bet is to carpool with a friend, as I did, or walk. When you walk in, all along the walls are beautiful vintage Sapporo and Asahi beer posters. And, if you look carefully, you can find a hilarious naked baby doll duo hidden among the decor. The owner of this shop greeted my friend and I so kindly and seemed surprised that foreigners had found his little shop, but he did his best to explain the Japanese menu whenever we had questions.
My friend and I shared two ramen sets, though we both ended up preferring hers (see above photo). The miso butter chashuu ramen had such a delicately sweet broth with the slightest kick of spice from the chile pepper threads and onions.
After our meal, the owner surprised us with coffee and we got to talking with him. We ordered delicious vanilla ice cream to pair with the coffees and he shared photos of his family while we enjoyed our dessert. The best thing I think you’ll find with small rural restaurants like this is it’s so easy to stumble into a friendship with a stranger.
To explain the name, “hormone” or “horumon” refers to beef or pork offal. You may have heard of it in the Kansai region of Japan but actually Kesennuma takes great pride in its horumon. This restaurant is unique in that it is one of the few ramen places that also offers yakiniku (grilled meat). Every table has its own stove to grill sets of meat! You can also order a horumon or kalbi (beef short rib) ramen if you want to try the yakiniku without preparing it yourself. I wasn’t very hungry this time around but I’m looking forward to bringing my friends next time to try it!
Address: 12-2 Taya, Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture 988-0045
This next restaurant is run by a young man and is a popular spot for people just getting off of work, opening at 5PM for dinner. It’s located just across the street and a bit up the road from Kesennuma’s local Aeon shopping mall, making it a good alternative to the food court after shopping and playing games.
Above, you can see the miso chashuu-men I enjoyed. This ramen’s broth was filled with umami and balanced nicely with the lightly sweet bamboo slices and pops of fire from the chili pepper threads. The noodles in this soup are thin and perfect for slurping compared to the typically thick and chewier noodles, like you’ll find in the next entry below.
Address: 158-2 Akaiwaishikabuto, Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture 988-0182
This little restaurant is also near the Aeon Mall, hidden in a vast parking lot directly behind a gas station, where the owner works. I was surprised to learn that this restaurant has been in the business for decades and it shows.
For those who love chashuu, I definitely recommend their miso butter chashuu ramen for its generously thick cuts of pork belly. They’re so tender, I would think they’re the reason “butter” is in the name if I hadn’t seen the actual slices of butter melting into the broth. The corn, bean sprouts, and bamboo make this one of the sweeter soups and it blends perfectly with the salty butter and fatty broth.
Address: 73 Akaiwasuginosawa, Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture 988-0181
This restaurant is best enjoyed carpooling as well due to limited parking, but be sure to check whether the owners are available! When it comes to small businesses in the countryside, sometimes the owners take some days off, but they’ll always leave a note on the door to inform you.
At the time of taste-testing, I’d never before had janjanmen, a spicier soup with ground beef or pork amidst the veggie toppings. As a lover of spice, I enjoyed working up a sweat while slurping these noodles down.
What I liked most about this couple-owned restaurant was the surprise of a small service dessert. You can have your choice of ice cream or yogurt after the meal. The ice cream was a nice little treat to cool down after the spicy ramen and it gave me a chance to talk to the owner. Once again, customer service reigns in tiny rural restaurants and these moments continue to be my favorite aspect of traveling. If you’re looking for the same kind of experiences, keep your eyes peeled for hidden gems like this!
Address: 3 Chome-6-15 Tanakamae, Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture 988-0053
Ganko Ramen Misoka
For those traveling on a dime, the Japanese dollar store, Daiso, has been a popular shopping center for quick souvenirs, like fans or tenugui (handkerchiefs) with various designs, to bring home. You can find this ramen-ya just a skip away from our city’s Daiso to relax and eat at after shopping. It sets itself apart from other ramen and family restaurants in the area with its locally sourced miso, making it a great way to support the community.
Following the owner’s recommendation, I ordered their Kesennuma negi miso ramen. Popular toppings like their bountiful and tender chashuu come at a discounted add-on price, making my bowl only ¥1100. The heap of negi (spring onions) adds a sting and a snap compared to the buttery soft meat and thick fatty broth. I also ordered their ¥250 evening special gyoza which came with miso dipping sauce. If you’re used to the sesame oil soy sauce dip that normally comes with gyoza, this is a delicious alternative.
Though the restaurant is quaint in appearance, the owners are very warm and excited to talk to travelers and show them what makes Kesennuma so special. You can watch old Japanese movies while you eat or talk to the owners about your travels in Japan so far!
Address: 406-2 Matsukawa, Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture 988-0852
When it comes to eating in the countryside, as delicious as the food is, the company is what lifts the experience above and beyond. Please enjoy all of the noodles Kesennuma has to offer and witness the warmth and spirit of this city’s people!