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Come quickly! We’re tasting the (ramen) stars!

Our hearts were aflutter and our stomachs a-rumbling when we heard the Michelin dining guide had just awarded its first star ever to a ramen restaurant. We’re sure the world-famous French publication’s food critics know a tasty meal when they find one, but we like to think of ourselves as pretty well-versed in ramen culture, too. And seeing as how Tsuta, the restaurant that received the prestigious award, is reasonably close to RocketNews24 headquarters in downtown Tokyo, we decided to pay it a visit and try its most popular menu item.

Tsuta is just a three-minute walk from Sugamo Station, which is two stops away from Ikebukuro on the Yamanote train line that loops around the city center. While some ramen restaurants stay open until the wee hours of the morning, Tsuta keeps respectable, and short, business hours. The restaurant opens at 11 a.m., and closes at either 4 in the afternoon or when they run out of ingredients, whichever comes first.

▼ Tsuta’s exterior

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In Tokyo, you’ll often find a line outside of restaurants that have earned critical acclaim, mass media recognition, or just a reputation for delicious food. Seeing as how Tsuta can now check all three of those boxes, we figured we should get there early, and arrived at approximately 90 minutes before the restaurant opened.

There was already a line of 16 people waiting. At 9:30 in the morning. For lunch.

Since Tsuta only has seating for nine customers at a time, we couldn’t get in on the first wave, but around 11:30 a spot opened up. As with many inexpensive restaurants in Japan, you buy a meal ticket from a vending machine first, and we hit the button for Tsuta’s biggest seller, the 950-yen (US$7.90) aji tama shoyu soba, ramen with soy broth and the extra topping of a hard-boiled egg.

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▼ The button for soy broth ramen with hard-boiled egg has the text 味玉醤油そば

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We handed off our ticket to the staff, took a seat at the counter, and five minutes later our Michelin meal was in front of us.

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Floating atop the unclouded soy broth, along with the boiled egg, were green onions,, menma (fermented bamboo shoots), and a slice of chashu pork.

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Ramen connoisseurs will tell you you’re supposed to begin your tasting with a spoonful of broth, which is what we did. Tsuta’s is rich and aromatic, with notes of fish stock harmonizing beautifully with the black truffle oil the restaurant adds.

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Tsuta’s noodles, which the staff makes in-house, are also unique in that they’re made with whole-wheat flour. Look closely and you can spot small brownish grains. The noodles have a pleasantly firm texture, and their wheaty taste complements the soy broth extremely well.

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The toppings didn’t disappoint either. The boiled egg’s flavor was just the right intensity, and the thick-cut menma was satisfyingly firm.

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Finally, the chashu, served with a dollop of black truffle sauce, was as delicious as it was elegant.

▼ With ramen this good, no way were we leaving anything left in the bowl.

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Ramen makes for a quick meal, and Tsuta’s take on the dish is no exception. We were back out on the street about 30 minutes later, at just about noon. As we made our way back to the station, we did a quick count of the line and saw that it had expanded to about 100 people.

▼ In the rain, no less.

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Long line or not, there’s no denying that Tsuta makes excellent ramen, and at less than 1,000 yen, it’s by far the most affordable, accessible Michelin meal you’ll find in Tokyo. So come early, and don’t worry, as long as you bring your smartphone, we’ll keep you company while you’re waiting.

Update: After our visit, Ramen Adventures also took a trip to Tsuta, and found a new seating system in place. The restaurant starts handing out seating tickets at at 8 a.m., which instruct you to come back and wait for a seat to open up at one of six time blocks: 11 a.m., noon, or 1, 2, 3, or 3:30 in the afternoon. Showing up early is still highly recommended, as the restaurant has at times run out of seating tickets before it even opens for the day.

Restaurant information
Tsuta / 蔦
Address: Tokyo-to, Toshima-ku, Sugamo 1-14-1, Plateau-Saka 1st floor
東京都豊島区巣鴨1-14-1 Plateau-Saka 1F
Open 11 a.m.-4 p.m. (approximately)
Closed Tuesday and Wednesday

Photos © RocketNews24
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