Our reporter happily stumbles across this tucked-away culinary gem in the electronics district of Tokyo.

Tourists and locals alike descend upon Tokyo’s Akihabara district for the latest in gadgetry, anime, and gaming, as well as for a glimpse of resident pop idols AKB48 or to relax at one of the area’s ubiquitous maid cafes. When lunchtime rolls around, it’s not uncommon to see long lines snaking out of fast food joints serving curry, kebabs, or pasta in the vicinity. Ramen is an especially popular choice, and diners should come prepared for even longer wait-times at the most famous eateries.

On a recent venture to Akihabara, P.K. Sanjun, one of our Japanese-language reporters, discovered a tantanmen restaurant that was missing a line but turned out to be ridiculously delicious. Tantanmen is the Japanese word for Dan Dan noodles, which originates from the Sichuan Province of China and is characterized by a spicy broth of chili oil, scallions, and pork. Let’s now let P.K. take it away with his gastronomic adventure.

Ramen Yabuzuka (らーめん藪づか) is actually a bit closer to Okachimachi Station than it is to Akihabara Station on the JR Yamanote Line. It’s also about a three-to-four minute walk from Suehirocho Station on the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line. Surprisingly, it’s not in a location that is bustling with businesses, nor does it see a lot of foot traffic. In fact, the other day I stumbled upon it by complete accident as I was passing through. It took me a minute to even figure out what kind of a place it was.

▼ Ramen Yabuzuka’s exterior

The building it’s housed in is home to a variety of businesses and there was no overhead sign or curtain gracing the doorway to distinguish it from others. If I hadn’t happened to see the standing sign by the corner, I would have passed right by without even realizing that the shop on the corner was a restaurant.

I was then struck by the thought that any restaurant in such an off-the-beaten path location must be pretty confident in its culinary quality. To top it off, the menu consisted of only two items–tantanmen and shoyu (soy sauce)-based ramen, both served with a soft-boiled marinated egg. There were only nine seats inside and everything was run entirely by one person. My curiosity got the best of me so I decided to grab lunch there.

▼ Tantanmen (950 yen [US$8.60]) on the left and ramen on the right (900 yen)

I entered without (thankfully) having to wait in any line and ordered the tantanmen. Upon chatting with the chef, I learned that he had trained at various ramen establishments and had originally been a student of Chinese cooking–thus the tantanmen’s inclusion on the menu.

He wasn’t fooling around with those noodles, either, as he made them himself. They were straight and of a medium thickness. The broth was composed of hand-roasted sesame paste and homemade Chinese-style red chili oil. An additional container of homemade spicy sauce sat on the table for those diners who wanted an additional burst of flavor. All of these signs pointed to the fact that my tastebuds were about to be in for a real treat.

▼ Homemade spicy sauce

I carefully waited for the bowl to cool down a bit before taking my first sip of the broth. An indescribably flavorful and sharp spiciness spread throughout my mouth. The rich sesame paste was a bit separated from the spicy chili oil within the bowl, so I decided to sample each zone separately first. That way, if I liked both, I could then blend them together.

▼ The broth was not only gastronomically pleasing but visually pleasing as well.

The noodles had absorbed much of the flavor of the broth and they also had a delightful texture. After wolfing down about half of my bowl I decided to try adding some of the homemade sauce on the table to the remainder. The rich flavor further intensified as the spiciness pierced my tongue. Before I knew it, my bowl was empty, right down to the very last drop.

▼ Admiring the homemade noodles

Summary: The tantanmen was good. Like, really good. I hadn’t sampled the shoyu ramen, but I’m sure that dish would have been equally out of this world.

Amazingly, Ramen Yabuzuka has only been open since November of this year. Although there’s no significant pedestrian traffic and no big billboard outside announcing its presence, the restaurant is a true hidden gem only steps away from Akihabara’s busy main street. With that kind of high quality, I can see the restaurant becoming very popular very quickly simply by word of mouth. In fact, it’s only a matter of time.

Restaurant information
Ramen Yabuzuka / らーめん藪づか
Address: Tokyo-to, Taito-ku, Ueno 3-13-1, Seibu Building 1st floor
東京都台東区上野3-13-1 西武ビル1階
Open: Lunch 11:30 A.M.-3:00 P.M.; dinner 5:30 P.M.-9:30 P.M.
Closed: Tuesdays

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