Be it your first or twenty-seventh time traveling to Tokyo, food will always remain at the top of your agenda. We are all mad for some good jap, so visiting the capital of Japan is basically a pilgrimage. I mean, there must be a reason why Eat comes before Pray and Love, right?
There are lots of great food places in Japan, but with tons of ramen specialists and sashimi-slicing experts and only so much space in your tummy, we think its best to save that space for some of Tokyo’s famous food places.
Is your body ready? Here is our ultimate list of eats worthy of your tummy. Get your tastebuds ready for a whole palette of flavours as you whizz through this bucket list of gustatory euphoria- all at really decent prices too!
Read Also: Quirky Tokyo Guide for other fun things to experience in the city.
1) Best Tonkatsu: Maisen Tonkatsu
The first thing we saw while walking towards Maisen Tonkatsu was a sizeable line and a man efficiently delegating seating and waiting times from a counter. We were told that there would be a waiting time of an hour (!!) but we were seated within 15 to 20 minutes. (Spoiler alert: What we were about to consume would have been well worth an hour’s wait)
The restaurant has two floors: counter seats line the first level where you can watch the chef while you eat, whilst tatami seating and proper tables and chairs smatter the second. Since we came in a group of 4, we were seated on the second level.
Maisen Tonkatsu is known for its terrific tonkatsu, and it did not disappoint. Wanting to sample a little of everything this restaurant had to offer, I ordered one of their more diverse sets, consisting of three types of rice, sashimi, miso soup, tonkatsu and ICE CREAM!
The three types of rice were flavourful and came in small portions. While none of them were particularly outstanding as a stand-alone, it is pretty hard to get sick of what you are having. Of the three, I liked the salmon and ikura rice best. As I joyfully alternated between that, bites of pork slices, and crumbly bits of egg and meat, I savoured their acclaimed tonkatsu and was blown away.
The tonkatsu was crisp on the outside and crumbled in our mouths in a soft release of orgasmic flavour (I’m not even exaggerating). While their sashimi and sushi were nothing to phone home about, everything was fresh despite it being a tonkatsu place.
Verdict: If you are a fan of tonkatsu and can’t wait to try what is possibly going to be one of the best tonkatsu of your life, this place is a must-visit.
Price: ¥1790 and up
Address: 4-8-5 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku
Opening Hours: 11am – 11pm ( Last Order 10pm)
2) The Solo Eating Experience: Ichiran Ramen
A huge disclaimer: I am not a fan of ramen at all.
In fact, I have not touched ramen for years before trying Ichiran Ramen. Prior to my ramen hiatus, I have tried a whole array of overrated, inconsistent, overcooked, sad excuses for ramen that are just damn gelat. To avoid disappointment, I have simply given most ramen places a miss. So when The Travel Intern fam insisted on having Ichiran, I was so reluctant.
Ichiran is famous for its privacy concept and is especially popular amongst lone diners. Everyone sits along a counter with dividers in between and are served through a little curtain flap by elusive waiters and waitresses whom you will not see throughout your Ichiran experience.
We waited about 20 minutes to be seated, during which we purchased little meal coupons on a vending machine and filled up forms customising our ramen. This means you get to indicate your preferences, from the amount of oil, spiciness, to the types of onion.
The process operated on a ruthless and impressive efficiency, so much so the level of customisation available astounded me. What was even more surprising was how delicious the ramen was: the soup was chockfull of flavours yet was not too thick and I found the level of hardness for my ramen I chose perfect for me. I did not expect to like the ramen, let alone finish it. 10/10 recommend.
Side note: Anyone with the inside scoop on their supply-chain management hit me up, I would love to know how they deliver such quality at such speed.
Verdict: No words except that the only kind of men I need now is ramen.
Price: From ¥890
Address: 1 Chome-22-7 Jinnan, 渋谷区 Tokyo 150-0041, Japan
Opening Hours: 24/7!!!!!
3) Best Budget Find: Sukiya
Sukiya is a restaurant chain that serves hearty Japanese food. Popular amongst the locals, particularly students and salary men, Sukiya is reminiscent of what Maccas is to us (okay fine, me)- except way better and healthier.
We visited the outlet at Shinjuku South Station (すき家 新宿南店), but there are 1856 outlets across Japan so you are likely to chance upon one just about anywhere.
The place was packed even at 11pm, but being a fast food place, the queue moved very quickly and we were seated within minutes. According to the staff, the gyudon with 3 cheeses was a hot favourite, so… we got three bowls of that.
The gyudon was uncomplicated with all the right flavours, and the generous dollop of warm cheese just made it heavenly on a cold winter night. While we were all fans of this dish, lovers of lighter tastes and those who aren’t a fan of cheese (SIGH WHAT WOULD CHEESUS SAY?) should opt for the original gyudon.
We also tried the green onion and raw egg, which was delicious but relatively more bland.
Besides gyudon, Sukiya also offers a huge range of other Japanese foods, such as pork curries, ginger pork bowls, natto set meals and specialty bowls. We really wanted to try the minced tuna bowl as well but I guess we’d have to wait till next time, Japan!
Verdict: We’d have to proclaim their gyudon a classic, so if you want to have a taste of authentic salary men fare, Sukiya is the place to go!
Price: From ¥290 (Small) and ¥300 (Medium)
Address: 3 Chome-32-2 Shinjuku, Tokyo 160-0022, Japan (but there are outlets just about everywhere)
Opening Hours: 24/7!!!!
4) Best Uni Fix: Nakaya 仲家 -Tsukiji Market
I am sure most of you are already familiar with the famous Tsukiji market (there is even a whole movie based on it!). Although its 5am tuna auctions are no longer open to the public*, you can still visit Tsukiji market from 10am onwards.
*Available again after 15th Jan 2017
Visiting this iconic place is highly recommended. I thought my bedroom floor was the epitome of an organised mess, and then I saw true order in chaos when we visited Tsukiji market.
Of the numerous eateries nearby where tourists and locals alike go to get their fishy fix, we have an ace place to share when it comes to the decadent, melt-in-your-mouth textures of uni (sea urchin).
While Nakaya is tucked away in one of the backlanes of Tsukiji market, the eager foodies of the world seemed to have found it anyway. We went over around 915am and managed to get a table by 955am.
Within, Nakaya is a tiny, humble Japanese restaurant, with eclectic decor. We tried 3 different bowls, with uni being a constant. I had the ikura bowl, which tasted like fresh luxury across my tongue, balanced with vinegar rice. The crabmeat bowl was delicious as well, but the salmon sashimi paled in comparison.
Verdict: This place is incredibly value-for-money if you are a fan of uni, beginning at ¥1300.
Price: From ¥1300
Address: 6 Chome-2-1 Tsukiji, 中央区 Tokyo 104-0045, Japan
Opening Hours: 5 am – 2 pm (closed on Sunday and market holidays)
5) Best Tamagoyaki: Daisada Tamagoyaki
Address: Japan, 〒104-0045 Tokyo, 中央区Tsukiji, ５−２−１ 魚がし横丁7号館
Opening hours: 4am — 3pm (Mon — Sat)
6) The First Katsu Curry Restaurant: Grill Swiss
Ever wondered how katsu curry came about? It began when famous baseball player Shigeru Chiba asked the cook at Grill Swiss to add katsu to his curry. It was such a hit it made it to the menu.
We visited the first katsu curry restaurant in glee and while not particularly blown away, were delighted with our meal. Moreover, the restaurant was homely and quaint, with a faint European vibe. Grill Swiss’ waffle cone ice-creams looked wicked as well, but we were all too stuffed from jap curry. The happy, ice-cream smeared faces of some of the children there pretty much sold it though.
We tried their omu rice too, which came drizzled in a lighter, saltier sauce. This was much less satisfying than the katsu curries, so we suggest skipping this one when you visit.
Verdict: On the whole, the katsu curries were classic and delectable. While there might have since been better katsu curries elsewhere, this pioneer restaurant is worth a visit if you happen to be in Tokyo.
Price: From ¥1080
Address: Japan, 〒104-0061 Tokyo, 中央区Ginza, 3−5−16
Opening Hours: 11am – 5pm (Mon) , 11am-8pm (Wed- Sun), Closed on Tuesdays, open if national holiday falls on a Tuesday, with the following Wednesday closed
7) Best Takoyaki: Gindaco Takoyaki
Takoyaki are these savoury balls of wheat flour-based batter most commonly filled with pieces of octopus, and the Gindaco chain is our favourite place to get them. Despite having more than 300 outlets around Tokyo, long queues are typical. Luckily, these queues move fast!
We visited the 2-level Gindaco branch at Harajuku, which has counter seats downstairs and a seating area on the second floor for about 10 people.
Gindaco’s tako batter had just the right consistency, so it had a good bite and did not fall apart. We got to choose from a list of sauces and went with the popular triple cheese sauce, which went really well with the takoyaki without being too overpowering.
Verdict: We love this Japanese snack, even the poorer, lacklustre renditions, so this is a huge yes from us if you’re craving some decent takoyaki.
Price: From ¥550/ 8pc
Address: 1 Chome-14-24 Jingumae, 渋谷区 Tokyo 150-0001, Japan
Opening Hours: 10am – 3am (Harajuku outlet)
BONUS — @Home Cafe – Akihabara
While the bulk of food places mentioned here have to do with iconic Japanese foods and where to get them, we have included a bonus cafe which will complete your uniquely Japan journey.
I visited this on an individual quest to experience Japan’s maid cafe phenomenon firsthand. Noted as one of the best maid cafes, @Home Cafe is one of many found around Akihabara. Accompanied by a friend, we were first met with a queue of locals and tourists along dingy stairs waiting to enter.
While waiting, the host handed us a menu with some house rules. Rules include no photography within, which explain the lack of photos here. He also sharply identified us as English-speaking and we were pleased to have an English-speaking maid assigned to us.
A short 15 minutes later, Ramune greeted us with “Welcome home Master and Princess!” Like the rest of the maids, she was completely in character and was genuine in engaging us in constant conversation.
There are various a la carte beverages and food, but we opted for one of their value-for-money sets, some of which are listed below for reference:
– Drink (non-alcoholic) + polaroid with maid of choice (¥1200)
– Drink (non-alcoholic) + Dessert + polaroid with maid of choice (¥1600)
– Drink (non-alcoholic) + Food + polaroid with maid of choice (¥1900)
– One game with maid of choice (¥570)
Entry costs ¥600 for a full immersive hour.
Every item on the menu comes with some interaction with the maids, such as a repeat-after-me song that came with the signature milk/soda-based drink I ordered while she shook my drink. My friend got a character of his choice drawn on the foam of his caramel latte.
Since we got sets, a polaroid with a maid of our choice is included. To my dismay, they presented me with a board with pinned polaroids of the girls, where they are ranked. Some of the girls cost premium.
The maids here are a caricature of the domestic Japanese woman, tittering and affirming the customer constantly. From a feminist standpoint, I was a little indignant and apprehensive because of the objectification of women and unhealthy stereotypes the maid cafe industry might perpetuate.
As such, I spoke to Ramune, only to learn that she has been happily working this job part-time for 3 years while studying design in university. Conversely, this job has empowered her with english lessons so she can continue to better herself while earning some side dough. Ultimately, the maid cafe is a business with a lot of demand, and their being maids is just a job- a job they do very well at that.
Verdict: On the whole, my maid cafe experience was eye-opening and an interesting change of atmosphere. Their food and beverages are not particularly impressive, but truly understanding a little nugget of Japanese culture through food is more than what one can ask for.
It was a little strange to say the least and evoked some culture shock but I would recommend everyone indulge in this uniquely Japan experience at least once.
Price: ¥600 (Entry), From ¥1200 (Sets with keepsakes)
Address: Japan, 〒101-0021 Tokyo, 千代田区外神田4 Chome−3−3, ドンキホーテ 秋葉原 店 5 階
Opening Hours: 1130am- 11pm (Weekdays), 1030am – 11pm (Weekends)
Hope you found this list useful! Any of your favourite Tokyo eats that didn’t make the list? Let us know!