Our resident soba expert ate at over 200 soba spots in the greater Tokyo area, and here are his top picks

When workers are in need of a quick bite in Japan, there are a few options to choose from depending on your mood. While a western-style burger and fries might hit the spot occasionally, a beef bowl or bowl of piping hot noodles will also do the trick without breaking the bank. Today we’re going to focus on one particular type of “fast food” noodle restaurant–the stand-and-eat (“tachigui”) soba eatery. 

Our Japanese-language reporter Seiji Nakazawa, who recently became the face of baldness on Google Japan, has made it one of his personal missions to eat at as many of these soba spots as possible. With over 200 different gastronomic experiences under his belt, he’s learned that it’s always be a bit of a gamble, and you’ll also find hits and misses even at the same price points, and so he decided to compile the following list of his top nine picks throughout Tokyo that will come in handy the next time you’re in need of a quick bite.

Without further ado, here are Seiji’s top recommendations, in no particular order. Since he’s covering all of the important bases of food sampling, he’s also thrown in analogies to famous Japanese baseball players for each of his recommendations. Bon appétit!

1. Okada (located in the Kodenmacho neighborhood)

Let’s start with the basics. Okada in the Kodenmacho neighborhood is the perfect representative of a basic but solid bowl of soba.

The kakesoba (soba in hot broth) is only 300 yen (US$2.73) and a set that includes a side of curry rice is only 600 yen. Even adding deliciously crispy vegetable fritters on top comes to just 720 yen. That’s a better deal than some value sets at McDonald’s!

Furthermore, a bowl of soba or curry alone is plenty to fill you up. If you order both, however, the sweet tsuyu (broth) of the soup goes well with the thick and spicy curry. In addition, the restaurant’s interior is clean and visually pleasing. Since all-around-winner Okada scores highly on all fronts, let’s call it the Ichiro of the soba world.

Restaurant information
Okada / おか田
Address: Tokyo-to, Chuo-ku, Nihonbashihoncho 4-15-10
Open: 7 a.m.-3 p.m.
Closed Saturday-Sunday

2. Dattan Honoka (Ogawamachi)

Next up is a place that can’t be left out if you’re talking about good flavor: Dattan Honoka in the Ogawamachi neighborhood. At first glance you might be slightly disappointed to see that there’s no tempura adorning the top of the soba, but Seiji states that you won’t even care after you take a bite.

The sharp saltiness of the tsuyu (dipping broth) and beauty of the 100% buckwheat flour noodles are exquisite and pierce your taste buds like a Japanese katana. These qualities can liken them to the Yu Darvish of the soba world.

Restaurant information: 
Dattan Honoka / 韃靼 穂のか
Address: Tokyo-to, Chiyoda-ku, Uchikanda 1-15-12
Open 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 5 p.m.-9 p.m. (Monday-Friday), Saturday reservations only
Closed Sundays

3. Oto Ineppu Tokyo (Yotsuya Sanchome)

Oto Ineppu Tokyo’s menu is small–zarusoba (cold soba with dipping broth) for 880 yen and tanuki soba (hot soba with crumbled tempura flakes on top) for 980 yen. Seriously, that’s it. Seiji feels a bit guilty for introducing soba dishes over 800 yen, but he assures you that this place is well worth it.

This restaurant’s black soba is said to be the best in Japan. The original restaurant is located in Otoineppu, a small village two hours north of Asahikawa, Hokkaido. It’s so secluded that trains pass through not even once per hour. Seiji thinks that the true value of Oto Ineppu Tokyo in the central Yotsuya neighborhood is in the fact that it sure beats going all the way to the original.

Speaking of which, Seiji has actually eaten at the original before, and he says that the noodles in Tokyo are the real deal. However, the flavor of the tsuyu is more delicate at the Tokyo branch, which matches well with the rustic beauty of the soba. Those two traits together combine to make this restaurant the Shohei Otani of the soba world.

Restaurant information
Oto Ineppu Tokyo / 音威子府TOKYO
Address: Tokyo-to, Shinjuku-ku, Funamachi 3-6 Imazuka Building 1st floor
東京都新宿区舟町3-6 今塚ビル 1F
Open 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., 5 p.m.-11 p.m.
Closed Sundays

4. Hisago (Asakusabashi)

Now let’s move on to a soba that’s both good and cheap. Hisago in the Asakusabashi neighborhood is a reliably good and inexpensive bite.

A bowl of soba there boasts a rich and dark tsuyu with a piercing note of sweetness. If you want to wholeheartedly enjoy it, Seiji recommends the kitsune soba (hot soba with fried tofu on top) for 350 yen. The fried tofu absorbs the color and flavor of the tsuyu and packs a salty-sweet punch.

350 yen for a bowl of soba is a steal, and you would probably pass right by its nondescript exterior if you weren’t looking for it. It’s plain but noodle connoisseurs are sure to appreciate its refined taste. We’ll call it the Yutaka Wada of the soba world.

Restaurant information
Hisago / ひさご
Address: Tokyo-to, Taito-ku, Asakusabashi 1-17-2
Open 6:45 a.m.-6:30 p.m.
Closed Saturday-Sunday

5. Kiuchi (Ningyocho)

If you’re after supreme flavor then the tempura squid tentacles at Kiuchi in the Ningyocho neighborhood are the thing to try. They cover your bowl of soup like a lid and pair well with the springy noodles, oozing with flavor from the tsuyu.

The more you eat the better it gets–that’s really all Seiji can say. This unbeatable natural flavor is like experiencing a home run by the Hiromitsu Ochiai of the soba world.

Restaurant information
Kiuchi / きうち
Address: Tokyo-to, Chuo-ku, Nihonbashi Ningyocho 1-18-8
Open 7 a.m.-5 p.m. (Monday-Friday), 11 a.m.-5 p.m. (Saturday)
Closed Sundays

6. Toshima (Iidabashi)

Toshima, in the Iidabashi neighborhood, was one of the first soba restaurants that came to mind when Seiji began compiling his list. The originator of atsuniku soba (“thick meat soba”) for 680 yen, they serve up a hearty slice of meat that looks straight out of a culinary manga. You won’t forget it–in fact, you can’t.

The spicy-sweet meat is so tender that when you try to lift it with chopsticks it almost crumbles. It’s sure to leave impactful memories in your mind, making it the Tsuyoshi Shinjo of the soba world.

Restaurant information
Toshima / 豊しま
Address: Tokyo-to, Shinjuku-ku, Shimomiyabicho 1
Open 6:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m. (Monday-Friday), 6:30 a.m.-3 p.m. (Saturday)
Closed Sundays

7. Ganki (Kayabacho)

Ganki in the Kayabacho neighborhood is recommended for its supreme culinary texture. Its spaghetti-like feel will almost certainly make your mouth think you’re eating something other than soba at first.

However, the taste is unmistakably that of soba. That unusual texture and soba flavor go well with the rich tsuyu. Seiji personally feels like he discovered a new food altogether after eating here. Think of it as the restaurant that opens new doors…like the Hideo Nomo of the soba world.

Restaurant information
Ganki / がんぎ
Address: Tokyo-to, Chuo-ku, Shinkawa 1-2-10
Open 8 a.m.-9 p.m. (Monday-Friday)
Closed Saturday-Sunday

8. Yamadaya (Iriya)

You can’t have a good bowl of hot kakesoba without good broth. For broth perfection in Tokyo’s Iriya neighborhood, look no further than Yamadaya.

The rich taste of their soba will permeate your tongue. It conjures up the image of a stylish knight in the realm of stand-and-eat soba shops. The flavor truly shines with the polished craft of a master broth maker. That brilliance is only comparable to calling it the Atsuya Furuta of the soba world.

Restaurant information
Yamadaya / 山田屋
Address: Tokyo-to, Taito-ku, Senzoku 3-33-9
Open 7 a.m.-2 p.m.
Closed Saturday-Sunday

9. Sobamasa (Rokucho)

We’ll end with a restaurant that follows the beat of its own drum. It’s out of the way and its hours of operation aren’t the most convenient, so there are several hurdles at the start for diners who don’t live in the neighborhood. For Seiji personally, it felt even harder to eat there than at Oto Ineppu in Hokkaido!

However, the effort is well worth it in the end. White noodles, flavorful meat, and reddish dipping tsuyu blend together to create the perfect harmony. Furthermore, there are slices of chashu (braised pork belly) in the dipping broth! It’s incredible that all of that comes to only 480 yen. Positively legendary, in fact, so let’s call it the Shigeo Nagashima of the soba world.

Restaurant information
Sobamasa / そば政
Address: Tokyo-to, Adachi-ku, Minamihanahata 4-14-2
Open 7:30 a.m.-1 p.m.
Closed Friday-Sunday

If the above list has now significantly whetted your appetite, be sure to also read up on that time Seiji and his colleagues took on the 2.6 pounds of meat soba bowl challenge late last year.

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