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When it comes to Japan’s kings of prefectural ramen, many in the west would immediately think of Sapporo style miso and the Hakata style tonkotsu ramen as most famous and popular. However, if you ask any Japanese person what their favorite prefectural ramen style is, you'll probably hear Kitakata Ramen come up more times than not. For those who are unaware, the style originates from a city in Fukushima called Kitakata, hence the name, and has since become synonymous with the area with travelers sometimes coming with only one thing in mind, the Kitakata ramen.
Kitakata ramen is usually characterized by a light animal base stock and the first iteration of the style used shoyu as the tare seasoning. Nowadays you’ll find shio and even miso varieties of the Kitakata ramen as well as a combined stock with niboshi and other dried fish, but the shoyu base is really what popularized the style. Apart from the soup, what makes Kitakata style ramen so distinguishable are the noodles which are flat, aged, and have a high water ratio. The noodles, called 平打ち熟成多加水麺 (Hirauchi Jukusei Takasuimen), are typically hand massaged before cooking and so they have a unique rigid look to them and have a phenomenal chew due to the high water content. As I mention with all of these best of Tokyo prefectural ramen lists, it is always recommended to try them at the source, in this case in Kitakata, Fukushima, but here are the best Tokyo alternatives if a trip up north isn’t in your itinerary!
Shokudo Shichisai (食堂七彩)
The best of Tokyo’s Kitakata ramen list would not be complete without the addition of the most famous and well regarded ramen shop of Tokyo, Shokudo Shichisai. Shichisai is an institution... literally. The shop has been the training ground for some of your favorite restaurants including Jyunteuchi Daruma and Kujira Shokudo, both of which have gone on to garner numerous ramen accolades and recognitions of their own. Shokudo Shichisai first made their splash on the Tokyo ramen scene with their rendition of the Kitakata ramen and it still remains the premier shop to grab some authentic bowls of this style.
While I described Kitakata ramen as having traditionally been shoyu, the master at the shop recommended I grab the shio version which is what you see pictured. The soup is phenomenal and has a chicken heavy base which is supplemented with pork and Niboshi dried fish. Noodles are made in house and have that distinct Kitakata look and chew to them which pair with this soup perfectly. Located just a short walking distance from Toritsu Kasei station on the Seibu Shinjuku line, Shokudo Shichisai is a shop you don’t want to miss.
Menya Shichisai (麺や七彩)
If for whatever reason you’re unable to make your way to Shokudo Shichisai, which is a bit out of central Tokyo, fear not, their original location in Hatchobori, a 10 minute walk from Tokyo station, serves Kitakata ramen that is even better than the Shokudo location. It might seem strange to include two shops of the same ownership group on the same list, but if you ask any ramen head where they would go for Kitakata ramen in Tokyo, these two will always be mentioned….it’s that good.
In terms of ramen, while it is operated by the same group as Shokudo Shichisai, it isn’t as similar as you might think. Yes, of course it is similar in the sense that they both serve Kitakata style ramen, but the soup here uses a more refined recipe with Shamo, a breed of chicken used primarily for chicken fighting in Southeast Asia, for their stock. Niboshi, dried fish are also added to supplement the chicken and add umami to the soup giving the ramen another level of flavor complexity. Noodles are made in house and you can actually see them make it while you’re there as a dedicated noodle maker hand kneads and cuts the dough out front near the window. Be sure to get the Niku Soba which comes with extra pork chashu that covers the entire surface of your bowl for a hearty lunch time meal.
Kitakata Shokudo (喜多方食堂)
A knock on the Shichisai group (and trust me, there aren’t that many) is that their ramen is Kitkata inspired with a lot of Tokyo ramen influences. The bowls you find in Kitakata are arguably a lot simpler and if you’re looking for something that more closely resembles what you might have up there, then head to Menya Gen near Inaricho station on the Tokyo Metro Ginza line. You’ll find a much more relaxed mood here and there are unlikely to be many people in queue, but the ramen is top notch and a perfect place to grab lunch before heading to Asakusa for a day of sightseeing.
Soup here is composed of a more traditional pork base stock and is seasoned with a shoyu tare for an umami enriched flavor profile. Of course the iconic Kitakata style noodles are used, but are a bit thinner than the other shops on this list. Nothing wrong with that to be honest, and they actually end up having a rather satisfying slurp and pairs with the lighter soup (in comparison) nicely. Even with a regular bowl, the ramen comes topped with two generously cut chashu that are so tender they’ll just melt right in your mouth.
Choutakasui Jikasei Temomimen Kitakata Shokudo (超多加水自家製手揉麺 きたかた食堂)
Another shop which focuses on a more traditional style of Kitakata ramen is Kitakata Shokudo which has no relation to the one right about it. A lot of the shops up in Kitakata use Shokudo, which is Japanese for dining hall, in the shop name which was then utilized by many of the restaurants in Tokyo. The shop is just a few minutes walk from Jimbocho station on the Tokyo Metro lines and is conveniently located along the main road with a window where passersby can watch the chef in action as he makes the noodles out front.
What makes this shop so special is their heavy use of chiyu, or chicken oil, which coats the surface of the soup and in turn coats your lips with every spoonful. The house made noodles are absolutely divine and if you arrive for lunch and come within the first 40 customers, you can opt for the extra thick version for a special slurping experience. Kitakata Shokudo also prides themselves in their chashu which they have 5 options to choose from. The most unique is probably the duck so definitely recommend getting it as an add on if you’re looking for more substance to your meal.
Aizu Kitakata Ramen Suzuna (會津・喜多方らーめん 愛絆)
Last, but not least is Aizu Kitakata Ramen Suzuna located out towards Jujo station on the JR lines. Suzuna is the newest shop on the list having opened their doors for the first time in 2019, but has quickly made a name for itself as one of the top Kitakata ramen shops in Tokyo. You’ll soon realize it’s a bit different visually than the others with a lighter soup profile, but the ramen itself is still packed with flavor and is worthy of the trip up to northern Tokyo for.
So the reason for the lighter color on the soup is because the pictured ramen is actually Shio. I decided on their popular Aizuyama Ramen (会津山塩ラーメン) which was the recommended ramen on my visit. If you read the previous posts on Shio ramen by KAONASHI RAMEN, you’ll know how difficult this tare seasoning is to execute, but Suzuna does it to perfection conjuring up some of the best Shio Kitakata ramen in Tokyo. The Shoyu Kitakata ramen is also top notch, but definitely grab their Shio for a more unique experience. For the hungry traveler, be sure to order the extra chashu which will cover the entirety of the surface with their delectable pork slices!