Ramen Yamaguchi (らぁ麺 やまぐち); Prince of Takadanobaba, Takadanobaba
Quick tip, if you find yourself near a major university in Tokyo, you’re more than likely to have a choice between a ton of high quality ramen shops in the area. A major clientele for ramen restaurants are college students as it is a great budget meal for poor starving students. Takadanobaba is no exception as it is home to Waseda University and their thousands of students. A shop that is particularly popular among the residents of Takadanobaba and ramen enthusiasts is Ramen Yamaguchi. Not only is it a top 50 ramen shop ranked by Tabelog.com, Yamaguchi has been a regular on the Michelin Guide recommended list and has recently attracted a lot of foreign clientele. In order to cater to their new foreign clientele they have provided a warming environment for tourists with English speakers (somewhat) and an English menu. The pictured restaurant front is a temporary location as they are in the process of renovating to a bigger place so be sure to check on google maps if you’re planning on making a visit to see if you come when they have relocated. Not a problem if you didn’t have the time however as this location and their new renovated location is right across the street. Either way the restaurant is just a short walk from Takadanobaba station so I would recommend a visit if you’re in the area. You’re more than likely to find a line as it is quite popular so be sure to plan your schedule accordingly. During my visit on a Saturday afternoon at around 1 pm, there was about 10 people waiting ahead of me and the queue was about 20 minutes.
Ramen Yamaguchi offers two options for ramen, the Tsuke Soba (their rendition of a tsukemen) and a Tori Soba (a traditional bowl of shoyu ramen). With the Tsuke Soba, you can choose between the regular and the spicy version. As I was trying both options, I decided to try the spicy version of the Tsuke Soba and is pictured above. The spicy version is flavored with a variety of dried chili peppers, but is not terribly spicy so don’t expect any fire ramen here. The base is a very light chicken broth so the soup itself is actually quite light in comparison to most tsukemen. The soup includes a bit of coriander, sesame seeds, and green onions. The noodles are soaked in a salt bath and topped with both chicken and pork char siu with a couple bamboo shoots and sprigs of sprouts. Have a try of the noodles first before dipping in to the soup. The noodles are chilled and have an incredible flavor and texture. The springiness of the noodles and saltiness of the bath provides an experience to thoroughly enjoy the flavor of their homemade noodles. When you’re ready, dip your noodles in the soup. As mentioned before, its not incredibly spicy so even if you’re not particularly good with spicy food, its bearable. You’ll definitely taste the chili peppers, but is more of an aftertaste as the chicken broth really comes through at first. The broth base is the same as the regular ramen and the rich chicken is the most powerful flavor here. To be honest, it wasn’t my favorite tsukemen or spicy ramen that I’ve ever had, but the soup was well made and the noodles were fantastic so it was very enjoyable.
Next up was the regular Tori Soba. I definitely recommend going for their regular ramen here than the Tsuke Soba. The broth is full of flavor, but not rich enough to hold its own for a tsukemen. As you can see, its a traditional shoyu ramen and the shoyu tare is made with a mix of a shoyu blend that the chef would not divulge with me. What surprised me was how flavorful it was while remaining light. You’re not gonna leave feeling overly stuffed, but the flavor punch is strong enough that you’ll be tasting it on your way out of the shop. The pork char siu is well made with a slightly charred exterior. The chicken is poached so it retains a nice water content and absorbs the soup well. The noodles are perfect as it has a nice chewy texture to counterbalance the crunchy menma bamboo shoots. The won tons were soft and pillowy and worked very well with the soup.
As you can see from the photos, Yamaguchi is a very modern and chic restaurant. If you’re looking for a traditional, hole in the wall ramen shop you’re not gonna find it here. The restaurant is very clean and proper and it is quite obvious they are striving for an upgrade to a Michelin Star. With that said, the ramen itself is quite good and is well regarded among the ramen community here in Japan. I would recommend a visit if you’re on the search for great ramen in general, but if you’re looking for a more traditional experience, you may opt to skip it. Do I think it will win a Michelin Star? I don’t think so, but their strive and determination to make a bowl worthy of a star makes them a worthy candidate.