In here, I’ve included all my major recommendations I’ve accumulated from living in Tokyo, visiting Tokyo, knowing Tokyolites and from Tokyo travelers. Please use this as just as it is…..a guide. Do NOT make it a to do list and try to hit up everything! Really, one of the best things about Japan is the sheer amount of restaurants available and just being able to wander into a random one and come out with a great experience. There are so many restaurants that I’ve stumbled on, but never been able to go back or find again that is unmarked on the map. Plus, this is only limited to places I’ve been to or have been recommended. There is a plethora of many other amazing restaurants yet to be discovered by you!
1. Gyuakatsu Motomura – there are several chains, but the one near Tokyo station is my favorite branch (vs the one in Shinjuku or Shibuya). They serve only 2 options here wagyu beef with grated yam, and wagyu beef without. They sell it by weight, with 200g being moderately sized, 260g if you’re hungry. To eat, you can lightly sear the meat, then dip it in the various sauces and spices and enjoy with the salad and rice. Rice is unlimited so ask for more if you need. English menu available.
2. Rokurinsha – the famous tsukemen located in Tokyo station on Ramen Street, it’s worth all the hype! Best time to come is between the main dining hours to avoid a longer wait, but the line usually moves quickly. To eat, dip your ramen noodles in the broth to coat it, and eat the noodles. After you finish your noodles, flag down a server and ask for “soup-wari” (onegaishimas!)…they dilute so you can enjoy the rest of it. Buy off the ticket machine, English translation available.
3. Any Yokocho – a yokocho is a tiny, old alleyway of tiny food joints and bars that are usually meant for people to stop by for a quick bite to eat after work before heading home during a time before ticket and vending machines were readily available. Walk through, pick one you like, and take a seat. Don’t ask me which is the best because I can never remember exactly which one I’ve been to and where along the yokocho it is.
- Omoide Yokocho (Shinjuku)
- Ebisu yokocho (Ebisu)
- Nonbei Yokocho (Shibuya)
- Yurakucho Sanchoku Inoshokugai – located under the railway arches by Yurakocho station
4. Tonkatsu Maisen – tonkatsu is breaded pork cutlet and this place makes it how it should be! Try the kurobata. Several locations around Tokyo, and I’ve only been the Aoyama branch
5. Nakajima – famous for being the cheapest Michelin star restaurant in the world (at lunch, 800-1000yen), you can’t pass this up! Plus its location is conveniently right next to Shinjuku station. They serve only one thing during lunch: sardines. They have several styles, and I recommend the yanagawa nabe style
Viv’s Favorite Ramen Joints
- Afuri (Ebisu)
Other spots to try
- Honmura An – soba restaurant with my favorite dish being uni, or sea urchin, soba
- Mentsudan – udon
- Gyoza lou – gyoza join
- Uobei or Muten Kura Sushi (kaiten sushi that zooms out to you on trains, you can win gachapons based off how many plates you go through, most plates are 100yen)
- Café Reissue – amazing latte art cafe
- Aoyama Flower Market – beautiful flower café with sandwiches, pastas and teas
- Shuichi – curry tsukemen, open until 5am
Restaurants and food joints in Japan are strictly for eating only. Not for hanging around and talking with your friends! That’s why most restaurants are tiny, and will seat usually max 4 people. If you want to hang out with a group of friends and talk, eat, drink….you go to an izakaya! If you have a larger group, most places will take reservations.
*Note: Izakayas allow smoking and you can request a non-smoking area
- Gonpachi – the famous Kill Bill izakaya, that is actually a pretty decent izakaya on top of its novelty
- Andy’s Shin Hinomoto – fun atmosphere, good food and drinks. I believe its become fairly popular now you need a reservation
- Za Watami/Watami – there’s several locations, but this Shinjuku branch is my favorite…it’s located on the 5F of the building, you can make reservations online for groups. Bonus points for brave souls trying the horse sashimi
- Torikizoku – one of my favorite tabehodai/nomihodai izakayas specializing in yakitori (grilled chicken skewers). It’s cheap and delicious! There are many, many locations, with Shinjuku/Kabukicho branch being one of the biggest but most crowded. My favorite menu items are chicken thighs (momo), meatballs (tsukune), seseri (neck), sunagimo (gizzard), chicken skin (kawa), gyoza and kamameshi (mixed rice in a hot pot). Can call to make reservations for large groups, Tabehodai+Nomihodai available for groups 8+ for 2800pp/2hr
- Hanbey – a unique, showa era styled izakaya with a huuuge menu and well priced, from yakitori to oden to okonomiyaki. Again several locations, a big one in Shinjuku/Kabukicho and in Shibuya
Bars + Nomihodai
So food in Japan is great, but you know what puts the cherry on top? ALL YOU CAN DRINK, or “nomihodai”. Often it is paired with “Tabehodai” or all you can eat. They’re mostly at izakaya establishment so you can hang out with your friends, drink and karaoke after. They are charged by the hour
- Kin no Kura (+Tabehodai, 3300/2hr): big chain izakaya where you can order off an ipad and English menu friendly, you can flag someone down and ask to do nomihodai/tabehodai for 2 hours. Look for the bright yellow sign!
- Torikizoku (requires 8+ people, +tabehodai, 2800/2hr) – look for the bright red/yellow sign that includes 280 yen (everything is 280 yen on the menu!)
- Wara Wara (2500/2hr) – another izakaya chain, typical izakaya food, look for the red sign.
- Kushiya Monogatari (3500/2hr)– a unique nomihodai/tabehodai where you can deep fry your own food!
- Golden Gai – area with a lot, lot of tiny bars. Most cannot fit larger groups, and some charge cover. May favorite is Albatross which can accommodate a slightly larger group
- Zoetrope (whiskey bar)
- ØS by Oslo (craft brewery) – you don’t find too many craft breweries in Japan. This is one is Norwegian/Japanese owned located in Shibuya
- Goodbeer Faucets (craft brewery) – the other craft brewery I know with a very extensive beer selection from local Japanese to international.
- Scramble Bar – during the day it’s a cafe, and night it’s a busy bar. Good mix of people from locals to tourists and a good vibe and good location.
- HUB – weird to recommend a British pub in Tokyo, I know, but it’s actually is a very popular pub chain throughout Tokyo if you’re looking for a quick bar with good atmosphere, HUBs will usually do it for you. Shibuya is a popular branch.
- Red Bar – chill bar in Shibuya, good atmosphere and vibe
*Note: A lot of Tokyo night life doesn’t start until about midnight….people will either go out 8PM-1AM or 12AM-5AM. This is because the trains close at 1 AM. I would say MOST night life is the 12-5AM time. Or you can always take a taxi home!