According to an article in Time Out Magazine, there were 88,000 restaurants in Tokyo back in 2011, and I am sure this number has only grown in the past six years. Not only are there plenty of places to choose from, but many great restaurants are hidden away in alleyways, department stores or subway stations. So, picking a place to eat out Tokyo can feel a bit intimidating.
It helps to know a local who can show you around and introduce you to places you might not have found otherwise. I am lucky enough to have friends who spent the past three years in Tokyo, so – despite listing only four of tens of thousands of restaurants in Tokyo –, I hope this list does go beyond the places that you might find most in travel guides.
If you go to one fancy restaurant in Tokyo, go to DEN. The small restaurant is chef Zaiyu Hasegawa’s playground where he and his team serve delicious, elaborate, creative and sometimes crazy food to their clients. There are only a few seats available, so make sure to book ahead. I will not give away too much about the dishes themselves because you are indeed in for a surprise! Just trust me (and the Michelin Guide, who awarded the young cook one Michelin star) and go there.
2. Shibuya Niku Yokocho
If you like meat, you will love Niku Yokocho. Located in a nondescript, commercial building near Shibuya Crossing it is a truly hidden gem. Upon entering the vast hall up on the first or second floor, you will find yourself transported to a different world. It’s loud, it’s cramped, and there are 26 small restaurants. All of them specialise in meat-based dishes, so there is everything from Korean Barbecue to Shabu Shabu, meat sushi and yakitori. We headed for the barbecue and were served some beautiful Wagyu beef and vegetables to put on the small charcoal grill in the middle of our table. It was quite yummi and I loved the atmosphere in the place.
3. Fuunji Ramen
There are plenty of Ramen places in Tokyo, and the several branches of infamous Ichiran Ramen where you can enjoy excellent Ramen in complete anonymity that you will have heard about already are worth visiting. Fuunji Ramen is quite the opposite to these places. The queue is super long, the small restaurant is cramped, and while you sit at the counter and wait for your Ramen you are so close to the kitchen, you might get hit by a noodle.
The shop serves only Ramen and Tsukemen (with Tsukemen you receive the noodles in a separate bowl and dip them into your broth) with different toppings. Some say it’s the best Tsukemen you can get in Tokyo.
I had the best sushi at a fish restaurant called Erakokyu in Nakameguro. Without an English menu outside, this is a place I would not have entered if it wasn’t for our dear friends in Tokyo. We went there on my last evening in Tokyo and ordered heaps of Sushi and other dishes that we shared. Their grilled fish is fantastic, too – and the atmosphere is relaxed and laid back.
This post is part of my on-going attempt to put my experiences in Tokyo and Japan into a little Japan Guide. For more tips concerning Japan, head on over here.