There’s no denying that ramen has experienced a populist surge in recent decades, evolving from a daily Japanese diet staple first introduced in the 19th century to a global, cult-like craze that’s been developed and documented by the Western world with more gusto than the Hong Kong Observatory during summer typhoon season.
Given our relatively close proximity to Japan, we’re lucky to be blessed with top-notch Japanese imports as well as a handful of our own aspiring ramen makers. From classic tonkotsu–style broths to shoyu bases and tsukemen varieties, Hong Kong’s ramen scene has it all.
But what separates the good from the great? In an effort to narrow the playing field, we scoured the city to seek out bowls that nail all the essential components of great ramen: a well-seasoned stock, springy noodles and flavourful toppings, from soft-yolked eggs to melt-in-your-mouth tender pork belly. Without further ado, here’s our list of the city’s best ramen-yas for you to slurp your way through the city.
Butao was quickly deemed the “King of Ramen” when it burst on the scene in 2010 and now, seven years down the line, it’s still killing the ramen game with lines that snake out the door at all hours of the day. It used to be a strictly “you snooze, you lose” situation with 200 limited quantities served up daily, but with a total of five locations now around town and an increased daily quota, it’s likely you’ll get your ramen fix with a trip to Butao — although you should still be prepared to queue.
Choose your own adventure when it comes to the menu, with four varieties available (HK$89–$96 per bowl): Butao King (tonkotsu pork bone broth), Black King (tonkotsu black squid-ink soup base), Red King (spicy miso broth) and Green King (a fusion broth with basil, pesto and Parmesan cheese). You can designate your strength of broth, noodle texture, and add more toppings for a fully customised bowl. We love the dark squid-ink broth, which is fortified with fermented black beans and slicked with black garlic oil for a distinct and powerful flavour.
This premium ramen shop remains a bit of hidden secret, tucked away on a side street in Happy Valley. But anyone who’s dined here will give high praise to the meticulously crafted bowls which transform a humble dish into a proper art form. While the “chicken soup” ramen will set you back HK$138, the refined bowl is well worth it: The slow-simmered broth boasts a clean flavour while still feeling rich and silky in texture, with a frothy layer on top resembling cappuccino foam. The ramen is finished off with two golden soft-boiled egg halves, thin fat-streaked slices of roasted pork and a tangle of fried burdock root that adds an earthy, crunchy component. Zagin also serves an excellent tsukemen-style ramen for those who prefer dipping their noodles rather than slurping them from hot broth.
Zagin Soba, G/F, 13A King Kwong Street, Happy Valley, Hong Kong, +852 2818 0322
Following the closure of Hong Kong’s own MIST, Tsuta holds the prestigious title of being the world’s first Michelin-starred ramen joint, but there’s really only one way to tell if it’s deserving of the distinction — head over to the 20-seat ramen bar and judge for yourself. A word of warning: The aromatic bowls (HK$98–$149) are given a flavour boost from enhancers such as truffle oil and green olive purée, so it may not be the first choice for ramen purists. However, there’s no denying that the bowls are distinctly palatable, from the shoyu soy-based ramen made from simmering whole chickens, seafood, and three different types of shoyu; to the more unconventional shio (salt-based) ramen, with the addition of red onions, mint and green olive purêe. Both are complemented by thick, flavourful slabs of char siu, a soft marinated egg and smooth, slippery noodles that are, texturally speaking, some of the best in Hong Kong.
Tsuta, No. 2, G/F, V Point, 18 Tang Lung Street, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, +852 3188 2639
Hokkaido Ramen Santouka
This Hokkaido import is where you’ll want to head for the miso-style ramen originated in northern Japan, popularly consumed with thick, wavy noodles to capture the little bits of fermented bean paste. The red miso is especially popular here (HK$64–$88 depending on size), with a top layer of chilli oil (made with three different types of chillies) that coats each strand in a spicy film as you lift the noodles from the bowl to your mouth. Although tender and thickly sliced, the char siu here can lack flavour compared to other ramen shops around town, which is why we prefer the spicy red miso over the original. Pair the fiery bowl with an order of pan-fried gyoza or negimeshi, Santouka’s signature bowl of warm white rice topped with dried bonito flakes, nori and diced green onions.
Ramen Santouka, Shop 608, 6/F, iSquare, 63 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong, +852 2721 1298
Ippudo is Japan’s largest ramen chain, now with over 100 locations worldwide from Seoul to New York. Thankfully, the famed noodle purveyors still manage to maintain their rigorous standards across all locations, including four that have popped up in Hong Kong. Each bowl remains a product of a laborious, handcrafted process — and with prices starting at HK$68 a bowl (HK$42 for a half portion), this ramen-ya is also one of the most wallet-friendly in town.
The noodles here are the major selling point — made to different thicknesses according to the Hakata style of ramen, so you can choose from ultra-thin noodles boasting an al dente springiness up to extra-thick strands which are ideal for soaking up richer broths. We’re big fans of the Shiromaru, featuring a milky, porky soup base, as well as the Akamaru, with a spoonful of red “Umami Dama” miso paste that adds a sweet-spicy depth. Each bowl comes with the add-ons of slow-roasted pork, egg and seaweed, and you can also choose your noodle texture, ranging from soft to extra firm. Lastly, keep an eye out for the seasonal inventions: currently, there’s a “cool” uni bowl (HK$138) on offer featuring a light, French consommé-style stock swimming with lobes of briny sea urchin and bright salmon roe.
It was a happy day indeed amongst local ramen lovers when Ichiran opened its first Hong Kong outlet in Causeway Bay back in 2013 — that is, until the record-breaking queue kicked in. The ramen shop once had a continuous queue of customers for a stretch of 196 hours, a wait which was beat earlier this summer when Ichiran debuted in Taipei, where the queue lasted for 240 hours.
While we don’t condone waiting any longer than an hour for your ramen fix, there’s no denying that Ichiran packs a mean bowl (HK$89), from the savoury, full-bodied pork bone dashi broth to the straight, slippery noodles and the addictive secret spicy sauce that’s spooned over the top. There’s also the joy of being able to DIY your own bowl: choose your noodle texture, flavour and richness of broth, and add-ons (no garlic, egg, extra green onion and char siu for us). The individual booth–style seating makes eating at Ichiran a distinctly solitary experience — no distractions save for the audible slurps and sighs of fellow ramen lovers in happy pursuit of noodle enlightenment. If this all sounds too good to endure a long wait during prime eating times, keep in mind that Ichiran is open 24 hours a day so you can slip right in at any odd hour of the night.
Rather confusingly renamed from Kamitora Ramen a few years ago, Ichitora Ramen serves a classic street-side bowl of ramen without any added fuss or fanfare: an opaque, rich kotteri–style broth infused with the flavour of emulsified pork fat, featuring equal parts Japanese menma (bamboo), kikurage (black fungus mushroom) and diced green onion, topped off with a wobbly egg boasting a liquid centre.
While all bowls use the same stock base (a variation of pork bones, seafood, vegetables and dried bonito broth simmered for a minimum of 12 hours), you can switch things up with the Akatora, featuring a spicy miso paste; garlic oil-infused Chatora; or the Kurotora, slicked with black garlic oil for a deliciously dark and umami-rich broth. Our go-to order is the Akatora (HK$95) with curly noodles and a soft-boiled ajitama egg add-on (plus HK$10): A mess of springy noodles lurks beneath generous slices of lean yet flavourful char siu, black fungus and bamboo in a lip-smacking red miso broth that leaves just a slight tingle on the lips.
If you’re in search of the city’s best tsukemen (“dipping ramen”), look no further than Shugetsu, a Central stalwart since opening in 2015 (it now has a second location in Quarry Bay). The popular order here arrives as a golden-yellow tangle of thick-style noodles mounded on a plate with a delicate soft-boiled egg. In a separate bowl is the deeply flavoured shoyu broth, the result of a long boil of bones with sardines, mackerel and kelp to add a distinct fishiness and funkiness to the broth.
Twirl the chewy strands around your chopsticks with a bit of egg and pork and dunk the whole lot in the extraordinarily rich broth for a satisfying DIY bite. One of the advantages of tsukemen is that you don’t have to rush to finish the noodles before they lose their chew and bounce — although with noodles this good, chances are you’ll finish them just as quickly anyways. Once the noodles are gone, ask for “soup wari” to dilute the remaining broth so you can finish drinking it.
Shugetsu, G/F, 5 Gough Street, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2850 6009