Tinun (Thai Ramen), Shibuya

OK, this is not about Shimokitazawa, but Shibuya is only one stop away by express train from Shimokitazawa, so that will be my first excuse. The second excuse is that I LOVE this place.

Tinun is a thai food restaurant chain which serves anything from noodle dishes to fried rice and curries. I once asked the smily probably-Thai staff what Tinun meant and they answered me "Ichiban" or number one in Japanese.

I'll be honest with you: I've never tried anything other than the below "Tom Yam Kung Ramen" but it's just SO good. It's nothing but some ramen noodles in a bowl of Tom Yam Kung (Thai Spicy Shrimp Soup) but oh my oh my, for anyone happening to like both dishes (like I do), the combination is lethal. And it's a very affordable ¥780.

I've tried this dish (I wouldn't be surprised if it were a Tinun original as I don't remember seeing this anywhere else before I first tried it there) in another Thai restaurant but it was a pale comparison. What makes the Tinun version so good is how very sour the soup is. I'm not sure whether it's lemon or lime or both that they put in the soup, but they must be putting a lot of it in there. They also manage to keep the delicately lemon-grassed flavored broth not too hot, which is wonderful as it lets you down the whole soup without having to a) sweat like a pig b) drink loads of water.

Toppings are kept simple with Moyashi (spout), chopped Coriander leaves, a slice of Chashu (Chinese style bbq pork). The yellow-colored straight and medium-width noodles seem to be Tamago-Men (added egg in the noodle batter) and they are in perfect harmony with the soup.

The place is small and you may have to queue a little bit around lunch time.

Tinun - Shibuya Dogenzaka is open from 11:00am to 23:00pm and is closed on Sundays.
Shibuya-ku, Dogenzaka 1-5-5
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Gotsui (Okonomiyaki), Shimokitazawa

According to a tip from my good friend Nakamura Mikan, we went to try the salty Japanese pancakes Okonomiyaki restaurant "Gotsui". For those of you not familiar with this uber-popular cuisine, please check this extensive article.

As I wanted to check out what the bloggers said about the place beforehand, I did look at few sites which all agreed on one thing: the staff's friendliness and hospitality. Well, the below picture I took to give you an overview of the kitchen says it all I guess. Never asked them to even look at me but they stopped cooking for the pose...

Now, was the food as great as the staff's smiles? I definitely think so, though we only tried three dishes which were all recommendations from the house. The first one we opted for was the "Suji Shio Kabetsu Double", some firm and slightly fibrous stewed pieces of beef sauteed with cabbage, to accompany our beer as the waiter had informed us they needed a good 15 minutes to cook the pancakes. The dish wasn't spectacular but it was a good "B-Kyu Gurume" dish (B-grade gourmet), like they say in Japan to designate any good non-gourmet food.
As you can see on the below pictures, they bring and put your food on a hot plate incorporated in the table, so everything you eat is always nice and warm.

First of the main dish was the "Mix Yakisoba" (sauteed soba noodles with mixed ingredients) but their noodles are so thick that they look more like Udon to me. The ingredients were Ika (squid), Ebi (shrimp), Benishoga (red pickled ginger), tamago (egg), Ao-Nori (dry seaweed powder) and Katsuo-Bushi (dry bonito flakes). What nicely surprised me was that it was, like the other main dish we had, rather Usu-Aji (low on salt), when Okonomiyaki dishes can be sometimes be too strong-flavored.
Second dish was the house specialty "Gotsui Yaki", an Okonomiyaki with an upper layer of grated Tororo-Imo (Japanese Yam), hidden under the Katsuo-Bushi, the mayonnaise, the Aonori and the top dough on the below picture. The other layers are what seemed to me like the typical batter with pork and cabbage. I quite liked their specialty as the Tororo puree gives the pancake a nice texture and smoothes the richness of the overall flavor.

Two beers on top of the three dishes amounted to little south of ¥4,000 so I guess it's quite a deal at ¥2,000 per person. The service was like what the bloggers had to say, very nice and friendly. You do get out of there with your clothes a little smelly so bring another shirt if you're the paranoid kind on the odor issue.
My friend recommendation was their Negi-Yaki (a thinner version with chopped spring onion) and I am definitely going back to try it.

Gotsui is open
18:00 to 24:00 Monday to Friday
12:00 to 14:00 for lunch and 17:00 to 24:00 for dinner on weekends and National Holidays
Setagaya-ku, Daizawa 5-29-9
Click here for a MAP

Tentemari (Ramen), Shimokitazawa

Tentemari is a Ramen shop a minute away from the station, in one of those exotic little Shimokitazawa streets. They specialize in the Tan Tan Men dish, a Ramen dish which is usually quite hot and spicy. The restaurant got featured on the quite popular "Dochi No Ryori Show" TV food show few years ago, cooking the dish for bunch of celebrities. Ironically, I remember not trying this place for a while because of the sign outside the restaurant saying they got on that program. Just thought it was lame.

But it was too bad for me, as it turned out they serve a pretty good Ramen, though I feel their powerfully sesame flavored soup has unfortunately gotten thinner over the years (which still doesn't prevent me from going few times a month!)

The Dian Dian Mian (Tan Tan Men in Japanese) is originally a Sichuan dish, and the popular Ramen (soupy) version is more a Japanese remix of the usually dry original Chinese recipe. The character for Dian (or Tan if read in Japanese) means carry or shoulder and came to be utilized in the name of the dish, since the streets vendors/cooks used to carry all their ingredients and utensils on a pole. Having to balance all that on the shoulders made a soupy dish not too practical. The soupy version also exists in China, but it's really the Japanese who popularized the "wet" version in the late 20th century.

Tan Tan Men with Bang Bang Ji

At Tentemari, you buy your ticket at a vending machine right at the entrance. You will have to choose between mild, hot and very hot and also what topping(s) you want on it (plain or with boiled chicken Bang Bang Ji style or with braised pork Kakuni and so on). I usually go for hot, as it gives the soup a nice kick. I happen to love Bang Bang Ji, so it's really a no-brainer for me as far as toppings are concerned.
The soup is quite thick, with a nice combination of zhi ma jiang (sesame paste with oil), chili-infused vegetable oil Rayu and Sansho (Chinese pepper). As with all Tan Tan Men, there is minced meat on top of the noodles, as well as radish sprouts and chinese cabbage Chingensai.
You get a free boiled egg with your noodles at lunch, and a complimentary bowl of rice for both lunch and dinner.

The above dish is far from being cheap at ¥950, not to mention that I find that the soup has lost a bit of its spicy kick, but I still recommend this place as a good introduction and good example of a nice Tan Tan Men.
They're also open until 3:30am, which is convenient when you need a bowl of Ramen to wake you up from a heavy drinking session at one of the many Shimokitazawa bars...

Remember "Tom's Kitchen" has a nice dry version of the Tan Tan Men should you be interested.

"Tentemari" is open from 11:00am to 03:30am from Tuesday to Saturday and from 11:00am to 11:00pm on Sunday, Monday and National Holidays
Setagaya-ku, Kitazawa 2-12-7
click here for a MAP

Bio Ojiyan Cafe+ (Ojiya), Shimokitazawa

"Bio Ojiyan Cafe+" looks like a cool cafe/restaurant like a lot of other cafes in the area but it has something in its menu that stands out from the other ones, that is their specialty fares, the "Ojiya".

The Ojiya is a widely popular dish consisting of rice cooked in dashijiru (stock usually made of dry seaweed and dry fish; please refer to this extensive article on the Dashi if you're interested), miso sauce or soy sauce or both, with a selection of cooked vegetables, meat, fish. Most of the time people will add beaten egg in the rice right before serving, for the taste and texture.

The etymology of the word is uncertain, but specialist tend to agree on the interesting possibility that the word derives from the Spanish "Olla" (pronounced like oja in English), a ceramic jar used for cooking stews and soup that Spanish missionaries may have brought with them to Japan from around the end of the 16th century.

Ojiyan serves a great, though slightly too salty, ojiya which comes in 2 sizes. I have ordered the regular size which might be a little small should you be very hungry. The bigger portion is only ¥150 more so you might want to supersize from the beginning.
As you can see on the pictures, the ojiya here comes with sugar-brushed fried bread (upper left) , which happens to go amazingly well with the otherwise salty dish, dry seaweed Nori, chopped leak and an octopus-shaped sausage (lower left)

The purple thing you see at the bottom of the picture is some Neri-Ume (pasty pickled plum) that I ordered as a topping (¥150). You can choose from several other toppings like Cheese (¥300), Fried Chicken (¥350), Tarako (¥300) and many others. The Fried Chicken seems to be a favorite.

Once again, Ojiyan looks like one of those cool cafes and do indeed serve western dishes like Pastas, but you should really try either the house favorite Ojiya (which will get to your table in about 5mn when they're not busy) or their relatively copious Japanese lunch which are varied and good. All lunches come with Natto (fermented soy beans) as one of the side dishes, so be ready for the challenge if you have never tried it yet. You'll see, it doesn't taste as bad as what it smells like!

Bio Ojiyan Cafe+ is opened everyday from 11:30am to 11pm
click here for a MAP

Bear Pond Espresso (Cafe), Shimokitazawa

The first cafe to be introduced on this blog is "Bear Pond Espresso", a joint that attracts more and more repeaters since it opened last summer, and which has been getting great reviews on both domestic and international quality press. It is managed by the Tanaka couple who used to live in the U.S. for almost 20 years, so no worries as to be lost in translation in this place.
Mr. Tanaka fell in love with Espresso while living in NY, and after learning the abc of the coffee making from his favorite barista, came back to Japan and opened his first Espresso cafe.

I am neither a coffee aficionado nor do I know anything about it, and would rather drink a good Earl Grey than an Espresso, but still, this place has definitely changed my opinion on the drink . It is actually the first time that I've been wanting to try all the different coffees that a cafe serves. Looking at the other Japanese and foreign customers around me who seem to know about coffee and come back day after day, I guess I'm not the only one thinking this place is good.

As I said, I'm not a coffee guy so I always order the "easier", less bitter variations. I've been repeating on the above Cappuccino (¥350) which I find delicious. As you can see on the picture, the milk is surprisingly foamy, creamy in the mouth, and quite sweet on the taste though I do not add any sugar.

It's not the cheapest place around, but if you're looking for a good New York style espresso or its variants, please definitely try this place. Their recommendation is the "Gibraltar". Click here for the menu!

For your information, the Tanaka's are very nice and chatty so if you have any questions, do not hesitate!

"Bear Pond Espresso" is closed on Tuesdays. Open the rest of the week from 10am to around 7pm.

Setagaya-ku, Kitazawa 2-36-12

click here for a MAP