The first time I heard about burnt ramen at Nishiazabu Gogyo in Tokyo, Japan, I was intrigued. I knew I wanted to try their ramen but I was skeptical. How could anything that is burnt taste good? After reading endless reviews and watching YouTube videos about Gogyo, I knew it had to be great.
Gogyo is owned by Ippudo, a chain of tonkotsu ramen restaurants founded in Fukuoka, Japan. There are two Gogyo locations in Japan. One is located in Tokyo and the other in Kyoto. On my visit, I stopped by their Nishiazabu location, located just across the street from Hardy Barracks, not far from Roppongi Station.
Rustic Interior of Nishiazabu Gogyo
When I arrived at Nishiazabu Gogyo on a Saturday afternoon, I was surprised to find no line. While I was prepared for a line, I walked right in and took a seat.
Nishiazabu Gogyo was not your typical ramen shop with only a few seats where you slurp your bowl down in minutes and leave. The restaurant, which reminded me more of an izakaya, was open with plenty of room, perfect for larger groups. The larger dining room might explain why there was no wait out front.
While I would describe the decor of the restaurant as rustic, it felt modern and hip. The brick wall along with dark floors and ceilings allowed for a more inmate dining experience. Scattered around the dining room were rustic, family-style wooden tables, perfect for groups. Large windows at the front of the restaurant allowed just enough light into the dining room.
Surrounding the counter was an open-air kitchen. Since I was dining alone, I took a seat at the counter. I had the perfect view into the kitchen. It was the best seat in the house.
Unexpectedly, every few minutes, a huge wall of flames would explode up into the air. The flames reached from the stove all the way up to the ceiling. The smell coming from the kitchen was intoxicating. It was quite a sight to see and feel. The warmth from the flame reminded me of my camping trips I would take as a kid.
It was now time to order.
Nishiazabu Gogyo Menu
The specialty of Nishiazabu Gogyo was their burnt kogashi ramen. This is what you want to order.
There were two kogashi options on the lunch menu at Nishiazabu Gogyo. The first was the Kogashi Miso-men (1,290 yen or about $11.52), a burnt miso ramen. The other option was the Kogashi Shoyu-men (1,290 yen), a burnt soy sauce ramen.
If burnt ramen isn’t your thing, then you could choose from three other types of ramen. You had the Special Gogyo Tonkotsu-men (1,290 yen or about $11.52), a pork broth ramen, the Special Shio-menu (1,290 yen), a salt ramen, and the Vegan Special Ramen (990 yen or about $8.84).
For an extra charge, you could add an assortment of toppings to any bowl of ramen. Toppings included cabbage, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, seasoned egg, seasoned egg tempura, seaweed, scallions, and char siu (pork). Toppings ranged in price from 160 yen to 310 yen or about $1.43 to $2.77.
While many ramen restaurants in Japan only serve ramen, Nishiazabu Gogyo had a variety of appetizers on their lunch menu.
Options included Sesame Cucumber (450 yen or about $4.02), Giblets with Ponzu Sauce (550 yen or about $4.91), Bite-Size Dumplings or Gyoza (590 yen or about $5.27), and Japanese Fried Chicken (790 yen or about $7.06).
You also had an assortment of rice dishes (290 yen to 690 yen or about $2.59 to $6.16), desserts (390 yen to 490 yen or about $3.48 to $4.38), and drinks (400 yen to 650 yen or about $3.57 to $5.81).
Bite-Size Dumplings (Gyoza)
First up, the Bite-Size Dumplings or Gyoza (590 yen or about $5.27).
I was expecting the dumplings to be, well bite-sized, but they were quite large. The portion was generous.
What I loved about these dumplings was how they were crispy and charred on the outside giving each one an aromatic smoky flavor. This wasn’t surprising at a burnt ramen restaurant.
On the inside, each dumpling was tender and juicy after being cooked at just the right temperature. The stuffed minced pork and vegetables stuffed inside were crunchy but still melted in my mouth.
Served with the dumplings was a dipping sauce of soy sauce and spicy wasabi. With a quick dip, the sauce added an extra unami flavor to each dumpling.
While I enjoyed these bite-size dumplings, I came here for one thing and one thing only, the burnt miso ramen.
Special Kogashi Miso-men (Burnt Miso Ramen)
While there were many interesting options on the menu, I decided to go with the specialty of the house, the Special Kogashi Miso-men (1,290 yen or about $11.52).
This bowl of burnt miso ramen was quite possibly the most beautiful bowl of ramen I have ever had in Japan. The presentation was stunning and colorful. I was hoping it was taste as great as it looked.
I knew I had to taste the dark brown miso broth first. The broth was smoking hot after being prepared over an open fire. I almost burned my mouth on the first sip so be careful and let the broth cool down for a minute or two.
Immediately, my mouth was consumed by an intense smoky, pork flavor. While rich and smoky, I was surprised how thin and delicate the broth was. I was expecting the broth to be thick and heavy but it was not. The broth was slightly oily, almost shiny with small black specs of charred miso and pork fat floating around. Much of the unami flavor came from these charred bits.
Hidden under the surface was a generous portion of flat, thin noodles. I forgot to ask if the noodles were made in house, but they did taste that way. While basic, the noodles were fresh with a springy, chewy texture that soaked up flavors of the broth.
The pork slices, while thin, were the perfect combination of meaty goodness and melt in your mouth fatty bits. Even better, it seemed as if the thin slices of pork soaked up all the smoky flavors of the broth, making the pork taste even more divine.
This Special Kogashi Miso-men featured a whole seasoned egg along with a half of an egg. Most ramen shops will give you only one egg, so this was a pleasant surprise. The yolks inside both eggs were perfection. The rich, salty, creamy golden yolk of each just oozed out of the eggs and into the broth.
For extra texture and color, added to the bowl was crispy, salty nori, fresh crunchy cabbage, and a small piece of fish cake.
Everything about this filling bowl of ramen was perfect. Not only was it beautiful, but it tasted like no other bowl of ramen I have had in Tokyo or even Japan. It was rich, salty, and smoky and something I will never forget.
I found the service at Nishiazabu Gogyo to be fantastic. All the workers seemed to be having a great time. They always had a smile on their face whether they were in the kitchen preparing food, yelling out orders to each other, or greeting guests. I probably would have a smile on my face if I could play with fire and prepare bowls of ramen all day.
I have had many memorable bowls of ramen in my life, but nothing compared to the Special Kogashi Miso-men at Nishiazabu Gogyo. It was delicious, beautifully presented, and umami. While I always enjoy a great bowl of tonkotsu ramen at Ichiran or tsukemen ramen at Fuunji, there is just something special about burnt ramen.
If you are currently in Tokyo and are in the mood for ramen, drop whatever you are doing right now and head directly on over to Nishiazabu Gogyo.