• SHARE

Hunting down Japan’s best bowl of ramen, or lusting after some soba (buckwheat noodles), can feel like a national pastime, while the hearty bowl of udon often gets overlooked.

Udon is actually older than soba — the oldest of a long list of theories on how the noodle arrived in Japan dates the dish back to the Nara Period (710-94). Whether this is true or not, one thing’s for sure: By the beginning of the Edo Period (1603-1868), udon as we know it had become widespread across the country.

Today, an endless variety of udon can be found anywhere from convenience stores and chain eateries to tachikui (standing only) joints and specialist shops. The perfect quick meal, udon noodles are cheap, tasty and devoured throughout the year, often served alongside an array of fresh tempura and other accompaniments.

Chosen for flavorful broth, the all-important bounce of the noodles and the quality of the tempura sides, here are the best udon joints in Tokyo to satisfy your stomach.

Oniyanma

Tucked away under the train tracks near busy Gotanda Station in Shinagawa Ward, Oniyanma (named after an oversized dragonfly) is a humble shack-like spot that has gained a reputation for its low-priced yet delicious Sanuki-style udon — thick and chewy square-cut noodles hailing from Kagawa Prefecture.

Prices start around ¥300, with extra toppings from an additional ¥50. Select your bowl from the vending machine outside before heading in to find a space along the counter, collect your order, devour and go — most noodle joints don’t encourage lingering.

Given the low prices and casual atmosphere, it’s not uncommon to see people waiting outside. But don’t worry, the lunchtime rush is easily avoided: Most days, opening hours are from 7 a.m. all the way to 3 a.m., so everyone from early risers to night owls can get their fill.

Nishigotanda 1-6-3, Shinagawa-ku 141-0031; takeout available

Udon at On-ya is served in a light but smoky sardine-based tsuyu (broth) and can be accompanied by made-on-the-spot crispy tempura. | REBECCA SAUNDERS
Udon at On-ya is served in a light but smoky sardine-based tsuyu (broth) and can be accompanied by made-on-the-spot crispy tempura. | REBECCA SAUNDERS

On-ya

Small and secluded, it’s easy to pass On-ya without batting an eye. Located near Gakugei-Daigaku Station, the wood-fronted store opens up sometime around 11 a.m. and stays open until it has sold out — usually well before 2 p.m.

Inside, there’s space for only a handful of customers, and it can take some time for your udon to be served, but when it comes you won’t be rushing back to Hanamaru anytime soon.

The noodles here (Sanuki, of course) are perfectly sized, smooth yet chewy. They’re served in a light but smoky sardine-based tsuyu (broth) and can be accompanied by made-on-the-spot crispy tempura. The hiyashi kake (plain chilled udon with green onions) is relief for the tastebuds on a hot day. And it won’t break the bank, either: Udon starts from ¥500 per bowl; tempura, ¥100 apiece.

Takaban 2-20-19, Meguro-ku 152-0004; takeout available; bit.ly/onya-udon

Udon noodles topped with slices of pork and a tempura boiled egg from Udon Shin. | OSCAR BOYD
Udon noodles topped with slices of pork and a tempura boiled egg from Udon Shin. | OSCAR BOYD

Udon Shin

Nestled behind a sleek shop front near the Tokyo Metropolitan Building, Udon Shin is raved about on numerous foodie blogs. This udon fanatic mecca may be compact, but it packs a punch when it comes to taste and unadulterated springy texture.

The noodles here are cut and cooked fresh for each individual bowl — Udon Shin even goes as far as aging the dough overnight and optimizing boiling time depending on the day’s temperature and humidity. Talk about kodawari (dedicated commitment).

Prices range from ¥1,000 for dipping zaru udon (the traditionalist’s choice — all the chewiness with zero distraction) with crisp, golden vegetable tempura to ¥3,980 for kake (plain) udon with roast rib and yuzu citrus zest. But the care put into each bowl makes it worth the slightly higher price.

Yoyogi 2-20-16, Shibuya-ku 151-0053; 03-6276-7816; takeout not available; udonshin.com

The portion sizes of handmade noodles are large at Menki Yashima Maruyamacho, so come with an appetite | REBECCA SAUNDERS
The portion sizes of handmade noodles are large at Menki Yashima Maruyamacho, so come with an appetite | REBECCA SAUNDERS

Menki Yashima Maruyamacho

A little bit quirky, a little bit cool, Shibuya Ward’s Menki Yashima Maruyamacho is a hidden world of udon noodles, knick-knacks and retro curios. With two locations, (the second is in Tomigaya, steps from Yoyogi Park), Yashima has been filling stomachs with fresh-cut noodles since its first shop opened 80 years ago.

The handcrafted Sanuki udon is prepared before your eyes. Portions are large, so come with a healthy appetite, and indulge in the chewiness of the delightfully uneven noodles, richness of the broth and the thick battered goodness of the tempura.

Like many other top udon haunts in the city, you may have to wait. But ¥650 for a filling bowl of kake udon is not a bad way to spend your lunch money.

Maruyamacho 10-13, Shibuya-ku 150-0044; 03-6455-1533; takeout available

Maruka's house special is kake udon with chikuwa-ten (cylindrical fish cake) and plenty of green onion on the side. | ROBBIE SWINNERTON
Maruka’s house special is kake udon with chikuwa-ten (cylindrical fish cake) and plenty of green onion on the side. | ROBBIE SWINNERTON

Maruka

With its sleek, minimalist exterior and a doorway hung with a bold white noren curtain, Maruka stands out from the crowd. And if food review site Tabelog is anything to go by, it has been among the capital’s top 100 udon joints since 2017. Ultimately this means everyone wants to try it; go solo and you may be seated sooner. Orders are taken as you wait, and served inside where customers slurp elbow-to-elbow.

Bowls of warm kake udon are cheap (¥460), with additional sides adding up to no more than ¥1,000. The udon here is simple, soft and chewy, and the broth — made using dried sardines from the Seto Inland Sea for that authentic Sanuki touch — has a deep and delicious flavor. Tempura fans should try the kashiwaten (chicken tempura, ¥280), which is juicy and crunchy in all the right places.

Kanda Ogawamachi 3-16, Chiyoda-ku 101-0052; takeout not available

Honorable mentions

Located in Nerima Ward’s Oizumi Gakuen, Hasegawa is a local favorite for Musashino udon, (Tokyo’s own exceptionally wheaty, off-white noodle). Firm, thick noodles are cooked to order, accompanied by an umami-packed soup. There’s also a selection of home-cooked side dishes, such as tsukune (chicken meatballs) and potato salad (with house-made mayonnaise) to try. A further claim to fame: It was awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand four years running (2015-18).

Sumita has been a mainstay of Tokyo’s Sanuki udon scene since 1997. Tucked away on a quiet street close to Akabane Station in Kita Ward, this is one udon place that knows how to keep its customers happy. Queues start forming before it opens at 11 a.m.; once inside, hungry patrons tuck into satisfyingly filling kashiwa oroshi bukkake udon — noodles topped with grated daikon, sesame seeds, green onions, nori and chicken tempura.

And then there’s the simple, chewy and authentic Sanuki udon on the menu at Kuranosuke, situated around 15 minutes’ walk from Takadanobaba Station. Kuranosuke is famed for its grumpy staff, but despite the infamous service, udon fans keep coming back for the gentle iriko-dashi (dried sardine) broth and fresh, moreish tempura.

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.

SUBSCRIBE NOW

PHOTO GALLERY (CLICK TO ENLARGE)