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My Top 11 Tokyo Eats

Saturday January 14, 2017
by Lasse Laursen

This list is almost 2 years overdue now, but given that I still often offer this advice to travelers to Tokyo, I thought I'd finally get my butt in gear and write this stuff down for all posterity. So without further ado, here are my top 11 Tokyo eats that I'd recommend all visitors to Tokyo to go to at least once!

Sushizanmai - In Akihabara, in the Yodobashi building on the 8th Floor

Style: Sushi
Price Range: Low - Medium

Sushizanmai is a franchise, so you'll find plenty of its stores around Tokyo. This one I recommend as it's first of all what's known as a kaiten sushi (meaning conveyor belt) sushi, which is slightly more affordable than their standard store shops. Furthermore, I am an avid fan of arcade games, so this place would always get a visit from me whenever I was in Akihabara! Do yourself a favor and order whatever tuna special they have on and promise me that you will go to the trouble of ordering directly from the sushi chefs. Yes, yes, I know being a foreigner can be intimidating, but even just pointing at the fish on the menu will get across the inteded message. The only word you absolutely need to learn is 'Sumimasen', i.e. Excuse me! Say that, point at the menu and use your fingers to indicate how many you'd like. If you want to also taste the very best sushi you can get there (or any other sushi-joint) then you'll also have to learn to say 'Aburi toro' - which will net you the braised fatty tuna. It's simply to die for. I usually ended up eating myself full for about 3400 Yen without sparing any quality.

Numazuko - In Shinjuku underground

Style: Sushi
Price Range: Medium

Numazuko is somewhat more upscale than Sushizanmai in my opinion, and their price range does reflect this. You'll also have a bit more trouble deciphering the menu here, but any extrovert should not have too much trouble. Again, just point/ask away and you'll get through a lovely meal. What you can expect with the higher price is that almost all of the fish is less cold, whereas with Sushizanmai you may get unlucky and see the chef grab it straight from the cooler (prior to serving) forcing you to either wait to consume the delicious fish or lose some of its taste.

Genki Sushi - In the Shibuya neighborhood

Style: Sushi
Price Range: Low

This is more or less the McDonalds of Sushi in my eyes. Not in terms of being so pre-processed and sugary that you'll hit a high, then crash, and be hungry two hours later. More in terms of the most low-end offering with ingredients that are just good enough to eat. I'd recommend it all the same just for the experience, and it is worth mentioning that I'd recommend Genki Sushi 100 times more than McDonalds. The entire serving system is automated via a small tablet along with moving conveyer-belts. The menu offers multiple languages so you won't have to worry about misunderstandings. Finally, I will stress that the Sushi is nowhere near the quality of either of two aforementioned places, so set your expectations accordingly.

Gyu kaku - In a basement in the Shibuya neighborhood

Style: Korean Barbecue
Price Range: Medium-High

Another fairly priced favorite of mine. This place offers an endless supply of meat in more varieties than you can fathom. It's not the highest quality, but it's no slouch either. I highly recommend getting one of their all you can eat deals. Yes - you read correctly, deals. They have multiple all-you-can-eat options depending on how fancy the meats are that you'd like to dine on. This particular establishment tends to get quite busy during regular dining hours so expect to wait to be seated (sometimes up to an hour) or just go a bit later/earlier than the general population. If they don't offer you an English menu upfront you can usually get one if you ask, however note that it may not be as up to date as the Japanese one, so I'd recommend holding on to both during your dining experience.

Barbacoa - Any franchise location in Tokyo

Style: Brazilian Barbecue
Price Range: Medium-High

This is one of the more upscale choices. Given the price tag attached, I highly recommend visiting the restaurant during lunch time for a cheaper experience. Their all-you-can-eat offer is what you'll want to take, and do yourself a favor and perhaps pass on the chicken and sausages that they'll offer up first. After those two meats, you'll be served an endless rotation of various delicious cuts each more delicious than the last. Beware you may find yourself rolling home rather than walking from this place. It is nothing short of supremely delicious. Given its popularity, reservations are a must, usually a day or two in advance. My one and only knock against the place is that the all-you-can-eat menu only includes water/juice unless you go all the way and include beer and wine.

Frijoles - Any franchise location in Tokyo

Style: Mexican
Price Range: Medium

This is what I'd call good upscale take-away food. Their steak filled burrito is simply to die for - especially when you're nursing a hang-over from going hard at Womb from the other night. Personally I always stuck with their rice variety in Grande with sour-cream - hold the guac. Nothing against guacamole but the whole thing is so delicious on its own that it never seemed necessary.

Takahashi in Gotanda

Style: Japanese Yakitori (Meat skewers)
Price Range: High

This place used to have a Michelin star which I believe it has unfortunately lost. That being said, I would still say this place offers a phenomenal Japanese dining experience in the 6000-10000 Yen range. I'd highly recommend taking the chef's choice menu to start and then supplying with whatever skewers you find appealing. I personally cannot recommend the miso-Chicken skewers enough.

Yakitori in Roppongi

Style: Japanese Yakitori (Meat skewers)
Price Range: Low

This is a bit of a sad story. I used to live about 10 minutes on foot from this place and only found out about it during the last two months of my stay in Tokyo. For the price range it is in, and considering its location, it offers phenomenal value. Given that it is located in/near Roppongi, this makes the place even more unique. I'm sure you can find other yakitori places that are just as good/affordable, but this is one of the ones I've been to several time with terrific results. Note that it offers near zero help for foreigners as the entire menu is in Japanese and without any pictures.

Nabe-zo - any franchise location in Tokyo

Style: Shabu Shabu (Thinnly slice meat in hot pot with veggies)
Price Range: Medium

Another lovely all-you-can-eat offering which I recommend visiting at lunch time for an incredibly affordable experience. The cuisine is Japanese and the place offers both a standard meat all-you-can-eat experience and a deluxe meat all-you-can-eat experience. I recommend the former as the latter didn't really offer anything significantly better in my opinion. Don't hesitate to ask for more sauce if/when you run out, and a single replacement of the hotpot water is also included in the offering.

Basically any Izakaya in Tokyo

Style: Informal Japanese Gastropub
Price Range: Low-Medium

I thought a bit about mentioning some specific Izakaya's throughout Tokyo, but honestly I think you'll be generally well off with most of them. In which case, you may as well pick one close to your travels. Lots of guides on the internet can tell you where to find the very best in terms of price and service/food. I generally recommend going to an Izakaya because it's a very affordable Japanese dining experience. During rush hour you'll find they're frequented by a lot of post-work salarymen. Note that like many of Tokyo's restaurants frequented by salarymen, it is virtually impossible to avoid smoke. Also good luck finding one that serves rum and coke. They do exist, but they're few and far in-between.

Firehouse

Style: Burgers
Price Range: Low-Medium

Yes - burgers are not Japanese. But that doesn't mean that burgers are not tasty in Tokyo. This place holds a special place in my heart being near my place of work (The University of Tokyo) as well as being run by an exceedingly friendly gentleman who is fluent in English. If you come across Daimon, please tell him 'Hello' from yours truly. I personally recommend their mushroom burger, but pretty much any option on the menu is a solid pick.

Honorable Mention: Wendy's

Style: Burgers
Price Range: Low-Medium

Yes, yes... Wendy's is perhaps now the farthest we can stray from either Japanese or 'upscale' food, but Wendy's burgers are nothing to scoff at. I frequented their (now closed/moved) Roppongi branch more than I care to admit to. Their burgers are exceedingly tasty, and I personally recommend the deluxe double patty version with the works, which will cost you just shy of about 1000 yen.

And that's it... The entire list. Glad I got that out of my system. Now you go to either of these places and get some of their goodness into your system!

 


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