Tori Soba Mutahiro 2gouten (鶏そば ムタヒロ 2号店); Famous Happy Smile Ramen, Kokubunji
Out in Kokubunji, about 40 minutes from Shinjuku on the Chuo Line, a ramen restaurant has slowly, but steadily gained popularity among ramen enthusiasts. Starting off as a small Niboshi ramen restaurant, Mutahiro has been opening up a number of different brands expanding their ramen dynasty. After the popularity of this second store, Tori Soba Mutahiro, the owner started the Happy Smile company to open franchises all over the world. As this is my favorite of their branches, I decided to start with this location, but their other locations will follow. After arriving at Kokubunji, get out towards the North exit and head east. A brisk five minute walk and you’ll arrive at Tori Soba Mutahiro.
The menu consists of five ramen varieties; Tori Soba in green (Shoyu Ramen), Shio Tori Soba in blue (Shio Ramen), Tori Tsukesoba in red (Shoyu Tsukemen), Shio Tori Tsukesoba in yellow (Shio Tsukemen), and a Tori Abura Soba in green on the right column (No soup Ramen). Each variety on the left includes the regular, then the Oyako version with soft boiled egg, and Tokusei version with extra toppings. All of the toppings, including Kaedama (extra noodles), are 100 yen. Choices for toppings are green onions, Mitsuba (japanese herb), egg, dried seaweed, and menma bamboo shoots. A side menu of Torikawa Ponzu (chicken skin with lemon soy sauce) is also available. For drink they serve a glass of beer for 400 yen and coke, orange juice, and oolong tea for 150 yen. If you come with young children, they have a child’s size for free with an order of your own regular ramen so be sure to bring your kids when you come. You’ll need to buy your tickets at the machine when you walk in, but if you’re having trouble matching my description with the ticket machine (forgot to take a picture of the actual machine), ask one of the staff member for an English menu and they’ll happily provide you with one and you can just point and choose which one you’d like to order. Once you have your tickets purchased, a staff member will take you to your seat and you’ll hand your tickets to the chef behind the counter. I opted for the regular Tori Soba on my visit and I was given a glass of water after taking my seat on the counter.
My bowl was adorned with a slice of chicken char siu, menma bamboo shoots, mitsuba (Japanese herb), chicken fat, dried seaweed, and a spoonful of green onions. The soup here is way more flavorful than I would have expected from a chicken chintan soup. The minced chicken fat that you see at the top of the bowl really help to accentuate the chicken flavor and make the soup quite strong in flavor. You might be able to see from the picture, but the chicken broth and minced fat help to add a layer of chicken oil to the surface of the soup. One spoonful of their soup and you’ll immediately have your entire mouth coated with fatty goodness, but as you swallow the soup, you’re chest will be filled with the savory flavors of the chicken. The combination reminds me of a Jiro style soup, but in a chicken variety. The shoyu tare, or seasoning sauce, really works well with the broth as they use a light soy that balances with the heavy chicken broth. If a darker blend was used, I think the soup would have been too much to handle. The green onions and Mitsuba (Japanese herb) was a nice touch as it cuts through the fattiness of the soup and adds a nice refreshing crunch to the bowl. The noodles were a bit soft, which reminded me of American style chicken noodle soup. It was almost like having the most extravagant chicken noodle soup based on the flavor profile. Ground black and white pepper i available at your seat, and if you add a bit to your bowl, it really reminded me of the chicken noodle soup I used to have in law school.
While its not necessarily my favorite bowl of chicken chintan style ramen, this is probably one of the best in the area. Is it worth making the trip in from Shinjuku? Not unless you want to head toward the Peace Park in Tachikawa and you go on your way, or you’re looking to try their main store (review to come) as well and cross off two shops from tabelog.com’s top 100 Tokyo Ramen restaurants off your list. As I live relatively close, I do stop by from time to time, but I feel like you could go without if you feel like your trip would be too long to justify. For those living in Tokyo, I definitely recommend a visit as there are interesting things to do in Kokubunji after your ramen and has a great friendly vibe for a weekend trip in the city.