Menya Itto (麺屋一燈); King of Tsukemen, Shin Koiwa
A ramen guide would not be complete without a review of what could possibly be the most famous ramen restaurant in Japan. Menya Itto has long held on to the best tsukemen in Tokyo award, while taking a shot at best in Japan. The restaurant is located just a short walk from Shin Koiwa Station and they have recently (last year) changed the queue process. Before the change, lines would wrap around two, three blocks and be over 100 deep on weekends. Now, once you arrive at the restaurant, you purchase your ticket at the machine and they’ll hand you a number with a time to return to the restaurant for your seating. The restaurant opens at 11 am and I arrived around 8:30 am and was asked to come back at 11:40. When I was seated at 11:40 customers walking in to purchase their tickets were asked to come back at 2:40 pm which was the last seating time. Be sure to plan your schedule accordingly, but is definitely worth it making it out here.
The main attraction here is the tsukemen. I really don’t know what to say that hasn’t already been said. The number 1 best seller is the “Special Seafood Chicken Tsukemen” which comes with extra chicken and pork char siu, egg, and a few sheets of seaweed. As I typically am not a fan of half boiled egg, I typically order the “Char Siu Chicken Seafood Tsukemen” which comes with one additional slice of each char siu. If you’re a heavy eater, be sure to order the oomori, or extra noodles. If you do so, they will refill your soup at no additional cost so you have enough hot, pipping soup to polish off your bowl of noodles. They have regular ramen on the menu, and it is quite popular among regulars of Itto. If this is your first time I highly recommend the tsukemen, but do come back and try their regular ramen bowls. They put some unique twists as they release seasonal menu items from time to time and come up creating some incredible bowls.
Pictured above is the aforementioned “Char Siu Chicken Seafood Tsukemen”. The broth here has been imitated, but never replicated. Itto is the forerunner in this chicken and seafood broth style which is above and beyond any that I have had before. The chicken carcass are simmered slowly for hours to extract as much broth and collagen from them as possible. The broth is then finished with a variety of dried seafood and fresh vegetables to bring out some umami from the fish and sweetness from the vegetables. The rest is a trade secret that the chef would not fill me in on, but I can completely understand his sentiment as so many have tried to copy his recipe. The tsukemen soup here is incredibly rich, dense, and flavorful. The fat really comes through from the chicken and you can taste the umami pulled from the fish that accentuates that flavor. The shoyu based tare, or seasoning oil, really helps bring out the seafood umami, like adding soy sauce to your fresh sashimi or sushi. The pairing is just, made in heaven. To cut through the fatty soup, the soup includes some yuzu citrus zest which is also mixed in with the chicken meatballs. Green onions and a bit of the white portion of long green onions top the soup.
As you can see, everything is pretty much made to perfection. The chicken and pork char siu slices look almost symmetrical, the soup has a nice thick and creamy consistency, and the thick noodles are made in house which compliment the soup perfectly. The effort put in to the noodles to compliment this dish should not go unnoticed. Each bite of noodles clings on just enough soup to coat it in its entirety and to enjoy the incredible flavor of the soup. I love how chewy the noodles are as well which give the bowl a variety of textures.
The char siu slices are seasoned to perfection to allow you to enjoy it without dipping in the soup, but also not overpowering that it would ruin the soup if you do decide to dip them in. I think the chicken slices are cooked using the sous vide method keeping the chicken moist, but cooked thoroughly. The pork char siu comes in two different varieties. The darker one is a bit more flavorful than the pink one as it was marinated for a bit. The pinker one is incredibly tender and just melts in your mouth as soon as you bite in to it. I really highly recommend getting the option for extra char siu as it is quite possibly the best I’ve ever had. The yuzu and green onions in the soup really cuts through the fattiness of the broth and char siu, while the warm chicken meatballs give the bowl an incredible flavor burst of fresh citrus. At the end, if you have any soup remaining, use the soup wari, which helps dilute the tsukemen broth so you can enjoy every last drop.
I honestly don’t know what much else I can say. The staff here is incredibly friendly and will provide you with English menus if you need them. The English menus will help guide you to the corresponding buttons on the machine for when you purchase your tickets, and the staff will be right by your side if you do end up needing help. You’ll definitely have an amazing overall experience at this restaurant and come away knowing money was well spent. If you’re on the search for the top tsukemen restaurant while you’re here in Tokyo, look no further than Menya Itto…the King of Tsukemen.
(Side Note: I really do love Menya Itto…to the point where I tried to emulate their tsukemen from home. If you’d like to try out your own Itto tsukemen at home, here is the link to my recipe/how to. “How to Make Menya Itto Style Tsukemen”