Don't be afraid of the line that wraps around Maru Kame - it moves very fast. I once arrived behind 40 people and was eating my lunch within 20 minutes. Maru Kame is an udon buffet of sorts. A simple menu outlines basic kinds of udon - hot or cold, egg or no egg, etc. It's great to bring kids along because you can see the whole noodle cooking process as you stand in line, and the udon looks soooo good. After receiving your order, a cook will grab a bowl and toss in a handful of super-fresh, thick udon noodles with your choice of toppings. Next, you move down the line and pick up onigiri, tempura, or inari sushi to supplement your soup - each piece is a la carte, 70-90yen.
Feeling hungry, I selected an inari sushi and four pieces of shrimp and potato tempura. Delicious, and my lunch was only 800yen! The udon itself starts at 280yen.
Mare Kame's buffet-style structure is really fun, and obviously very popular with the locals. Highly recommended.
Hagakure specializes in udon - messy but fun to slurp. After walking downstairs off of an Akasaka street, my friend and I were seated at a four person table later occupied by two more customers - pretty common in these small, traditional Japanese restaurants. Hagakure caters to the masses of businessmen who work in the nearby Prudential and TBS high rises and come streaming out in human ribbons during the lunch hour - interesting to see if you haven't worked in Japan before. Everyone's lunch hour is the same.
Hagakure's udon is good, but not great (for superb udon, go to Opippi in Kasumigaseki). The Japanese-only menu had about 8 simple menu items. I chose "take," which included a vegetable tempura and seaweed; my friend chose "niku," which means simply "meat." It turned out to be pork. There's not a whole lot of flavor - mostly whatever flavor comes from the tempura. I wasn't too enthused, but I have to admit that the restaurant seemed pretty popular that day.
Lunch is about 700 yen.
Opippi is a tiny udon restaurant a few minutes walk from Kasumigaseki. I ducked in (literally) during lunch time and was greeted by a kind hostess sat me down facing another businessman at a tiny table, probably two feet across. There are about 8 bar seats and 3 tables total.
I tried to scan the menu but realized it was all in kanji and hiragana. Desperate to try some fresh udon, I pointed to one of the few items that didn't have kanji in the name - "kayaku udon." The hostess nodded, indicating that it was a good choice. OK then, we'll see what comes out.
The cold soup (Opippi serves mostly cold udon in the summer) had a light broth, sweet shiitake mushrooms, egg, shredded daikon, nori, and onions. It was delicious. The udon noodles were smooth, thick, and substantial - I could taste the hand made texture in my mouth. I was able to practice my slurping technique, which I have yet to master even though I've lived in this country for almost a year. Very satisfying. The shiitake mushrooms provided a perfect, subtle balance again the light saltiness of the broth.
Unfortunately I'm not sure what else was on the menu, due to my poor Japanese skills. Most of the udon bowls went for about 650 yen, with dishes like tenzaru pushing over 1,000 yen. Very inexpensive.
If you want to take more than one friend to this place, I'd recommend skirting the lunch rush, since things can be quite cramped. Recommended.