While there are great restaurants to be found all across Tokyo, certain neighborhoods of the capital are known as the place to go for specific dishes. Tsukiji, for example, is world-famous for sushi. Tsukishima is the place to go for monjayaki (unless you want to try cooking it yourself on the hood of a car in the scorching summer heat). And if you want to eat ramen? Then you need to go to Takadanobaba.
Located on the west side of downtown, Takadanobaba is home to Waseda University, as well as a number of language, music, and beauty schools. Many of the people who study in Takadanobaba live in the area as well, and with a constant stream of hungry college-age Tokyoites milling about, the neighborhood is home to a huge concentration of ramen joints.
But with so much competition, Takadanobaba’s noodle chefs have to do something special to stand out from their ramen rivals, which brings us to Dogen.
Dogen opened its doors in Takadanobaba about 10 years ago, originally as the sister restaurant to an eatery in Ginza that’s since closed down. Its signature dish is called chagyu ramen, which might sound kind of familiar if you’re familiar with chashu, the sliced roast pork that ramen is commonly topped with. Gyu is the Japanese word for “beef,” though, and Dogen’s noodles are accompanied by high-quality kuroge wagyu Japanese roast beef.
With such a premium ingredient, you might expect to only get a single slice of meat (as if often the case with chashu). However, if you order Dogen’s special Kiwami Chagyu Ramen, you can look forward to this.
Limited to 10 servings per day, the 2,000-yen Kiwami is a meat lover’s dream come true. There’s so much beef that it won’t all fit in the noodle bowl, and comes served on the side on its own plate.
As the kind, soft-spoken elderly waitress set our food in front of us, we could feel our peripheral vision begin to fade away, as our eyes filled with the vision of a world beautifully blanketed in beef.
With great effort, we pried our peepers from the plate of meat and checked out the bowl of noodles, which consists of noodles, broth and nothing else.
But while it’s the meat that grabs your attention, the noodles are hardly an afterthought on Dogen’s part. They’re made with perilla (wild sesame) seeds kneaded into the noodles, and when you bite into them, you get a subtle dose of sesame flavor and an elegant scent.
Two types of broth are offered. Both are a mixed chicken/soy stock, but you choose between a light or dark soy mix. We opted for the light, which was richly flavorful without being heavy or overpowering.
And that’s really as long as we can stay away from the meat!
Since the meat is served on the side, it’s up to you to choose when, and how much, to add to the noodle bowl. We grabbed enough slices to cover the surface of the soup, then dug in.
The roast beef is delicious and tender, becoming almost melty after a short soak in the broth. The noodles, meanwhile, have a touch of firmness, and the interplay between textures, not to mention flavors, put an expression of unconscious ecstasy on our faces as we ate.
The bowl is purposely oversized to give you extra space for your beef. Even still, with 200 grams of wagyu to work with, there’s enough to cover the bowl’s surface four times, making the meal feel like a magical meaty miracle.
All good things must come to an end, however, and eventually we finished our Kiwami Chagyu Ramen. But despite the decadent serving size, you’ll want to save room for dessert, because Dogen also has an impressive lineup of sweets!
Like we mentioned above, Dogen Takadanobaba opened 10 years ago. But the restaurant took all of 2017 off in order to up its dessert game, making and selling sweets in the prepared food sections of Japan’s department stores. Sweet treat options include pudding, chocolates, and Financiers, but on our visit we opted for a 300-yen cream puff.
While the pastry had been mostly baked before we arrived, once we placed our order, the chef lightly toasted it, turning the outer layer an enticing golden brown. Only then was the custard cream filling injected and the finished product brought to us. Biting through the warm, crisp crust and arriving at the cool sweet cream inside provided an ending to our ramen lunch that was an entirely different, yet no less pleasurable, kind of deliciousness from our main course.
We’re tempted to call Dogen the best of both worlds, but “both” implies “two.” With its noodles, beef, and desserts all being amazing, Dogen grabs our foodie hearts in three different spots, so we’re not sure exactly what to call it…except, of course, awesome.
Dogen / 道玄
Address: Tokyo-to, Shinjuku-ku, Tadanobaba 4-10-14, IMA Building 1st floor
Open 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.
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