Favorite Places // Afuri
Ramen preferences are like this weird, deeply personal thing. I have discovered in my time here in Tokyo that no two ramen shops are alike, and one's affinity for shop A over shop B is rooted in a careful consideration of all the components: the noodles (straight and thin or wavy and thick?), the broth (rich or light?), the tare (shoyu, miso, shio or tonkotsu?), and the toppings (this list could go on forever). Hell, even the setting in which you'll be slurping is important (is conversation permitted?).
Personally, I don't discriminate when it comes to ramen - I love it all. You'll often find me dining on packaged konbini (convenience store) ramen, and I've also risen at 6AM to get a coveted ticket for the world's only Michelin-starred ramen (which I was forbidden from photographing). The point is: all of it is good. But there's one place that I always come back to; one place that we bring every visitor who crosses that vast ocean to come see us. That place is Afuri.
The first thing you'll notice about Afuri is that it's not a traditional ramen joint. In fact, Afuri is a bit of a ramen rebel. The interior of their restaurants are hip and industrial. There's often a TV in the corner that's playing a movie about transient surfers riding waves somewhere in Oceania. And the differences don't simply lie in restaurant decor - the menu here steps a little outside the box as well.
Afuri's signature dish infuses the traditional shio (salt) and shoyu (soy sauce) broth bases with the crisp citrus flavor of the aromatic yuzu fruit. It's a delightful, unexpected flavor combination, and it was that distinct umami taste which put Afuri on the map when their doors first opened over 10 years ago. If yuzu doesn't appeal to you - don't fret. The shop also offers fruitless versions of the tried-and-true shio and shoyu broths for traditionalists.
My go-to order at Afuri is always their tsukemen. Tsukemen noodles are of the thicker and chewier variety, but the biggest difference is that they're served separate from the broth, alongside a "dipping soup." This is a great option if you happen to be dining on a sweltering summer day, when downing a piping hot bowl of broth is as desirable as a non-air conditioned Tokyo train car.
Irregardless of your choice in noodle or broth, you can expect your bowl at Afuri to arrive dressed with half of a perfectly gooey nitamago (soft boiled egg), a generous helping of savory chashu (pork, either flame-grilled slices or simmered pork belly cubes), a pile of peppery fresh mizuna, a bit of dashi-simmered menma (bamboo shoots), and last but not least, the mandatory shredded nori (seaweed). If heat is your thing, check out the spicy variations of Afuri's ramen and tsukemen.
As far as refreshments go, you'll only find one on the menu here: Ashai's Kohaku no Toki. This hard-to-find beer is available on tap at Afuri and shouldn't be passed up on during your visit. Seriously, I don't even like beer - but I like this beer.
Perhaps it's the American in me that loves Afuri for being a non-conformist in a society that encourages sameness - but mostly I just really dig their ramen.
Location: There are currently seven locations in Tokyo and one in Yokohama - you can find the full list here. The original location - and my personal favorite - is in Ebisu (1F 117 Bld., 1-1-7 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku).
Hours: Vary by location, but you can generally expect 11AM into the wee morning hours (3AM to 5AM). All locations are open 7 days a week.
Cost: ¥880 to ¥1,350 JPY ($8.50 to $13 USD) per person; cash only
***No reservations. Seats are on a first come, first serve basis.
Note: This article is available in the form of a GPS-enabled map with offline navigation. Click here to download and receive turn-by-turn walking directions to Afuri - no data plan or WIFI required!
P.S. If you're on the hunt for ramen outside of Tokyo, check out the Lucky Peach Guide to the Regional Ramen of Japan.