Ramen may be the craze overseas but in its home country, it is udon that takes the title of everyman’s noodles.
Characteristically thick, chewy, and by itself flavorful, udon noodles are made from wheat flour and is usually served with broth and side dishes. It is the go-to inexpensive meal of every Japanese home and in large cities like Tokyo, udon shops are scattered everywhere.
Shinjuku being one of Tokyo’s busiest commercial districts and a major transportation hub has a high concentration of these noodle restaurants. If you feel like slurping udon like a local, here are 10 Udon Shops in Shinjuku you might want to try:
1. Shin (慎)
Udon is all about noodle quality, and what they’re serving at Shin are in-house and hand-made noodles, cut and boiled fresh only upon the order is made. This is as fresh as it can get and this certainly is udon at its finest. The best way to enjoy the premium texture of Shin’s udon is to order it Zaru-style – boiled noodles served separately with the broth. Customers say that it’s so tasty and chewy, you don’t want it to leave your mouth!
It’s no wonder that despite its obscure location – an alleyway that’s a good 10-minute walk from Shinjuku South Station, Shin attracts a large number of Tokyoites. The shop itself can only seat ten customers at a time, so better be ready to wait in a line.
Address: 2-20-16 Yoyogi Shibuya Tokyo
Website: http://www.udonshin.com/ (Japanese only)
2. Tokyo Mentsudan (東京麺通団)
Tokyo Mentsudan is a self-service restaurant that specializes in Sanuki Udon – noodles from Kagawa Prefecture and one of the most loved varieties in Japan, and a bowl here is enjoyable from the minute you start to order.
It’s a 3-step process which starts with selecting your udon dish based on your preferred size, temperature, and style of preparation. Next station is an impressive smorgasbord of side dishes and toppings from salads, rice balls, to more than 15 types of tempura, ranging from 50 to 200 yen a piece. Last stop is the payment counter where you can also find a selection of free toppings like spring onions, and the broth station so that you will only get to add the soup just right before you eat.
Dining arrangement is cafeteria-style so there’s enough room even for groups.
Address: 7-9-15 Nishishinjuku Shinjuku Tokyo
Website: http://www.mentsu-dan.com/ (Japanese only)
3. Sangokuichi (三国一 東口店)
Sangokuichi has three restaurants, all of them in Shinjuku, and what sets them apart from all the udon offerings out there is their creative take on this traditionally simple dish at very reasonable prices. In this restaurant, you will find items like carbonara udon, udon salad, and even buta kimchi udon (pork with kimchi). On top of that, they also have various regional udon recipes on the menu.
Address: 3-24-8 Shinjuku Shinjuku Tokyo
4. Tsurutontan (つるとんたん)
If you have a big appetite, you might find your match at this restaurant. Tsurotontan serves their udon in gigantic bowls bigger than the size of your head. Choose from their menu, which features a somewhat luxurious line-up of udon dishes – from traditional recipes to ones that make use of seasonal ingredients. There are more than 30 kinds of these noodle dishes and if you feel like eating more, there are a variety of other a la carte dishes like sashimi.
Tsurutontan indeed goes stylish with their food, and it is the same treatment when it comes to the restaurant’s ambiance. Staffs are often dressed in kimono while the in-store design concept varies with each of its 12 branches in Tokyo and Osaka. Udon may be Japan’s everyman’s noodle, but eating it at Tsurutontan takes it a couple of notches higher.
Address: 2-26-3 Kabukicho Shinjuku Tokyo
Website: http://www.tsurutontan.co.jp/ (Japanese only)
5. Suizan (水山)
Suizan is located at the basement floor of Kinokuniya Bookstore, at an underpass with a direct access to Shinjukusanchome subway station. Typical of establishments that cater to commuters, dining here is a quick affair but nevertheless good. Besides udon, rice bowl dishes are also served.
Address: B1F Kinokuniya Building 3-17-7 Shinjuku Shinjuku Tokyo
Website: http://www.sagami.co.jp/suizan-menu/ (Japanese only)
6. Marugame Seimen (丸亀製麺 新宿)
Marugame Seimen is a chain of Sanuki specializing udon shops with over 800 stores across Japan, 65 of which are in Tokyo alone. Despite being a fast-food chain, they are known for their fresh homemade noodles because all of their branches are equipped with noodle-making machines.
At this noodle shop, you get to build your udon bowl just the way you like it in some sort of an “assembly line”. Select your base udon dish first, then your toppings, and finally your choice of tempura or rice ball side dish. To best enjoy the texture of Sanuki noodles, Marugame Seimen recommends Kamaage Udon-style – noodles served with hot water, placed in a wooden bowl, and accompanied by a hot dipping sauce.
Address: 3-5-3 Shinjuku Shinjuku Tokyo
Website: http://www.toridoll.com/ (Japanese only)
7. Hanamaru Udon (はなまるうどん)
Like Marugame Seimen, Hanamaru is another leading Sanuki Udon fast-food chain with 375 outlets. Aside from being delicious and affordable, Hanamaru’s menu items are healthier. For instance, their noodles have more dietary fiber while their tempura uses rice flour in their batter, thus cutting calories by half and absorbing less oil. This is the ideal fast-food restaurant for the health-conscious.
Address: 1 Chome-12-1 Nishishinjuku Shinjuku Tokyo
8. Rakugama Seimenjo (楽釜製麺所)
Another fast-food udon shop to check out is Rakugama. They also offer Sanuki udon and ordering is much the same way as the two previous chain restaurants on this list. Their popular dishes include Kamaage Udon, Curry Udon, and Kamadama Udon (udon with clear broth and raw egg).
Address: 1-12-6 Nishishinjuku Shinjuku Tokyo
Website: http://www.sankofoods.com/shop/rakugama/ (Japanese only)
9. Sururi (するり)
Sururi has a lot of udon dishes on its menu but the scene stealer has to be its original Udon sashimi. This meal only comes with spring onions, radish, and wasabi, but really, the best way to enjoy this is to do away with the condiments. These bite-sized strips noodles are enjoyable on their own.
Address: 1-2-9 Kabukicho Shinjuku Tokyo
Website: http://www.testajapan.com/sururi/index.html (Japanese only)
10. Kanoya (かのや)
Kanoya is an Udon and Soba restaurant known for its additive-free and handmade noodles. It’s a simple shop that lets you order from a ticket machine, which will then be served hot within minutes. Most popular among its dishes is the curry udon, where the noodles are a good match to balance the strong flavors of its curry broth.
Address: 3-36-2 Shinjuku Shinjuku Tokyo
Website: http://www.kanoya-g.jp/soba.html (Japanese only)
Information in this article is as of July 2016. Refer to the official websites for the latest information.
Thumbnail image is from Flickr.