Ramen Shops at Ikebukuro
Ikebukuro is a booming area of Tokyo known for many things. One report from 2013 claimed it to be the 3rd busiest train station in the world, which is easy to believe since it's a major intersection of multiple train lines. I recently discovered that Ikebukuro is also famous for having incredibly delicious bowls of ramen, but I had to go check it out for myself.
One of my friends recommended a particular noodle shop, "Hakata Fū Ryū" that offers a free refill of noodles, so that's where I ended up. Nothing sounded better than a belly full of warm, homemade noodles on a cold day! This shop, along with a few others, is located very close to the big Uniqlo on Sunshine 60 street as you are headed toward the Sunshine City mall. To get there from the Ikebukuro train station, head to the East Exit (or the Seibu exit, both will take you to the correct side). If you see this statue, you're heading in the right direction.
As you approach the big Uniqlo when walking from the train station toward Sunshine City, turn right, and your destination will be just ahead on the left. Here's the Google Maps location for those who are interested.
At this particular shop, seating inside is limited, so I wouldn't plan to bring a large group, unless you don't mind waiting a while. At peak times, especially around lunch time, expect the line to be out the door. Seating inside is typical bar style seating with two tables for two on the left. This is where you're headed.
As you enter the door, don't make the rookie mistake that I did: order your food from the ticket machine first, then when a seat becomes available, an employee will seat you. The machine is the typical "insert your money first and then make your selection" style. Make sure to hit the lever after buying your meal so that you get your change back. I opted for the "hot miso tonkatsu ramen" which was a steal at ¥650.
After making a meal selection at the machine, handing your ticket to the waitress, and getting seated, they will ask what hardness you would like for your noodles. I opted for "Medium", which ended up being a good choice for my tastes. In no time at all, they had a piping hot bowl of spicy miso ramen in front of me.
The flavors were everything I could have hoped for in a bowl of ramen and more! It had a fantastic blend of spice (my nose was running all over the place by the time I finished, so bring some tissues!), lots of flavor in the pork, zesty onions, and crunchy bean sprouts. When I ran out of noodles, I summoned the waitress with a polite "Sumimasen!" and then said "Kaedama onegaishimasu!", which is (sort of) like saying "2nd helping of noodles please!". Within a minute or two, she brought out a plate with more noodles, I slid them down into the soup, and continued on in miso bliss. I came in on an empty stomach, and left with a full one, so you definitely get your yen's worth here.
Other ramen shops in the area will charge a nominal fee for "kaedama" noodles, so it's a good idea to make sure you know the shop policy on it. Beside the front door, there may or may not be kanji (替玉無料) for "Kaedama Muryou," which means "2nd helping of noodles for free," so be on the lookout for them when making a restaurant selection!
On the way out, I went out of my way to say "gochiso sama!" (I had a feast!) as a way to express my gratitude. It never hurts to be too polite in Japan, and besides, I really did have a delicious ramen feast! I'm now looking forward to checking out more restaurants in the area. Where are your favorites in Tokyo? I'd love to know, so please leave some comments.