Follow Me Foodie to Tokyo, Japan!

Follow Me Foodie to Tokyo, Japan!

Follow Me Foodie to Japan – Part 1/Intro

Follow Me Foodie to Kyoto

Where else would you start when visiting Japan? Well it actually depends on what you’re looking for, but if it’s your first time in Japan then Tokyo is the obvious and most popular choice. It’s the capital of Japan and the largest metropolitan area in the world. However when it comes to food, it’s not necessary “the best” in Japan.

Japan itself is a food Mecca and friends told me it made New York look like a joke. Bold statement, but I could see where they were coming from. As I mentioned in Follow Me Foodie to Japan, the Japanese take their food scene to a whole new level – incomparable to other countries. Japanese food culture and how they approach ingredients, cooking and technique is world class.

Tokyo is still a culinary leader in Japan and worldwide, and you can more or less find every cuisine and dish here. However just like most countries, Japan has regional specialities, so if you’re looking to explore a specific dish in depth, then Tokyo might not be the answer. For instance, Kyoto is known for vegetables and in particular tofu, Osaka for okonomiyaki and tako-yaki, and Hakkaido and Sapporo for sashimi connoisseurs. For local food enthusiasts, Tokyo is highly regarded, but not necessarily the most highly regarded ‘food paradise’ in Japan. However it certainly won’t disappoint, and just like most big cities, the options are endless.

Kozue at Park Hyatt Tokyo, Japan 04I’m not going to lie, but it was intimidating. Tokyo feels like 20 cities crammed into one and technically it’s not even considered a “city”. In Japan it’s a “metropolitan prefecture”, and there are 47 prefectures in Japan, but for the ease of this post, I am calling it a city.

I could spend a lifetime eating my way through Tokyo and I still don’t think I would make a dent. No matter what time of day or what area, there is something to eat. Whether it be a restaurant, izakaya, noodle shop, sushi bar, market or cafe, hunger is one of the easiest feelings to satisfy here.

Since Tokyo is the largest city in Japan, there are obviously going to be more restaurants, selection, choices and competition. With greater demand, often for top quality ingredients, a lot of the supply for the world’s “best” ingredients and products come to Tokyo first. The highest quality seafood, meat and fruits might not be produced in Tokyo, but they’re often saved for Tokyo. Much of the supply comes directly here before being distributed to other parts of Japan. This goes for food from other Japanese cities being brought to Tokyo as well, and not only for imported goods. They are willing to pay the price so often they get top selection, and as I stressed in my post about Japanese People & Culture, quality is rarely scarified and perfection is the ultimate goal.

In an international alpha city, Japanese isn’t the only cuisine although it is the most dominant. Of course being in Japan, Japanese food is top priority, but missing out on the diverse options would be missing out on a major part of Tokyo’s food scene. Due to the way the Japanese tend to approach food, the standard for food in general is quite high. French and Italian cuisine are highly regarded, so these in particular are worthy of exploring. They take food seriously and some of their international options can rival the countries from where they come from.

In 2013, Tokyo had 15 3-Michelin Star restaurants which was the most in the world. I don’t necessarily buy into the Michelin Guide though (in the end it is about selling tires), not to take away from the restaurants who earned it, but the guide doesn’t teach or help understand Japanese cuisine. While I enjoy fine dining, attacking the list of Michelin Star restaurants isn’t a recommended or affordable approach. With so many restaurants, many deserving restaurants don’t get rated, and most foreign palates would not be able to detect the subtle differences in fish and sashimi or even know what to look for. It wouldn’t be a wasted experience, but the value of the experience would be limited. Even if they are not new to Japanese cuisine, Japanese food in Japan is beyond experiences outside of it. I definitely still recommend doing some fine dining if it fits the budget, but even middle-of-the-run restaurants in Japan hold a higher calibre than average restaurants in other countries.

Japan is not all about fine dining, but casual dining is not always affordable either. There isn’t much street food in Japan, but the markets are incredible and comparable to average dining prices on a global scale, if not slightly pricier. The quality and service is generally higher though, and these characteristics are unlike many other Asian countries.

Seasonality is another significant influence in Japanese cuisine and what Japan prides themselves on. They believe their seasons are more dramatic than other counties because they are so distinct, and it really plays a role when it comes to creating a dish. “Eat local” isn’t a new idea, but in Tokyo it is embedded in their food culture and culinary philosophy.

I mentioned in Follow Me Foodie to Japan that a North American understanding of Japanese food doesn’t really extend beyond sushi, izakaya, ramen, tempura and teriyaki. While all these can be found in Tokyo, the styles for each vary from region to region, but it all can be tried here. It might not be the “best of the best“, but a fair representation of most Japanese dishes found throughout Japan can be found in Tokyo. Try not to limit exploration of the cuisine to the expected categories, because it is a narrow view of what Japanese food is, but it’s a starting point to a much longer culinary journey.

Where to eat in Tokyo?

The following are restaurants I tried during Follow Me Foodie to Japan. I researched a list of about 100 restaurants so I obviously did not make them all, but here are some highlights as a first-time tourist in Tokyo.

They are not necessarily “the best” (which is too personal), but they were recommended by Japanese chefs, trusted sources, and friends who either spent time in Japan exploring food, or were/are born and raised there. I tried a lot more food from each restaurant than the photos I’m showing, but this is just a glimpse.

Rokurinsha Tokyo Ramen Street Best Ramen in TokyoRokurinsha Tokyo (Ramen Street) 09Rokurinsha Tokyo (Ramen Street)
1-9-1 Marunochi, Chiyoda, Tokyo Prefecture, Japan | +81 3-3286-0166

Cuisine: Japanese/ramen
Price: About $10-15USD/per person
Notes: Located in level B1 of First Avenue Tokyo Station (inside train station on “Tokyo Ramen Street”) | considered “best tsukemen in the city” | local/tourist favourite | long lines at peak hours | causal | quick | budget-friendly | Japanese menu
♦♦♦♦♦ – Follow Me Foodie Must Try! (Bonus marks! 100%+)

Gogyo ramen in tokyo kyoto japan burnt miso ramenGogyo Burnt Miso Ramen in Tokyo & Kyoto Japan 07Gogyo
1-4-36 Nishiazabu, Minato, Tokyo Prefecture 106-0031, Japan | +81 3-5775-5566
Cuisine: Japanese/ramen
Price: About $10-15USD/per person
Notes: Try the signature Burnt Miso Ramen | closes for break at 4:30pm | local favourite | causal | quick | budget-friendly | Japanese and English menu
♦♦♦♦ – Excellent, make a trip out for it. (90-100%)

Hichibe Tokyo First Sashimi Sushi Bar in JapanTokyo - Hichibe First sushi sashimi bar in Tokyo 27Hachibe
1-7-6 Ebisu, Shibuya, Tokyo Prefecture, Japan | +81 3-3280-8181
Cuisine: Japanese/Sushi/sashimi
Price: About $20-30+USD/per person
Notes: Good quality| good selection | fresh | omakase or a la carte | limited hot foot available | sushi and sake bar | affordable | local favourite | casual | affordable | good value | after hours | open late | seats 12 | Japanese menu | good sake selection
♦♦♦ – Very good, dining itinerary worthy. (70-89%)

Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo JapanTsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo 11Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo 04Tsukiji Fish Market (Tokyo Central Wholesale Market)
5-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo, Tokyo Prefecture 104-0045, Japan | +81 3-3542-1111
Cuisine: Sushi/sashimi
Price: Varies depending on restaurant (About $20-30+USD/per person)
Notes: Go early – by 5 am | Sushi Dai and Daiwa Sushi have 2+ hours line up and are most popular, but not necessarily that much better than others. | If you want to see the Tuna auction, start lining up at 2:30am. 5am is already too late. | Visiting the fish market is a must-do, and the sushi restaurants are very good value, but not necessarily “the best“.
♦♦♦♦♦ – Follow Me Foodie Must Try/Visit! (Bonus marks! 100%+)

Tonkatsu Wako Japan TokyoTonkatsu Wako
6-5-1 Nishishinjuku, Shinjuku, Tokyo Prefecture, Japan |+ 03-3348 0610
Cuisine: Tonkatsu/Japanese
Price: About $15-25/per person
Notes: Inside Tokyo train station | Japanese chain famous for Tonkatsu | I considered it very good, but Tonkatsu gets even better than this | Maisen is most popular for Tonkatsu | good quality | quick | casual | affordable | clean | authentic
♦♦ – Good, with some hits and misses. (50-69% – Closer to 65%+)

Kozue Park Hyatt Tokyo JapanKozue at Park Hyatt Tokyo, Japan 38Kozue at Park Hyatt Tokyo, Japan 48Kozue at Park Hyatt
Nishishinjuku | Park Hyatt Hotel, Shinjuku, Tokyo Prefecture, Japan | +81 3-5323-3460
Cuisine: Japanese
Price: $50+USD/per person
Notes: Incredible view | upscale | fine dining | various Tasting Menus | seasonal menus | good sake/cocktail menu | omakase available | quiet/sophisticated ambiance | traditional Japanese | beautiful food | good for entertaining/business/special occasions | Japanese and English menus
♦♦♦♦ – Excellent, make a trip out for it. (90-100%)

Ginza Akebono Mochi Shop in Tokyo JapanGinza Akebono Mochi Shop
5-7-19 Ginza, Chuo, Tokyo Prefecture 104-0061, Japan | +81 3-3571-3640
Cuisine: Japanese/Desserts
Price: $10 or less
Notes: Traditional Japanese sweets | variety of mochi/sweets | local favourite | benchmark for mochi | fresh mochi | no seating | to-go/gift shop
♦♦♦ – Very good, dining itinerary worthy. (70-89% – closer to 89%+, but if you’re a mochi fan this is likely “the best” it gets)

Nadaman Shangri-la Tokyo JapanNadaman Japanese Shangri-la Hotel Tokyo09Nadaman in Shanghri-La Hotel, Tokyo
1-8-3 Marunouchi | 28F Marunouchi Trust Tower Main (Shangri-La Hotel, Tokyo), Chiyoda, Tokyo Prefecture 100-8283, Japan | +81 3-6739-7898
Cuisine: Japanese/Sashimi/Beef
Price: $50+USD/per person
Notes: Japanese fine dining restaurant chain | Traditional Japanese | seasonal menus | private room available | great view | sushi counter | Teppanyaki counter
♦♦♦ – Very good, dining itinerary worthy. (70-89% – closer to 75%)

Piacere Italian Shangri-La TokyoPiacere at Shangri-La Hotel, Tokyo
1-8-3 Marunouchi | 28F Marunouchi Trust Tower Main (Shangri-La Hotel, Tokyo), Chiyoda, Tokyo Prefecture 100-8283, Japan | +81 3-6739-7898
Cuisine: Italian
Price: $50+USD/per person
Notes: Italian chef | fine dining Italian | excellent view | elegant/ritzy ambiance | private dining spaces | seasonal menus | good wine list | special occasions | open for lunch and dinner | Japanese and English menus
♦♦♦ – Very good, dining itinerary worthy. (70-89% – closer to 80%+)

Sushi Kanesake Best Sushi in Tokyo JapanSushi Kanesake Tokyo Best Sushi 53Sushi Kanesaka
8-10-3 Ginza, Chuo, Tokyo Prefecture, Japan | +81 3-5568-4411
Cuisine: Japanese/Sushi/Sashimi
Price: $50+USD/per person
Notes: 2 Michelin Star | upscale | Omakase lunch/dinner (starts at $50 for lunch) | exquisite sushi | fresh | top quality sashimi | open daily for lunch and dinner | reservations recommended | limited seating
♦♦♦♦♦ – Follow Me Foodie Must Try! (Bonus marks! 100%+)

High End Luxury Department Stores Food Halls Emporium in JapanDepachika (Food emporiums located in the basement’s of luxury department stores) – I highly recommend visiting a dapachika. The most well known ones in Tokyo include Daimaru (high end), and Nihonbashi Takashimaya or Mitsukoshi, which are even higher end. Think of them as the Japanese versions of Harrod’s. The food is presented like jewellery and the fruit treated like gold. It’s a great place to pick up gifts, or even to grab lunch.

Dine Out Preview 2013 - Market Jiro Sushi 04Note: I know you’re going to ask, but no, I did not make it to Jiro (3 Michelin Star). It was booked solid for 2 months. Sukibayashi Jiro (2 Michelin Star) in Roppongi Hills is opened by Jiro’s younger son, Sukibayashi. For the chef’s tasting menu/omakase it is about $300USD for 20 pieces of sushi/sashimi at both restaurants. At Jiro you finish in about 25 minutes, and at Sukibayashi Jiro you can take your time. I can’t comment further, but I highly recommend Sushi Kanesaka or Sawada Sushi (these options are not even “plan B” although I haven’t tried Sawada Sushi yet, but I was recommended by trusted sources who have dined at all of the above).

Shangri La Tokyo JapanWhere I stayed: Shangri-la Tokyo (Click for audio)

Follow Me Foodie’s Travellers’ Tips:

  • Learn basic Japanese or have a translator. Hire one or download one.
  • Learn basic Japanese etiquette.
  • Learn how to eat sushi.
  • Know the regional specialities. (I’ll discuss this in a future post)
  • Free wi-fi is extremely rare, so rent a portable wi-fi device at the airport or buy a data plan.
  • Purchase your Japan Rail Pass before getting to Japan if you plan to travel to many cities. If you’re only in Tokyo, there is no need.
  • Experience 1-2 nights in a ryokan (Japanese style hotel).
  • There is no tipping, even at nice places.

Follow Me Foodie to Kyoto, Japan!

15 Comments

  • trang le says:

    Hi,

    What do you recommend as a good app for Japanese translation? thanks.

    Trang

  • R. Kennedy says:

    June 2, 2014

    Dear Follow Me Foodie,

    I just returned to my hotel (the Conrad Tokyo, which is fantastic if you ever come back) from an evening adventure to Gogyo for dinner. Your blog was my inspiration and I must say it was a magnificent recommendation. I considered the Rokurinsha Tokyo as well, but since I have already spent time in that area and didn’t really feel like eating in a train station, I opted for the 4 star vs. the 5 star location.

    Getting there wasn’t really that bad (about 25 minutes train / walk combo) and it was worth every minute. The walk through the side streets and neighborhoods was quite pleasant and offered more of a glimpse into everyday Japanese life than I imagined. Plus, there was much to see in the busy areas outside of the Roppongi Station. Thank you also for the recommendation on the burnt (miso) ramen. It was truly extraordiary. I coupled the dish with a dumpling appetizer, extra pork and two beers. For a moment I thought I died and had gone to Japan heaven!

    Traveling alone can be somewhat boring, but when a seemingly educated blogger proposes a statement like “Excellent, make a trip out for it, 90-100%”, how could I resist? Needless to say I’m glad that I didn’t. Thanks again and keep ’em coming.

    By the way, I am in Osaka the next few days. Any recommendations for this locale? Take care, and safe travels.

    Sincerely,
    R. Kennedy (Chicago, IL)

  • Mijune says:

    Hi R. Kennedy!

    What a pleasant message! Thank you so much! I’m so happy you liked the ramen!!! I really hope you get to try Rokurinsha though…. honestly, it was life changing. It was a legendary bowl of ramen.

    Unfortunately I didn’t make it to Osaka and spent my time in Kyoto instead. However, if you are in Osaka I recommend trying the okonomoyaki there. It’s kind of what they’re known for. Okonomiyaki Kiji is recommended and Hajime if you don’t mind splurging 🙂

  • R. Kennedy says:

    Dear Follow Me Foodie,

    I am headed back to Tokyo from Osaka via train. When I arrive, I will be stopping at your 5 star spot. “Life changing” is hard to pass up! I will let you know my findings and thank you for taking the time to share your experiences!

    Sincerely,
    R. Kennedy

  • Paul says:

    Nice write up. Makes me want to go back to Japan again right now.

  • Mijune says:

    @Paul – thank you so much!! Hope you visit this blog and Japan again!

  • Alex de Vallette says:

    It’s been some time since I visited Japan, but I have great memories. What I liked especially about Japanese restaurants were the plastic replicas of dishes that showed you what you would get. As usual a smile goes a long way, even in a big city with millions of people.

  • Kevin Lin says:

    My girlfriend and I are in Tokyo for a couple of weeks and we thought we would try one of the restaurants that you recommended. Your write-up of Hachibe seemed perfect for us; we wanted a real Japanese sushi experience.

    Unfortunately, when we walked through the door, a chef came up to us and asked if we spoke Japanese. We, of course, responded that we did not. He then proceeded to shoo us out of the restaurant. Feeling confused and dejected, we wandered into the nearest conveyor belt sushi place. Definitely not the experience we wanted.

    I don’t think Hachibe should be recommended to non-Japanese speaking tourists, as they may receive similar treatment as we did.

  • Mijune says:

    @Kevin Lin – oh nooooo!!! That is AWFUL!!!! I was a non-Japanese speaking tourist and they didn’t know anything about me or what I did… and he was so nice!! I’m so sorry for your experience. I hope that doesn’t deter you from trying some of my other recommendations. Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment! The warning is appreciated.

  • Jeanette says:

    My husband I, have just booked a trip to Japan (Tokyo and Kyoto) and Hong Kong. I’ve started to research and came across your blog. I’ll definitely be saving and referencing it for our upcoming visit. Well done! Thank you! Cheers!

  • Juliette says:

    Good recommendations. After spending one year in Asia, I have been twice to Japan and the food really is delicious, it is a pleasure to go there for anyone who is passionate about food. Now working in London for an events company that lists many food / cooking related events I am always looking for places where I can eat the same amazing dishes that I was able to eat in Japan and Asia in general. I would also suggest Gachi in Tokyo in order to eat Tsukemen; it is really good.

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