When you live in an area that others from afar would travel to, you tend to take that location and all its treasures for granted after a while. This was the case with the local ramen place that I frequent; I didn’t even realize this until I found myself recommending it to friends flying in from overseas who desired delicious ramen. I instinctively found myself saying, “We could pop by Manrikiya after our de rigueur Tokyo Tower visit.”
Manrikiya is situated along the main street of Azabu-Juban. Its appearance is very old-school Japanese, from another era. I find myself conjuring up images of Kawagoe, as the vibe is the same. The restaurant stands next to a Japanese seafood izakaya, another establishment with a similar feel and vibe. I appreciate the contrast between the ramen place and the surroundings: a fur coat boutique, a sake store next door, and Starbucks across the road.
As you enter, you can tell that the restaurant tries to instill humor and get a good laugh, as there is a turned-over barrel of sake at the entrance with a sign that reads, “Take free bottle of sake, let us know.” The wall inside is painted with a slogan declaring that “beer refreshes you after work.” I find this funny and charming, and it adds to the casual but fun and playful vibe of this ramen izakaya.
The menu is vast and reasonably priced. Nearly all ramen options are under or approximately ¥1,000. They’ve got all the classics, such as the braised pork noodle soup (¥930), hot and spicy thick noodle soup (¥1,050), shrimp wonton ramen (¥1,050), stir-fried green leek noodle soup (¥890), and my favorite, tantanmen (spicy sesame noodle soup, ¥930).
Other items on the menu are grilled and steamed dishes, salads, gyoza, and fried rice. Some of their specialties include steamed chicken with sesame sauce (¥840), grilled herbal chicken (¥840), stir-fried pork, and cabbage with spicy miso sauce and fried gyoza (¥480). The fried gyoza is delicious and gigantic, and its shape non-traditional—it’s shaped like Spanish churros. I always feel like I’m just about to eat churros con chocolate, and am surprised by the savory notes. Be prepared to leave bursting with fullness.
I opt for the tantanmen. The aroma hits me before anything else. I’m so impatient to try the ramen that I find myself staring at other patrons’ ramen bowls. Discreetly, of course. But, longingly.
My bowl arrives and I am desperate to try it. Although everything cautions me to wait—the broth is boiling hot and steaming, the noodles are thick—I’m ready to burn my lips in order to taste it as soon as possible. The broth is heavy and dark, noodles thick and entangled, and the seasoning spicy and infused with sesame. Ground meat and scallions top the ramen, and the sesame seeds add a nutty flavor. Spicy comfort in a soup.
I eat it three times: visually, before I savour it; when I actually devour it; and after I do, I imagine it once again. The strong spices and sesame flavor leave me wanting more.
The vibe is casual and quirky, and the food is executed with style and precision.
A plastic clock hangs on one wall and diagonally above it, a grandfather clock. Another clock made from a vinyl record hangs on the other side. A mini Coca Cola refrigerator sits on the counter, containing everything but Coca-Cola. Next to it is a fish tank and the unexpected turtles. The interior is eclectic, quirky, and charming. The vibe is casual, playful, and fun, evoking nostalgia. The food is top-notch. Heaven for ramen lovers.
I challenge you to find your local favorites this week, and then recommend them to friends and strangers, so they can have the pleasure of getting to know your neighborhood, too.
Manrikiya. 2-3-2 Azabu-Juban, Minato-ku. Tel:03-5452-5510. Nearest station: Azabu-Jūban.