Tokyo Part 12: Tsuta Ramen — Worth the Queue?

Will you queue for a bowl of ramen at 730am? If you want a bowl of Tsuta’s Michelin-starred ramen, then you better get your butt in line behind me. I actually woke up early TWICE for this. On a Wed morning, I was brisk-walking halfway to the train station when it struck me that I’d better check that it was open. Nope. Closed on Wednesday. 🤦🏻‍♀️ Fortunately, we were still in Tokyo for the week so we could return the next day.

Tip: ALWAYS check the opening hours before you plan. Also, schedule your visits to popular or Michelin-starred restaurants early on your trip, as you may not get your seat on your first try.

Tsuta is located in the housing area in Sugamo, just 5 minutes away from Sugamo Station. I Google-mapped my way, still managed to get lost, and it took 15 minutes and help from a kind local before I finally saw this beautiful sight.

Quickly join the queue! The door usually opens at 8am.

Pretty sure there were at least 4 other Singaporeans in the queue. Here’s where it gets complicated: we were not actually in the queue to eat yet.

This sign explains how the Tsuta system works. The morning queue is for you to pick up numbered tickets, which are coloured according to your session. You can choose any slot you want.

White = 11am

Light blue = 12pm

Blue = 1pm

Green = 2pm

Yellow = 3pm

The restaurant only seats 9 people. One person can queue and pick up passes for as many people as you want, so really, all you need is one foodie willing to be the sacrificial lamb. Pay ¥1000 per pass, which is refundable when you return for your meal.

The light blue 12pm slot was all snatched up by the time I reached the head of the queue. I got 2 whites (11am) and 1 blue (1pm) but the kind dude told me all of us can come at 1130am. Phew.

This was the sight that greeted us at 1130am — more queueing as we waited to troop into the restaurant in turns.

Tsuta is located in a residential block and over excited tourists, please keep your volume down.

Meanwhile, check out the menu on the wall and be ready with your order.

Established in 2012, it only took Tsuta three years before it earned its one Michelin star in 2015, the first ramen restaurant in the world to earn the honours.

Get your money ready (cash only) to order your food at their machine.

This was when they returned me the ¥1000 each in exchange for my coloured cards. After ordering, we returned to the queue to wait for seats to open up at the tiny 9-seater restaurant.

While your stomach growls for ramen, you can contemplate if you should shell it ¥3500 to bring home an exclusive Tsuta ramen bowl.

We finally made it in! We get 3 seats nearest to the door, a little too far from the action, unfortunately.

A peek at the cooking process.

A row of hungry men slurping up ramen. Service is fast and customers tend to eat and run to make room for the next batch. Tourists, feel free to take your pics but don’t hog the seats please. And snap fast, cos the noodles really should be eaten piping hot.

This is where the magic happens.

Our bowls finally arrived!

#1 pick: The signature Charsiu Wonton Ajitama Shoyu Soba (¥1650 or S$20.30). Definitely our favourite because the earthy, hearty broth added more layers to the chewy noodles. The thinly sliced pork was slightly pink and melt-in-mouth tender and there was plenty of cabbage to soak up that kick-ass broth. “Very tasty!” declared my 10-year-old son Ayden aka our junior food critic.

The Shio and White Truffle bowl (¥1650) was also good, though the broth was lighter. If you plan to order this and the black truffle one, eat this first.

Both bowls came with wonton but I have to say, I wasn’t impressed by them. Definitely had better wonton in Hong Kong and Singapore.

The Tsuke Soba, (¥1200), which reminded us of a thicker, chewier mee pok, came with a Porcini-flavoured shoyu dipping sauce that was so rich, it looked scarily jelak (thick) at first sight. But it coated each fat noodle beautifully and every mouthful was like savoury silk in your mouth.

The servings were huge! My hubby Alan gamely ate up every last strand as we don’t like to insult the chefs by leaving unfinished bowls. And they were goooood.

My only complaint was the onsen egg, which is my favourite part of any ramen meal. Eh! Where’s my wobbly yolk? This looks almost hard-boiled.

Full bellies and satisfied smiles all around.

Spare a moment to admire their many trophies, including the multiple Michelin star awards, of course.

I made a mental note to buy their instant ramen, but I FORGOT!! Urgh.

They’d have made great souvenirs for my family.

So, is Tsuta worth the hype and queue? Frankly, yes. Then again, my hotel in Shin-Okubo area (near Shinjuku) was just 4 JR stations away from Sugamo and a 20-minute journey, so I didn’t mind. But it would be a crazy early morning call for those living across the city.

Alternatively, to beat the morning queue, you could book a stay at this kitschy love hotel right opposite Tsuta. Hehehe.

I couldn’t read the Japanese sign but I think it’s called ‘A’ Hotel. They charge by the hour too.

A romp between the sheets followed by ramen. That’s your Tokyo love story right there.

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