Hot on the heels of neighbor Tsuta, Nakiryu has been awarded a Michelin star for its famous tantanmen noodles: spicy, rich and definitely worth queuing for.
Within walking distance of the first-ever ramen joint to be awarded the coveted star, Nakiryu has a simpler queue system and a very different ramen style, as well as a cup-noodle version if you’re after a mini-taster.
The menu is one of the cheapest Michelin menus in the world—with the signature dish of tantanmen costing only ¥850 (the cheapest bowl on the menu).
Tantanmen noodles are a take on dan-dan noodles, a spicy Szechuan dish which features minced pork, plenty of Szechuan pepper and chili oil for a kick. As the signature dish, we recommend you try one of their variations—it will set the bar for future tantanmen incredibly high, but it’s worth it. They have a whole host of other options including less spicy ones too, so whatever you’re ramen preference, you’ll be more than happy at Nakiryu.
Following the announcement in December 2016, the already-challenging queue sizes grew and waiting times can now reach up to two hours. While it can be a long while to wait, every time your faith wavers you’ll be dragged back by the enticingly aromatic smells which escape every time the door is opened, and you’re reminded what it is you’re waiting for. Following a last-minute, Sunday-night decision and speedy bike ride, we were allowed to join the end of the line for the final servings of the night, and much time-killing ensued.
The queue begins at the door, where two optimistic seats are inevitably filled, and files back before being split into a second section across the road. They are open between 11:30am and 3pm for lunch, and then 6pm and 9pm for dinner. If you arrive late in the evening and there is a red sign, it means you have missed the final serving cut-off and must return another day. Thankfully, ramen is a pretty speedy eat, so it’s quicker than waiting for people to finish a traditional meal—but still a decent wait.
The menu at Nakiryu
Featuring a pretty extensive menu, there are a few stand-out dishes that they’re known for, but also enough variation to keep everyone happy. Ramen-wise it’s the tantanmen that draws the crowds, and there are four versions to choose from: regular, spicy, tsukemen (cold dipping noodles) and sanramen, a spicy and sour combination which is pretty addictive.
There are also a selection of shoyu ramen which have a soy-sauce base and shio ramen which is salt based with interesting options like salt and pickled plum. These are lighter and un-spicy options too, so it’s great if you don’t like heat.
In summer, there are tsukemen options for the tantanmen and shoyu noodles, which is cold noodles dipped in a sauce—it’s super refreshing and an interesting combination with the spice of tantanmen.
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Be aware that there are a few rules regarding orders—each person can only order one bowl to ensure more customers can try the ramen, but you can choose to add a kaedama or oomori to your bowl. These are extra servings of noodles cost ¥100. A kaedama is for the tantanmen, and oomori is for ramen and tsukemen. If you order the sanramen you cannot add additional noodles.
The toppings and side section should definitely not be ignored—with the chashu (braised pork) and soy-dipped egg, your bowl can be taken to whole new levels of deliciousness. At lunch, a small bowl of rice topped with diced pork makes a fantastic addition and is only ¥150.
Ordering: The final decision
Like most ramen spots, you order using a ticket machine located just inside the shop. There isn’t any English but you can compare the prices with that of the menu and then narrow it down by kanji comparison if you still aren’t sure—or ask the staff of course. The tantanmen is the top left corner—only ¥850! And toppings are below, but it’s pretty simple to figure out. Once you have your tickets, hand them over and take a seat, watching as the ingredients are added one-by-one to your bowl.
Finally, after hours loitering on a street corner taunted by the smell of your soon-to-be dinner, you’ll have a bowl of golden noodles placed in front of you. Stay calm. A small mountain of perfectly firm noodles rise up from the rich soup, topped with minced pork that melts in the mouth. While normally coated in a red, oily sauce, the tatanmen of Nakiryu are perfectly yellow, but the flavor is all there.
The noodles are handmade in house using wheat flour which gives them a certain chewy bite—perfect for slurping with a coating of the flavorful soup. While it is pretty spicy, I wouldn’t be overly concerned, the noodles help and it’s a mellow sauce—certainly not overpowered with chili like plenty of bowlfuls are.
Possibly the only thing that can be added to the already perfectly balanced dish without spoiling it is Sansho—an incredibly aromatic powdered Szechuan pepper which you’ll be sprinkling with glee after your first try.
Depending on your additional toppings, you can try the sliced pork, the perfectly soft egg or the fresh wonton—although this goes better with the shio or shoyu options.
The shoyu ramen we tried was light but had a real depth of flavor, going perfectly with the soy-dipped egg and wonton. This is perfect if you don’t like spice as much or if you’re after a lighter dish perhaps in summer.
Nakiryu is in a great spot close to a few different train stations and only one stop away from fellow-Michelin winner Tsuta. The most accessible and one of the closest is Otsuka which is on the JR Yamanote loop line and is only 5 minutes from Nakiryu.
Alternatively, Shin-Otsuka is on the Marunouchi Metro Line and is also only 5 minutes away, on the other side of Nakiryu. If you happen to be on the Toden-Arakawa tram line, you can hop off at Mukohara Station which is only a few minutes away.