When Ramen And Michelin Stars Intersect In Tokyo, Japan

“The ultimate ramen is something that exists perfectly in the moment”

~ Quote from the Ramen Heads documentary

On November 29, 2017, Nakiryu was awarded its first Michelin star.  Nakiryu is only the second ramen restaurant in the world to receive this prestigious honor.  Tsuta was the first and they are both located in Toshima, a Tokyo Prefecture.  We visited Nakiryu in early October of 2018.

To be awarded a Michelin star and ultimately be listed in the Michelin Guide is no easy accomplishment.  There are no specific guidelines available for restaurants regarding how to obtain this level of recognition.  Some known objectives are the chefs ability to achieve the highest levels of mastery in terms of flavors and cooking techniques.  Consistency in regards to the food and dining experience are also key.  If the first visit by the anonymous Michelin Guide inspector is favorable, a second visit will take place approximately one year later. The road to a Michelin star is not a rapid one.  Receiving one star is not a guarantee that more stars will be awarded in the future, and restaurants can lose stars if they do not maintain the Michelin standards. The most stars a restaurant can be awarded is three.

At Nakiryu there was a clear reverence for the ingredients and the noodle preparation.  The way the ramen noodles were expertly and visibly laid out on the counter waiting for their arrangement in the bowls elevated our anticipation.  From the precise placement of the noodles, to the ladling of the broth, to the moment the bowl is handed to the customer, there is a sense of ceremony.  This was my maiden voyage to Japan as well as our first visit to a Michelin star restaurant.

There is no question in our minds as to why Nakiryu received their star.  For us, the taste of the ramen and the moments we spent there were impeccable and we won’t ever forget it.

We queued up at approximately 10:30 AM, 1 hour prior to opening.  We were numbers 7 and 8 in line and were able to be part of the first seating of the day.  By the time the doors opened there was a line running the length of the block and another had formed across the street.  We were there for lunch.  I’ve been told that the wait can be significantly longer for dinner.

If you go, make sure to give yourself enough time to locate the restaurant as it is tucked into a relatively quiet neighborhood.  The Google Map App was our best friend during this trip!

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We received menus while waiting for Nakiryu to open and this was extremely helpful.  Our menu was written in both English and Japanese. Each menu item had a number next to the dish that corresponded to a number on the ticket machine located just inside the door.  This definitely helped lessen the stress of the ordering process, since this was our first time utilizing this ordering method in Japan.  Once inside, we needed to order quickly and take a seat, mostly because we were hyper-aware of the long line of people waiting outside.  The small black tabs on the corner of the buttons was where the numbers were located.  We selected everything that we wanted via this system, the ramen, any extra toppings/ingredients and your beverage if one is desired.

Side note: John and I ordered cold beers to enjoy with our meal. The beers were very large here.  We could have easily shared one.

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When the doors opened we were ushered in, we ordered our food and beverages and a ticket popped out of the machine.  We handed this to a server standing by and he promptly took it behind the counter. The whole process, while intimidating the first time around, makes complete sense and is very streamlined and organized.

Note: This is a cash only ticket system.  Credit cards are not accepted here.

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There are 10 seats in total.  They all line the bar/kitchen so the chef and food are all visible from every angle.  The amount of time from ordering to the delivery of our ramen was quick.

There have been very few times in my life when I’ve experienced almost complete silence in a restaurant. The images below depict the delivery of and the moments just after the ramen bowls were delivered to us.

Except for the occasional slurp, the room was totally quiet, no voices.
I never had the chance to talk with the people in this photo but we’ll be forever connected by this soulful experience. Ramen does that.

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Image numbers 1 and 2 are the Tantanmen Ramen.  The thin noodles are served in a richly flavored sesame and red pepper soup.  I opted to add a soy dipped egg for 100 Japanese Yen, approximately equal to one American dollar.

Image number 3 is the Soy Sauce based ramen with the addition of thinly sliced braised pork.

Image number 4 is the side of braised pork that was added to the ramen.

Image number 5 is my tall, ice cold beer.  Cheers to ramen and beers!

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Each guest is allowed only one bowl of ramen.  This is done in an attempt to both move diners through in an efficient amount of time, but also to ensure there will be enough ingredients to feed all of the people in the subsequent seatings.

There is an intrigue and profound respect that fully envelops the craft of ramen creation.  The 2020 Olympics are scheduled to take place in Tokyo.  The world’s eyes will be taking in all of the incredible things that Japan has to offer.  I suspect the Japanese cuisine, and ramen in particular, will be catapulted to its deserved level of honor and appreciation.

I fell in love with Japan.  The country, the food and the people were incredible. I hope to make a return trip soon!

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