Noodles are a wonderful food that can be enjoyed year-round. Have them hot in winter to warm you up from the inside out, or eat them cool in summer to leave you feeling refreshed. I've been told that this is a part of Japanese common sense, although it doesn't stop certain shops from selling ice-cream in winter. However at Mizusawa, like at many independent shops, seasonality is regarded as important – cold ramen is only offered from May, through the warmer months.
The thought that is put into ingredients and preparation really shows. Mizusawa is one of the most popular ramen shops in Ochiai, where ramen shops are already numerous. People readily recommend it, and the lines outside at the weekend speak for themselves, with customers showing up half an hour before it opens to save a seat. Part of the reason for the line is the size of the shop – there are only 20 seats – but even with quick service, the line stays for quite a while. Weekday evenings are quieter, but it's by no means empty. Many people seem to stop here after work; it's probably on their way home from Rikuzen-Ochiai station.
Mizusawa has a lively atmosphere – the chefs call out to the customers to welcome them and to thank them for their patronage, and to each other to check orders. All of the seats are at a counter, which is set around the kitchen. It's always fascinating to watch them making your food, and you know exactly what's gone into it. The most has been made of the available space and at busy times it can seem more cramped than cozy. The wall space is taken up with shelves of manga (Japanese comics), which can be read while customers wait for their food. I don't know how anyone has time to read – my ramen arrived quickly, then I left as soon as I had finished to make room for the next person. There is time to watch the TV though, which is tuned to the local channel.
The most famous dish here is the chuukan ramen, which can be ordered with an egg (703 yen with tax). They offer two sizes, but I couldn't imagine trying to eat the big one – the normal size is full to the brim of the bowl. I'm surprised they don't spill any lifting it down to customers. The egg is always my favorite part of ramen, and this one had a beautifully soft yolk, almost runny. The textures and flavors mixed wonderfully, from the tender slice of meat to the crunchy bamboo.
Other than ramen, they offer side dishes and rice bowls. The buttery meat rice bowl looked very tempting, but I couldn't eat another mouthful. In winter they sell kimchi, which is a spicy pickle dish originally from Korea.
A meal here can feel a bit rushed, but it's very conveniently located and sells really good ramen. I recommend it if you've never experienced eating ramen at a counter before, and want to go somewhere you can rely on the quality and service.