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Japanese Soba Noodles Tsuta: Don’t let the name fool you, this is the best ramen in northern Tokyo

by Robbie Swinnerton

Special To The Japan Times

Is ramen Japanese or Chinese? That particular question is clearly a non-starter for the good folks at Japanese Soba Noodles Tsuta — whose name stakes out their position. But, to clarify things, you won’t find buckwheat noodles in their bowls; what you get is arguably the finest ramen in northern Tokyo. Plenty of others rate the Sugamo shop, too, judging from the line outside. Count on a good half hour in the queue, whatever the weather — though there is shelter.

It’s worth the wait. There are four basic options to choose from: ramen or tsukemen — that’s soba or tsukesoba, in their terminology — in either a shio (salt) or shōyu (soy sauce) soup. Quality and flavor are paramount here. The noodles are stone-ground from four kinds of wheat and the soup is a chicken-seafood blend. The seasonings, toppings and umami-boosting condiments are all righteous, and there are no chemical enhancers. It all adds up to a very superior slurp.

The only negative is that Tsuta isn’t open past 4 p.m. But that has been addressed now a branch has opened on the north side of Sugamo Station. Called Tsuta no Ha (03-3916-7115; open 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m., 6-9 p.m.; Sat. Sun. and hols. 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; closed Mon.), its specialty is duck, used in both the rich soup, as a chashu-style topping, or ground up in a terrific spicy chili duck ramen. Highly recommended.