Ibaraki's Tsukuba area is known as a heavily contested ramen battleground of sorts, with most of the prefecture's top ranked shops located here. Aoi (麺や蒼) ramen is one of them and passing through Tsukuba recently gave me the chance to drop by.
Opened back in 2010, Aoi is part of a trio of Tsukuba ramen shops, alongside the original Menya Musou (2008) and Aoi Kagayaki (2015), all run by Ibaraki proprietor, Ozeshin-san.
The main ramen lineup at Aoi is miso-based, with the lead dish offering a rich tonkotsu-gyokai (pork/fish) blend further enhanced with white miso. This is then topped off with pork char siu, chopped onion, bamboo shoots and a pungent gyofun, or dried fish powder, which adds a potent shot of umami to the bowl and another layer of depth to the complex flavour.
It's one excellent bowl, with a number of flavours combing perfectly, and definitely as good as miso ramen gets. It's also a fairly filling bowl, something worth keeping in mind when ordering – you can get the larger version for the same price (tempting if you've been queuing up for some time...).
Inside it's a very much a standard ramen shop clearly loved by the locals – a 12-seat counter and 2 tables seat an overflow of guests that regularly line up around the block.