The Hanmen Set is our new must-eat in Kyushu’s biggest foodie town.

Fukuoka City is one of Japan’s best towns to eat out in, but the flipside of being in a place famous for its tasty restaurants is that it can be hard to know which one’s the best. So on our most recent stop in Fukuoka, we did what we usually do when we’re both in a quandary and a state of hunger: we asked a local taxi driver to take us to the best restaurant around.

Fukuoka’s main train station, and the place where you’ll find the biggest clusters of cabs, is Hakata Station. That’s where we slid into the taxi of Uchida-san, a veteran Fukuoka taxi driver.

Having been in the business for many years, Uchida-san has developed a pretty logical system for figuring out which restaurants are making customers happy they ate there: he looks for the restaurants that most consistently have lines of people waiting to get in. In a country as food-focused as Japan, word of mouth travels fast, so a restaurant has to earn a reputation as being worth the wait for lines to form on a regular basis.

After driving for a little over five minutes, Uchida-san brought the car to a stop in front of Ganso Hakata Mentaiju, a restaurant with a woody exterior located near the Naka River.

As you can see in the Google Streetview image above, it easily passes Uchida-san’s “good restaurants have a line” test. Thankfully, there weren’t quite that many people waiting to get in when we arrived, but we still ended up waiting outside for about 10 minutes before a seat opened up.

Ganso Hakata Mentaiju isn’t at all coy about the star of its menu. The mentai part is short for mentaiko, spicy cod roe, one of the representative delicacies of Fukuoka’s local cuisine. Mentaiju is mentaiko served atop a tray-like box of rice, and it’s the main thing that draws people to Ganso Hakata Mentaiju, but not the only one. Also extremely enticing is the mentai nikomi tsukemen, a plate of ramen noodles to be dipped into a special mentaiko broth.

Thankfully, we didn’t have to pick between the two, because Ganso Hakata Mentaiju offers a Hanmen Set that includes both for 3,168 yen (US$23.50).

▼ Mentaiju

▼ Mentai nikomi tsukemen

Starting with the mentaiju, you get a very nicely sized portion of mentaiko, with an entire sac of the cod roe wrapped in kombu kelp.

To make it easier to eat, the mentaiko is sliced into bite-size pieces…

…and each one of those bites was wonderfully flavorful, with the salty spice kick that makes mentaiko so delicious. Pouring on the sauce, served in its own container on the side, made it even better.

Next we moved on to the tsukemen. Once again, the broth here contains an entire mentaiko sac, and the broad, flat ramen noodles did an excellent job of soaking up the liquid when we dunked them into the bowl.

Ganso Hakata Mentaiju wisely predicts that you’re going to want to consume all of the broth, but that the flavor might be a little too intense if you run out of noodles first. That’s why, when you order the Hanmen Set, they also bring you a pitcher of hot water that you can pour into the broth once all your noodles are gone.

This is pretty common with soba noodles in Japan, but less so with ramen. It’s a great idea, though, as cutting the broth with water mellowed out the flavor to a point where it was enjoyable all on its own.

So if you’re looking for maximum mentaiko satisfaction, it’s hard to beat Ganso Hakata Mentaiju. And if you happen to be hungry at Hakata Station and not hopping in a cab, don’t forget there’s a great place to eat inside the station too.

Restaurant information
Ganso Hakata Mentaiju / 元祖博多めんたい重
Address: Fukuoka-ken, Fukuoka-shi, Chuo-ku, Nishinakasu 6-15
Open 7 a.m.-10:30 p.m.

Photos ©SoraNews24
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