Why you should run, not walk, to Ramen Takahashi in Tokyo, Japan
I had researched some late-night ramen spots in advance knowing we would be arriving late to Tokyo, tired and in need of a warm, comforting meal. I was leading us towards my pre-designated ramen spot and when we arrived, let's just say, I was underwhelmed by the ambience. As luck would have it, we spotted a line of locals outside of a sleek looking building with a vending machine out front. I had an instinct that this was "a thing." I wearily approached the first person standing facing the line, who happened to be holding a folder/clipboard of some sort and I literally thought he was the bouncer of the ramen joint. I asked him something along the lines of what is the process for getting in and he shook his head and laughed in my face along with the first two people in line. My heart sank, and my mind raced back to all the NYC clubs I had been rejected from in my early 20s, and the feeling that I wasn't "pretty enough", "thin enough", "rich enough", and so on. But this was freaking RAMEN, what was I thinking? Luckily, a nice man further down the line who spoke English instructed us as to how to get our tickets from the vending machine and offered to help us order. I politely DECLINED at first, so embarrassed from before and thinking I didn't deserve to be there. My boyfriend thought I was crazy and made us take the nice man up on the offer. He helped us choose a couple classic shoyu (miso) ramens and we got our tickets and headed back to the line. It moved quickly and we felt so excited just to have found it! I quickly realized that the first three young men in line were non-English speaking patrons that simply didn't have the means to help me or answer my question, and no this random ramen place did not have a bouncer haha.
We made it to the front of the line and handed a nice man who did in fact work there our tickets, we entered the tiny shop and we were seated at two stools on the end of a small bar. I was struck by how quiet the room was, most people were there solo or in small groups. None of the typical chit-chat or raucous level of noise that you find in NYC restaurants. It felt so peaceful and almost like a part of the sensory experience. Because you order at the vending machine with tickets, there's no real menu or discussion process once you're inside. There were various accoutrement lined up along the bar that I delicately explored as I watched others around me slurp up their ramen bowls with a speedy comfort. We were certainly the only tourists there but made to feel welcome nonetheless. Watching the chefs prepare each bowl of ramen was like dinner and a show. They are clad in aprons and rain boots to protect their feet as they slap the freshly cooked noodles out of the water, splashing ramen water over the floor. Each piece of pork is tended to delicately with chopsticks and a flame torch. Some of the pork fat is strained back into the broth to create little glistening bubbles which float at the top. Blink. Our ramen bowls were up! Huge bowls filled with thick cut, hand-made ramen noodle, toothsome and chewy, the best ramen noodle I've ever had. The broth is rich, yet delicate, with the right amount of depth and saltiness. The pork is tender and melts in your mouth. But to be honest, the thing that actually blew me away was the bowl was topped with chopped raw, white onions. The combination of the crunchy onion cutting through the rich broth was practically genius, and to this day I have not had another like it. This is why you will run, not walk to Ramen Takahashi in Tokyo. I wrote in my "journal" aka on my instagram story that night "I am so surprised by the sounds of this city - bustling without being loud, and yet inside this shop it's quiet and warm, only the sounds of faint conversation heard between the slurps and slaps of ramen broth."