Looking for insider dining tips in Osaka.

We’re not necessarily saying he’s a genius, but our Japanese-language reporter P.K. Sanjun has a pretty solid grasp on the procedure for using a taxi. You hop in, and you tell the driver where you want to go. On a recent trip to Osaka, though, P.K. decided to try something a little different and instead of telling the driver exactly where he wanted to go, telling him the kind of place he wanted to go to.

So as P.K. plopped himself down in the cab’s back seat he asked:

“Can you take me to the best ramen restaurant in the neighborhood?”

Sure, he knew it was an unusual request, but he figured he was on solid ground, logically speaking. He’d flagged the cab outside of Osaka’s Umeda Station, in a part of the city with both plenty of offices and tourist attractions, and thus a lot of restaurants too. Taxi drivers, by nature of their job, become experts in the local urban landscape, including the best places to grab a quick, casual meal.

So P.K. was excited to see what sort of awesome recommendation he was going to get from his driver, who, as a gentleman of about 70, appeared to be a veteran of his trade. However, he replied to P.K.’s request with:

“The best ramen restaurant? Beats me, pal. I usually spend my shift driving around a different part of town. I ain’t really all that into ramen either, so I hardly ever go out to eat it.”

This was an unexpected turn of events, so P.K. had to alter his strategy. “Oh, OK. Well, then, it doesn’t have to be the best ramen restaurant, or even a famous one. Any ramen place that you think or heard is good will do.”

After giving it some thought, the driver managed to come up with an idea. “I ain’t ever eaten there myself, but there’s a joint called Ramen Yashichi, and I remember that it’s always had a long line of customers outside.” With that, he pulled out into traffic, and after about a 10-minute drive he dropped P.K. off at Ramen Yashichi, where…

there wasn’t a single person lined up.

Maybe he shouldn’t have put so much stock in the ramen recommendation of someone who doesn’t eat that much ramen, P.K. thought, but then he noticed a sign propped up in front of the entrance with a notice that Ramen Yashichi was handing out seiriken, basically paper tickets that take the place of standing in line. Especially popular businesses use seiriken to eliminate the need for a physical line in order to cut down on congestion near their entrances. If Ramen Yashichi needs to hand out seiriken, it’s proof that they do get a lot of customers, and sure enough, when P.K. got his, it told him to come back in an hour and a half.

When he came back and got his seat, P.K. asked the woman who, along with her husband, runs Ramen Yashichi, what their most popular menu items are. She directed his stomach towards Yashichi’s signature soy-broth ramen and a “hetameshi,” as the restaurant calls its rice bowl with chashu pork, so P.K. ordered one of each.

As it turns out, though, Yashichi’s ramen broth is actually a soy/chicken-stock hybrid, and it’s an extremely tasty combination. In addition to leeks, it’s also seasoned with diced onion, which is an unusual ingredient for ramen in Japan, but the overall effect is delicious, with a flavor that doesn’t beat you over the head with its strength but instead becomes increasingly pleasing with each sip of the soup. The noodles, smooth and thick, are a great complement too.

As for the hetameshi/chashu bowl, its mixture of savory meatiness with just a touch of sweetness also hit the spot. At 820 yen (US$7.15) for the ramen and 390 for the hetameshi, Yashichi’s prices were kind to P.K.’s common-man wallet, but the quality of the food made him fully understand why the several satisfied celebrities’ signatures hang on the restaurant’s walls.

But even with all that, the biggest impression P.K. was left with was how friendly Yashichi’s husband-and-wife owners are, and how many regular customers they recognized as they came in for a bowl of ramen. “Hey, good to see you again!” they greeted one diner, and when another, apparently a local student, came in, they asked him “How’d you do on your test the other day?”

So in the end, P.K.’s plan to ask a taxi driver to take him to a good ramen restaurant worked out just fine, even if the driver had never been there himself, and now P.K.’s the one who can recommend Yashichi to anyone who asks him.

Restaurant information
Ramen Yashichi / らーめん弥七
Address: Osaka-fu, Osaka-shi, Kita-ku, Toyosaki 3-4-8o
Open 10:45 a.m.-4 p.m.
Closed Saturdays, Sundays, holidays

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[ Read in Japanese ]