Ah, ramen. How could something so simple be so delicious? After all, it's just noodles and broth, right? Noodles cooked to the exact level of softness requested by the diner, that is. And broths varying from the light and salty kind to one made by slow-cooking pork bones for hours to create a rich, creamy, intensely porky soup base. Oh, and toppings that usually include pork that's been braised in soy sauce, sake and sugar until it's meltingly tender, plus soft-boiled eggs marinated in a mix of ingredients that are often a closely guarded secret…
Okay, ramen's not so simple after all but it is simply delicious. So whether you're a fan of creamy tonkatsu or a lighter miso broth, we have assembled our definitive list of Melbourne’s tastiest ramen spots. Grab a spoon and work your way through the best ramen in Melbourne.
Shyun Ramen Bar
From the cheerful Japanese greeting called out by every staff member when you walk in the door, to the open kitchen facing ramen lovers in the long, narrow dining area, Shyun Ramen Bar is a slice of Japan transported to suburbia.
A simple industrial fit-out (wood-panelled and exposed brick walls, oversized light bulbs) puts the focus on the food; piping hot bowls of some of Melbourne’s best ramen, soba and udon. The karaage ramen is a marriage of Japas and ramen – bite-sized pieces of deep-fried chicken sit atop a mound of tender noodles in a shoyu; or miso-based broth, and a handful of corn kernels and spring onions add colour and texture to the dish. Sure, it seems odd to let the crispy chicken batter go soggy in the soup, but it's actually a great way to infuse fried chicken flavour into the broth. You’ll have to try it to see what we mean.
Bankara Ramen is a charming little Tokyo eatery is almost guaranteed to steal your heart from the first visit. Located just a stone’s throw away from Melbourne Central, Bankara dishes up some seriously good, no-fuss ramen. Walking in, you immediately feel like you’ve left Melbourne and entered a cheerful eatery somewhere in Japan, and that’s not least because of the chorused ‘Irrasshaimase’ coming from the floor, behind the bar and even the kitchen.
The tonkotsu (a collagen-rich, creamy broth made from slow-cooked pork bones) is overflowing with goodness while the signature Tokyo-style ramen features noodles cooked to perfection in a heavenly pork bone broth laced with shoyu (soy sauce) and other complex flavours. While you’re there, why not order some green tea ice cream and Asahi beer to round off the meal? Once you’ve experienced the lively atmosphere, friendly service, tasty side dishes, great location and generous opening hours of Ramen Bankara, it’s not hard to see why it’s always packed with ramen lovers all year round.
Little Ramen Bar
According to the crew at Little Ramen Bar, the traditional accompaniment to ramen is – apart from the sound of slurping – a plateful of gyoza. We're not going to argue with them (partly because they're so busy serving the hungry hordes that queue up for a feed here, they haven't got time to argue), and neither should you; the gyoza are good, so don't miss ‘em. The juicy, porky dumplings go as well with a crisp Sapporo as they do with a bowl of the best ramen in town, whether that's the classic ramen (with a slice of tender pork, seaweed, and a choice of broth) or the spicy tan tan men. The latter is a hearty, rich version of ramen, with loads of noodles in a chilli-infused broth that's so full of minced pork it's more like a stew than a noodle soup – perfect for dunking gyoza into.
While we’ve got nothing against Hungry Jack’s or a cheeky midnight kebab, there’s ever-growing room for more late-night dining options in Melbourne. That’s where Shinjuko, comes in. As the city’s only 24-hour ramen bar, you can find piping hot bowls of tenderly-cooked ramen, gyoza and takoyaki being served here at all hours of the night. Thanks to the genius creators of Shujinko, the city’s universal love of ramen noodles can be enjoyed at the universal time of "whenever I damn well want".
Their signature collagen-rich Tonkotsu Ramen is guaranteed to bring you back to life no matter what state you’re in – a game changer for post clubbing pick-me-ups. The broth is poured over a soft halved egg, roast pork belly and wheat noodles which are made in a windowed bolthole at the back of the restaurant. For sharing dishes, don’t miss the crispy croquettes, chicken karaage and pan-fried gyoza. We love that the vibe of the place is as friendly and buzzy as the broth is hearty and everyone sits happily side by side, bonded over their shared love of toothsome noodles, tender char siu and, of course, the joy of the slurp.
Translating to 'lucky dragon' in Japanese, Fukuryu Ramen has been a steady powerhouse in Melbourne's ramen scene. Tucked in a laneway, this popular ramen house offers the traditional ramen choices of tonkotsu, miso, shoyu and shio with contemporary options available such as chicken tonkotsu and the fiery red dragon ramen making appearances on the menu; you won’t find anything like it elsewhere.
Mr Ramen San
In the belly of Mid-City Arcade, you’ll find Mr Ramen San tucked away on the Little Bourke St end, usually with a line outside. This cutely-named Japanese eatery is known for their superior 24-hour tonkatsu broth and housemade noodles. And unlike other ramen places, Mr Ramen San will provide you with FREE extra noodles on request. The serves of noodles in the dishes are generous enough as it is, but alas, we can never have too much ramen.
Mr Ramen San offers up different ramen variations such as the spicy chicken ramen, seafood ramen, family-style hotpot with pork broth and most impressively, an entirely vegan ‘Charsu’ ramen. We had the vego ramen during our visit there, and it passed our taste test with flying colours. The slender noodles were firm and springy and the vegetarian “charsu” possessed a delicious bite and went superbly with the milky vegetarian “tonkotsu” broth. It’s hard to believe that this decadent dish was vegetarian, making Mr Ramen San a winner in our eyes.
As one of the coolest (and busiest) restaurants on Chapel St, Tokyo Tina’s gotta have ramen to back it up. And they do—several, actually. There’s regular chicken, *spicy* chicken and mushroom and miso, but the real prize goes to this one: smoked brisket, bok choy, ramen egg all swimming in Tina’s Black Tare sauce (dashi, sugar, mirin and soy). Get in early to get it quick, or be prepared to linger around Chapel a while. Once you try this, you’ll understand why Tokyo Tina goes off every night of the week.
Think Victoria Street's all about cheap Vietnamese restaurants and Asian grocery stores? Think again. The northside is slowly being colonised by hip eateries that wouldn't look out of place, well, northside, such as Shizuku. It's all charcoal walls, big blonde wood light shades and terrariums at this modern outfit, which specialises in ramen and craft beer. The drinks list runs from the usual Asahi right through to the less common bacon maple ale and delicious rum-infused umeshu (plum wine), and the ramen menu is just as diverse.
For ramen newbies, the classic shoyu ramen – wheat noodles and pork in a slightly salty soup – is a good place to start. But for ramen diehards, we recommend the tonkotsu shio ramen, with melt-in-mouth pork belly and noodles that start out springy but become more tender and flavoursome the longer you let them swim in the moreish, almost milky, gelatinous pork bone broth. Slurpalicious.
What's better than ramen? Ramen followed by pie. Especially if that's the drool-worthy peanut butter, banana and chocolate pie Shop Ramen do so well...sorry, were we talking about ramen? We were? Oh, well then this joint bowls up some of the best ramen in Melbourne, guys. While the chicken miso ramen is a favourite, and it's hard to go past the gooey soft-boiled egg and luscious pork in the classic ramen, it's the clever vegetarian version that's winning hearts and taste buds here. A cashew milk broth is as tasty as its porky counterpart; broccoli and zucchini add crunch and flavour, and a handful of nuts and seeds add textural interest. It leaves you feeling satisfied and super healthy – and surely, since you ate all those greens, you deserve a slice of pie…
Among all the ramen bars listed here, Mugen Ramen is perhaps the most ‘Melbourne’ of all. Like most of Melbourne’s top brunch spots, it is hidden in an alleyway, and are known for serving some of the finest tsukemen (dipping ramen). Walk through the doors and you’ll find yourself standing in a low-lit, art-adorned basement, complete with a hip upstairs cafe. While traditional ramen options such as miso are available, it's best not to deviate from the script and stick to the crowd favourite: the wafu tsukemen, served with chashu, bamboo shoots and crispy seaweed. All you have to do is lovingly dip the housemade thick noodles into dashi and soy broth before slurping it up.This is tsukemen ramen, and it's an absolute delight, as is everything else on Mensousai Mugen's menu.
If you're in a hurry, go straight for the ramen, but if you've got time snack your way through the Wagyu beef japas or the Scallop Gratin (made with white sauce and shiitake mushrooms) as you watch cult Japanese movies being projected on the big wall screen. And just like any cool Melbourne cafe, they’ve got a good-looking Instagram where they post snaps of their drool-worthy dishes.
CBD, Carlton, Hawthorn
Melburnians love queuing for food and wearing black, preferably at the same time, which can make the long line outside Hakata Gensuke in the Melbourne CBD and Hawthorn look something like a ninja convention. It's appropriate enough, given Hakata Gensuke seems to have been uprooted from Japan and plonked down in Melbourne, complete with a Japanese chef, tick-sheet ordering system and customisable noodles.
Yes, here you can choose not only your ramen's toppings and level of spiciness, but also just how al dente you'd like your noodles. It's worth coming back and experimenting until you find your perfect mixture, but if you're not sure where to start, go with something that will match your outfit: the black tonkotsu ramen. Hakata's tonkotsu broth is already the stuff of legend; the black version includes black sesame and garlic for an extra layer of intense, almost smoky flavour. Tip: ask your dining companions to order the excellent chicken karaage, then practise your best ninja stealth moves so you can sample some when they're not looking.
Tamura Sake & Jazz Bar
Can’t decide whether you want Jazz music or Japanese tonight? Why not both? Located in the heart of Fitzroy, Fumi Tamura is taking Japanese cuisine to a whole new level at Tamura Sake & Jazz Bar. With delicious, traditional Japanese meals mixed with house-made alcoholic drinks, there truly is no better way to start your weekend. From Salmon Sashimi to Japanese Fried Chicken (JFC) to some of the most authentic Ramen around, Tamura Sake & Jazz Bar will definitely fill that Ramen-shaped hole in your stomach.
It would be a crime to end our post without putting Ippudo on our list. The Japanese-founded franchise has established what they call “Global Standard” ramen. The brand was founded in 1985 at Hakata, Japan by Shigemi Kawahara and now has over 200 locations worldwide. With awards piling high, the ramen served here is definitely worth the calories.
The signature Akamaru Shinaji Ramen with Tonkatsu broth is a must-try if you are a first-timer here. The pork broth is textured, creamy and seriously heart-warming, and comes with pork loin, bean sprouts, black fungus and thin noodles cooked to a density of your choice, plus a perfectly cooked, flavoured egg if you want it—we think it completes the dish, so don’t order without it. The Karaka-men is also delicious, with special spicy minced pork miso dolloped on top of the broth and fragrant garlic oil adding extra punch, while Japanese delicacies such as Spicy Goma Q – lightly pickled cucumber, special chilli sauce, crunchy garlic and Sichaun pepper keep things fresh; and Ebi Guacamole – gyoza-wrapper tortilla chips dunked in wasabi prawn avocado dip – may just be your new favourite nachos with a twist. The glorious option to double your noodles exists, too. Turn it up a notch with a dash of their table chilli oil and some sesame seeds, and slurp away until your heart’s content.
Still hungry? We've got Melbourne's best Japanese restaurants over here. Kanpai!
Image credit: Annika Kafcaloudis