Not too long ago, my friend BT (who introduced me to Ichiran Ramen) told me that I should try a ramen joint called Yamaguchi (やまぐち) near Waseda University, on the western side of the city. He said that it had been touted by a respected Japanese ramen expert as having “the ultimate chicken ramen,” and obviously I was intrigued. So a couple of days ago, I went down there with several friends to check it out. And wow, did my taste buds have a great day!
Like any eatery in Japan that is popular and small (in this case, there are only 13 seats around a U-shaped counter), you have to get there early if you don’t want to wait around too long for a seat during lunchtime. The shop opens at 11:30am and there were only a couple of seats open when we got there around 11:35am, so the four of us had to split up. Five minutes later, as I was sitting at the counter waiting for my food, there was a considerable line outside.
Even with every seat taken, Yamaguchi was strikingly quiet except for the enthusiastic slurping of noodles and some sporadic and hushed chit chat. Sure, many people were there by themselves and had no reason to talk to anyone else. But it reminded me of the atmosphere at Ichiran, where customers focus solely on enjoying the noodles, except the silence was not mandated nor actively promoted with partitions dividing each seat. People really seemed to be enthralled by Yamaguchi’s ramen.
Like many other ramen joints in Japan, you order via a vending machine at the front of the store which provides several chicken ramen choices. This includes the ramen with poached egg, with chicken “chashu,” a couple of ramen sets, tsukemen options, and several rice side dishes. I ordered the ramen with a slice of pork and a slice of chicken, plus kaedama (second helping of noodles).
The first thing that stands out about Yamaguchi’s ramen is the soup. It’s made from 100 percent chicken stock, perfectly blended with soy sauce and a few other ingredients to yield a salty but sublime tasting soup. My friend DT and I talked about how it reminded us in some ways of the multilayered beef stock at Matador, which we had visited a few months ago. But the layers of flavor in Yamaguchi’s broth overlapped with each other more.
The next thing that struck me was the meat. The pork was thinly sliced and cooked in liquid (probably the chicken stock). It had an amazing taste — the meat was slightly rare with a nice firmness, and the fat portion chewy and sweet. The chicken pleasantly surprised me for being completely succulent and tender throughout, with a soft and slippery texture on the outside.
Furthermore, the noodles were chewy, a little flat in shape, and went perfectly with the flavor of the soup. The pieces of menma (fermented bamboo shoots) were quite large compared to other ramen places, and had a satisfying crispness to them that is probably due in part to the size.
My three other friends ordered the recommended meal set, composed of the chicken ramen and a bowl of rice topped with seasoned pork. They later told me that I really should have ordered the set. The ramen had two pieces each of the pork and chicken. And on top of that, they raved about the pork rice bowl, which DT described as kind of like a pork carpaccio. It was seasoned with salt, pepper, vinegar, and apparently a spoonful of amazing.
At one point, as I slurped away at my noodles, I glanced over at my friend JP who was seated several feet away. He looked at me, broke into a big smile, and mouthed “THIS IS GREAT!!!”
Ultimate chicken ramen? Yeah, we were sold.
Location: 2-11-13 Nishi-Waseda, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
Business Hours: 11:30am – 3:00pm; 5:30pm-9:00pm. Closed on Mondays.
Getting There: Take the Tokyo Metro’s Futokoshin line to Nishi-Waseda. Walk north on Meiji Dori, then turn right on Waseda Dori and head east. It’s roughly a 10-12 minute walk from the metro station.