Torikoku Chuuka Suzuki (鶏こく中華 すず喜); Rookie of the Year?, Mitaka
In late November of 2017, a small ramen shop in a hidden underground alleyway opened up just a short five minute walk from Mitaka Station on the Chuo line. Throughout 2018 it has quickly risen up through various ramen rankings and has become a favorite among Tokyo ramen enthusiasts. When you approach the drinking alleyway, you would never suspect that such a highly regarded ramen shop would be inside, but don’t let it deter you. You’ll be glad you came as Torikoku Chuuka Suzuki has reinvented chicken shio ramen and you won’t want to miss out.
The shop itself is quite traditional. Counter seating fill the store with a front row view of the chef in action. Grab a glass of water before you walk in at the water cooler located outside before taking your assigned seat. There’s no ticket machine here, but the menu is quite simple. They have two varieties, Koku Shio and Koku Shoyu. Koku is Japanese for rich and the flavor really does reflect its name. The Koku Shio has a littler red sticker around it as its their most recommended dish. If its your first time, be sure to order this one. They also have an option for soft boiled egg (50 yen), extra noodles (150 yen), today’s topping (150 yen), and today’s rice bowl (150 yen). The daily specials for topping and rice bowls sell out quickly so be sure to arrive as it opens if you’d like to try it. I highly recommend it as it is usually great in value. Important to note, the restaurant is only open during lunch hours of 11:00-15:30 on weekdays so plan accordingly.
Pictured above is the recommended Koku Shio Ramen. As you can see, the soup is incredibly rich and thick. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a Toripaitan as it doesn’t really get its flavor from the collagen, but more from the fat of the chicken. The broth is simmered meticulously for hours to get this level of richness and I’m surprised at how low the cost is because of it. The shio tare works incredibly well with this broth as it accentuates the flavor of the broth without altering like a shoyu tare might. I was quite surprised with how dense the soup was when I heard it was a chicken based ramen. There’s no cream added or any thickening agent for that matter. This is the result of a long simmer and the chef did an amazing job of pulling this much flavor and richness from the chicken. It really is a reinvention of chicken ramen as I have honestly never encountered a chicken soup broth with this level of flavor and density. The bowl is topped with some diced red onions for a refreshing crunch, bit of green onions, and their chicken char siu slices. The daily extra topping is the pictured steak slices.
(Apologies for the poor lighting on the pictures, the store is in a pretty dark alleyway.) The top left photo is the special daily topping. While it does change, on most days you’ll find these steak slices. For 150 yen, this is an amazing deal. With how rich the soup is, you’d think that the steak wouldn’t be a great fit, but for whatever reason, it works. The maillard reaction on the steak make a great addition to the bowl and gives a nice variety in texture as well. Noodles are thin and rectangular, perfect for clinging its thick soup. I would have preferred a bit thicker noodles because of how thick the soup was, but I thoroughly enjoyed it with this thickness as well. I’m not a huge fan of soft boiled egg, but this was cooked perfectly and flavored nicely. I really enjoyed the refreshing crunch of the red and green onions. It definitely needed the freshness of these vegetables to cut through some of the fat and oil of the soup. The regular topping are the chicken slices shown in the bottom right photo. I loved these chicken slices and may have been the best chicken topping I have had on a ramen. The meat was incredibly tender and the chicken on chicken soup is just an incredible chicken overload that I didn’t know I wanted.
The rice bowl for the day was this chicken long rice type bowl. Rice noodles cooked in the chicken broth with bits of chicken added topped over a nice bowl of rice. In Japan, most people would agree that curry from ramen shops are inherently good because they use the flavorful broth of the ramen in the curry and this was no different. The glass, rice noodles soak up all the flavorful broth of the ramen and makes an incredible pairing with a bowl of hot, white rice. Definitely recommend whatever daily rice bowl they have as it typically follows this trend of using their ramen broth. I can’t imagine any of the other bowls not tasting fantastic with the addition of their broth.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I have to reiterate just how amazing and different Torikoku Chuuka Suzuki’s Koku Shio Ramen is. The incredible richness and thickness of the soup is unparalleled and I have yet to come across a a chicken ramen that even comes close. Everything about this place doesn’t make a lot of sense. The shop is located in an abandoned drinking alleyway, its only open for lunch on weekdays, and they have daily specials that don’t really change daily, but one thing they have put sense together in is the ramen. Come here and see for yourself. You might find yourself becoming a regular like it did me.