Tokyo Ramen Guide: Where to Eat Wantan-men/Wonton Ramen
If you’re looking for a Tokyo Ramen Guide, you’ve come to the right place. When in Japan, eat ramen, right? It’s a no brainer for a noodle lover like me. And in theory, it seems simple enough, but really, when you get there, you’ll see, the ramen culture is intense. Shops on shops on shops of little restaurants, all selling ramen. And, the kicker? All the pictures look the same! There’s creamy pork bone based tonkotsu, shoyu-dashi based Tokyo-style, rich and creamy miso based bowls, and the list goes on and on and on.
It’s hard to choose a favorite, but if I see wantan-men – essentially ramen with wonton – it’s going to be the bowl I want set down in front of me. I find it hard to resist the Japanese take on wonton. Japanese wantan are much like their Chinese counterpart, in essence, they’re both little, tender meatballs of pork, shrimp, or a combo, wrapped up in a silky, thin, noodle like wrapper. The major differences between the two lie mostly in the ratio of wrapper to filling. Most Chinese wontons have a 80:20 filling to wrapper, with little or no overhang of wonton skin. Japanese wonton, on the other hand, are almost the exact opposite, with a 20:80 wrapper to filling ratio. The result is a lot of excess wonton skin – it kind of feels like eating a giant noodle, with a bit of filling tucked into a corner.
Of course, wantan alone don’t make a good bowl of ramen. Also essential: a deep and complex broth, spring-y noodles, and toppings. Here are 4 ramen joints that do wantanmen right.
Step down a side street in Koenji – a cute neighborhood full of shops, cafes, and kawaii cat donuts – and you’ll find Hayashimaru, a very local ramen joint. Local is always good, but in this case, even better because it means that there probably won’t be a wait.
They offer two kinds of bowls, shio (salt) and shoyu (soy sauce), both with a niboshi (fish) chicken and pork base. Typically, I go for shio, but shoyu is actually what Tokyo is known for. Everything is house made, from the noodles, to the wonton, to the chashu. The noodles are medium-thick and straight with a good chew and the wonton have the most delicate, thin skin wrapped around juicy insides. They have both pork and shrimp wonton and of course you can go for just one, but I opted for the mixed which came with both, as well as nori, menma, and two pieces of chashu.
They also have a wantan tsukemen for all you dipping noodle lovers out there.
2-22-11 Koenjikita, Suginami-ku, Tokyo
Closest station: Koenji
Open: Monday – Saturday 11:30am – 4pm/5:30pm – 8:30pm Sundays 11:30am – 9 pm
Closed: Wednesdays, every 2nd and 3rd Tuesday
English menu available, cash only, order inside at the counter
Yatagarasu is one of the newer Tokyo shops that is becoming pretty popular. They’re not known for wantanmen per se, but their signature bowl comes with wonton, so I’m just going to go ahead and call them a wantanmen specialist. They have two feature bowls which they call black (shoyu) and white (shio). I went with the white, which was lighter with a prominent dashi flavor and Mike went with the black which was deeper and bold. Both bowls come with chashu, wonton, and an egg. The chashu was excellent here; it was low temperature pork, perfectly tender and seasoned well. The noodles were straight and on the thin side, flecked with bits of whole wheat. You can’t really see the wonton in the photo, but they’re there, hiding. They were large (for Japanese wonton), plump, and juicy. I wish there were more in the bowl, but then again, I could have probably just eaten a bowl full of wonton and been happy.
If you’re interested, they do have an option to add extra wonton or have wonton as an appetizer 😉
1-9-2 Kudanshita, Chioda-ku, Tokyo
Closest station: Kudanshita
Open: Monday – Friday 11am – 11pm, Saturday 11am – 3pm
No English menu, cash only, vending machine ordering: the top left button is the special black ramen and the top right button is the special white ramen.
Yakumo is probably one of the most well known, if not the most well known places for wantanmen in Tokyo. They’ve been on TV and in countless magazines, including winning TRY – Tokyo Ramen of the Year. We first ate at Yakumo when they were on the second floor of a random building in Nakameguro, but now they’ve moved to a slick, modern shop in the up and coming neighborhood, Ikejiri Ohashi. Their new digs are gorgeous but even more so is their bowl of ramen.
Like Yatagarasu, Yakumo calls their bowls white and black. As per usual, I went with the white/shio and Mike went with the black/shoyu. If, for some reason you can’t choose between the two, you can tell the staff that you want a mix when you hand them your ramen ticket. The special bowls come with six(!) wonton each, 3 pork and 3 shrimp. They’re big and juicy with a nice delicate “tail” of extra skin. I love them so much that one time, I ordered an extra order of 6 wonton. Wonton aside, the noodles here are straight and thin, the chashu is thick and sweet, and there’s menma, nori, and negi as well. It’s a really solid bowl.
東京都目黒区東山3-6-15 エビヤビル 1F
3-6-15 Higashiyama, Meguro-ku, Tokyo
Closest station: Ikejiri-Ohashi
Open: Monday 11:30am – 3:30pm, Tuesday – Sunday 11:30am – 3:30pm/5pm – 9pm
No English menu, cash only, vending machine ordering: the top left button is the special white ramen with 6 wonton and the top 3rd button is the special black ramen with 6 wonton.
Mensho makes one of my favorite bowls in Tokyo. In fact, the Mensho group happens to be one of my favorite (maybe even my favorite) group of ramen restaurants. Mensho’s motto is “a bowl for tomorrow” and it’s essentially farm to bowl ramen. Their signature is a seafood based, with a stock made from sea bream and scallops, seasoned with sea salt. The flour for the noodles is milled from whole grain wheat right next to you in the laboratory making these some of the freshest noodles around. The bowl comes with a scallop, dusted with charred negi and a sprinkling of karasumi, cured yellow cod roe. There are slices of the most tender chicken you’ll ever taste and the wonton, unlike most of the wonton around Tokyo, are made from tuna. Seriously good.
1-17-16 Otowa, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo
Closest Station: Gokokuji
Open: 11:00am – 3:00pm, 5pm – 9pm
Closed: Mondays, Tuesdays
No English menu, cash only, vending machine ordering: the top left button is for the special seafood shio ramen.
Alright! Those are the four wantanmen places I’d definitely recommend if you’re looking for a bowl of noodles that is just a little bit extra. We’ll be posting more Tokyo ramen guides soon, so keep your eyes peeled and your tummies ready.
PS – Some helpful hints with the ramen vending machines: