While we’d gladly eat ramen year round, it’s now the seasonally appropriate time to warm your cold, frozen insides and matching exterior with a steaming hot bowl of fragrant, fatty soup and chewy noodles known as ramen. What Toronto lacks in good quality sushi, it more than makes up for in its noodle bowls, many of its best spots hailing directly from Japan. Here are eight Japanese restaurants that pride themselves on serving one dish and one dish alone: delicious, steamy, hot ramen.
This worldwide ramen chain based in Japan's most northern island keeps the Downtown Core nourished, happy, and warm serving up shio (mild salt), shoyu (soy sauce flavour), and miso (soybean paste flavour) ramen. While the classic flavours are drool-worthy and world-renowned, we recommend the Toroniku Ramen, the house specialty. This ramen, served plain with garnishes and melt-in-your-mouth pork jowl served on the side, will almost make you forget the long outdoor wait even during the winter months.
Like most highly regarded ramen establishments in Toronto, Sansotei all but guarantees you'll face a long, cold outdoor wait on the sleety sidewalk of Dundas Street. Get there early and don’t let the lineup deter you -- the unique flavours at Sansotei will be the hot, steamy taste explosion that you’ve been waiting for all winter long. Try just about anything with its black garlic oil for that umami punch, and most importantly -- do not leave Sansotei without trying the Slow Cooked Spicy Wings as an appetizer. We guarantee a plate of them will change your life.
Downtown & Other Locations
Ajisen Ramen features more than 40 kinds of ramen on the menu, and is one of a few ramen shops in town that’s vegetarian-friendly. You’ll find broths from Miso to Kimchi to Curry, with customizable spice levels from 25-500 -- just keep in mind that when Ajisen says spicy, it means spicy. (You’ve been warned.) Not feeling ramen? Try the rib eye steak teppanyaki or garlic chicken wings.
Dundas & Other Locations
Kenzo was one of the first ramen shops on the scene in Toronto, opening its doors in 2003. It may not have the hype of its neighbour Sansotei, but you know what it also doesn’t have? The line up. Get seated right away at Kenzo and enjoy a bowl of its signature Tonkotsu, a rich, milky pork broth simmered for 24 hours, available in five varieties, from the potent black garlic to the subtler miso. The portions are huge, the service is efficient, and the gyoza is crisped and juicy -- you will wont for nothing at Kenzo.
This North American ramen chain was founded on the goal of making quality ramen as fast, easy, and accessible as pizza or a burger. Toronto’s Jinya prides itself on a loud, modern atmosphere with specialty snacks and a wide range of additional toppings for an entirely customizable ramen bowl. For something off the beaten track, try the Sprouting Up Ramen, a pork broth with green onions and Brussels sprouts, and the perfectly crisp and fluffy takoyaki, battered octopus balls with a mashed egg base.
Ramen Isshin is one of the few ace ramen joints outside the Downtown Core on this list, but this spot absolutely warrants the short trip to College and Bathurst -- you could literally order anything on this menu and have your tastebuds explode with happiness. Isshin’s Red Miso is the chef’s favourite and an absolute must-eat: the blend of red and white miso, wok-fried veggies, sake, and tonkotsu broth makes for a rich, golden broth served scalding hot over noodles. Plus, vegetarian friends rejoice: Isshin’s vegetarian broth compromises nothing by being meatless, perfectly mimicking the richness, flavour, and texture of the fatty tonkotsu.
With a house that seats around 70, there’s rarely a wait at Ramen Raijin, so head straight here if you’re hungry, freezing cold, and need your ramen fix ASAP. While it doesn’t have the worldly reputation that some of the other shops on this list boast, the popular Spicy Tonkotsu can hang with the best bowls out there. The real winner at Raijin are the noodles -- they'll always be served al dente, chewy, thick, and entirely slurpable.
Ramen Kyouka head Chef Kenji hails from Japan, where he apprenticed under Ramen Kyouka founder and pioneer, Mr. Machida. Tweaking “Kyouka-ism” for the Toronto palette, both GTA locations feature your typical shio and shoyu, but the secret treat is the exceptional broth in the Kyouka special ramen. It’s a powerful mix of pork, chicken, and kelp, producing a milky and rich flavour, topped with aromatic sesame oil and chili paste. It's well worth the streetcar ride to the Beaches.
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1. Hokkaido Ramen Santouka らーめん山頭火91 Dundas St E, Toronto
2. Sansotei Ramen 三草亭179 Dundas St. W, Toronto
3. Ajisen Ramen 味千ラーメン5229 Yonge St., Toronto
4. Kenzo Ramen138 Dundas St. W, Toronto
5. 陣 JINYA RAMEN BAR399 Church St, Toronto
6. Isshin Ramen 一心421 College St, Toronto
7. Ramen Raijin 雷神3 Gerrard St E, Toronto
8. Kyouka Ramen2222 Queen St E, Toronto
What started as a family-run, nine-seat restaurant in 1988 Asahikawa, Japan with one item on the menu (shio ramen), has grown into an international ramen empire spanning from Japan to Singapore and the U.S. to Canada. The same signature dish remains on the menu still: a white tonkotsu soup with a mild salt flavor topped with red pickled plum and roasted pork fillet. Versions with soy sauce, soybean paste, spicy soybean, and extra pork cater to your preference.
Downtown's Sansotei Ramen, one of three locations in the Toronto area, serves their bowls salty and steaming. The house specialty is slurp-worthy: Tonkotsu ramen topped with sliced pork belly and a soft-boiled egg. Those craving more than just the broth-y stuff can oder plates of pork gyoza, zangi (fried chicken) and ca-haw (fried rice) at bamboo tables in a fast-casual space that evokes nautical Japan with fisherman's rope hanging overhead and grey stone walls.
Ajisen's success is a testament to the international community's thirst for ramen (and love for the winking Anime girl mascot): the small, original ramen house started in Kumamoto, Japan in 1968 and now has more than 800 dining rooms around the world. The specialty bowl the noodle slinger has come to identify with is a white pork-based ramen from Southern Japan, though the menu covers some 40 varieties, incorporating curry, kimchi, miso and tomato. If you want to deviate from the bowl, opt for a sizzling tray of steak teppanyaki, fried gyoza or crispy spring rolls. The North York branch turns up the visuals, with hot pink seats (great for slurping in) and an illustrated menu, making choosing your preferred bowl a lot easier.
Kenzo Ramen’s soup broths are derived from the potent combination of two soup bases (a practice not commonly recreated outside of Japan): a dried seafood base and a pork and chicken bone base. But the ramen is more than just the sum of its broth parts; this ultra authentic stock is then stirred with long strands of thin, slippery noodles that are made daily and then aged overnight to unmask as much flavor as possible. Add a special house-made sauce that’s been fermented for three months, and there you have it: a Kenzo Ramen dish, landing in one of the menu’s “basic,” “hot,” “cuisine,” and “tonkotsu” ramen categories. Perhaps the favorite bowl is the King of Kings, which is spicy Netsu ramen topped with roasted pork, sliced egg, fish cake, fresh seaweed, dried seaweed, and one additional seasonal topping.
At Jinya Ramen Bar, the relationship between broth and noodles is so important that the restaurant’s motto is “No ramen, no life.” Jinya’s key to authentic Japanese ramen is its broth, which is slowly simmered for more than 10 hours, garnering flavors from whole pork bones, chicken bones, vegetables and ingredients like bonito, dashi, and kombu. The noodles that deftly sink to the bottom of the ramen bowl and absorb all of these heady flavors are aged for three days before they even see Jinya’s long, open dining room. Enjoy the noodle-broth relationship in incarnations like black or white tonkotsu ramen or Spicy Chicken Ramen, with chicken broth chicken chashu, spinach, spicy bean sprouts, Tokyo negi, green onion, and thin noodles.
Ramen Isshin, residing in Harbord Village away from the flurry of ramen outposts in Downtown's Core, is the go-to for Japanese soul food on College St. You can't pass on the red miso ramen, a mix of red and white miso adding flavor to wok-fried veggies swimming in sake and tonkotsu (pork) broth. Calligraphy adorns the walls here, setting a subtle Tokyo scene in the fast-casual space, as non-soup plates like rice bowls and fried chicken (karaage) supplement the soupy noodles coming hot from the open kitchen. Asahi beer makes a cooling, authentic addition to any meal.
Ramen Raijin offers a spacious alternative to smaller-scale competitors known for long wait times: the 70-seat space boasts a front dining area complete with bar, and a more secluded back room for quiet dining. Ten varieties of ramen can be made with either pork, fish or chicken stocks; but the best-seller is the Gyokai Tonkotsu Shoyu bowl, with fish broth, slices of pork shoulder and a blend of five kinds of soy sauce. While the ramen stimulates the taste buds, action in the open kitchen and a looming wooden statue of the namesake Shinto god of thunder stimulates the eyes. Those coming from the nearby Eaton Centre find this a convenient place for a post-shop slurp.
This sleek spot in the Beaches is ideal for slurping up Tokyo: Kyouka Ramen is a 20-seat outpost for the Japanese soup-noodle specialty. The outpost kitchen has taken care to subdue the more flavor-aggressive aspects of some traditional ramen formulas to suit a Toronto palette (that means less fishy smell and brine odor), and the six bowls served (including the typical shio and shoyu) are presented alongside a selection of solid bites like soy-glazed chicken wings.