The food in Tokyo, and everywhere in Japan, is ridiculously good. We have had friends back in the States say to us “don’t you get sick of just eating sushi?” and then are shocked to find that in a month in Tokyo we only ate sushi two or three times. There is just so much amazing foods to try! Ramen, udon, soba, katsu, curry, shabu shabu, yakitori, kaiseki, the list goes on and on. And that’s just Japanese cuisine! Whether its French, Italian, Israeli, or Thai, you can find great examples of every cuisine in Tokyo. For the most part, we tried to stick to Japanese food, knowing that we will have ample opportunity to try other cuisines later in our travels. Here are 10 of our favorite spots in Tokyo. For the full list of everything we ate, check out our Round The World Food page.
One of the things we were most excited to eat in Japan was katsu curry. A huge dish of rice and fried pork cutlet smothered with curry sauce… mmm-mmmm. It's filling, delicious, and budget friendly! There is a chain of katsu curry restaurants called CoCo Curry with locations all over Japan. They are known for having good curry at dirt cheap prices. We are big CoCo fans. So when we found a little hole-in-the-wall called Manten that has even better curry then CoCo, in larger portions, and for even less dough (650 yen!)?? You bet we were excited. There isn't an English menu, but who needs the menu anyway. Just go in, sit down at the counter, and order Katsu Curry. You won't be disappointed.
There are so many tiny Yakitori places crammed into Piss Alley that it can be overwhelming choosing a place to eat at. We did some research beforehand but came up mostly empty handed. I found one blog post from a few years ago that mentioned a place called Sasamoto, and had a few videos of the chef grilling skewers of meat. When we were wandering Piss Alley that night, we peeked into one of the restaurants and immediately recognized that chef. I am pretty sure he was even wearing the same outfit haha. There was no English menu but the friendly chef asked if we ate pork and we said yes. He then proceeded to make us a series of incredibly delicious skewers, each tastier than the last. Before grilling the meat he would stick the skewer in a huge vat of bubbling mystery liquid. It looked somewhat questionable but the flavor it added was soo good. We unfortunately didn’t get a fantastic photo of the place but if you go, ask around for Sasamoto and hopefully someone will point you in the right direction.
Sushi No Midori
If you want affordable sushi in Japan, a conveyor belt sushi joint is usually your best bet. And while those are definitely fun, its usually not the highest quality fish in the world. We wanted to find somewhere with a reputation for good fish that was still cheap. Sushi No Midori was exactly what we were looking for! This VERY popular joint is above Shibuya station and gets packed. We showed up about 20 minutes before they opened for lunch and took a number. Our number was called about 10 minutes after they opened, and by that time there were probably 50 or 60 more people waiting. We sat right at the counter to watch the sushi chefs at work. No question on how long your sushi has been on the conveyor belt, here it gets handed to you seconds after the chef finishes making it. The lunch plate set was a combination of sushi and sashimi, probably 14 or 15 pieces in all, and it only cost about $8. Yass.
Most of the time we are on a tight budget, but sometimes you just need to treat yo self. We figured we couldn’t leave Tokyo without trying a really nice sushi place. We picked a highly regarded restaurant called Sushi Ryusuke that was pricey, but certainly nowhere near the $300-$500 per person sushi restaurants that they have in Tokyo. When we finally found the well-hidden restaurant in Ginza, we walked down some stairs into a tiny but tastefully designed basement room with a counter and just 7 seats. After we ordered some sake, the chef began serving our coursed meal, one piece of delicious sashimi at a time. This was worlds away from all the other sushi places we visited in Japan, some truly exceptional sushi. Anna, who is a self-proclaimed sushi addict, was in heaven. I don’t particularly enjoy sushi that much and even I had to admit that it was an incredible meal. After 12 or 13 phenomenal courses we were both very full, and a little sad that all of our future sushi meals will seem lackluster in comparison.
Another hole-in-the-wall gem that we stumbled upon was this chicken katsu restaurant hidden away in a Shibuya alley. After walking down a busy, neon-lit street full of strip clubs and bars, you turn down a quiet alley and walk into what, at first glance, seems to be someone’s home kitchen. There is a wooden counter surrounding a small kitchen where two old ladies are frying up chicken cutlets and piling small mountains of cabbage onto trays. The chicken is crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. It's definitely some of the best we have had in Tokyo. How can it get even better? The large portions are only $650 yen ($6). DEAL!
Shirohiges Cream Puff Factory
Supposedly this cute bakery and café is owned by the cousin of renowned Japanese animator and director Hayao Miyazaki. So it makes sense that all of the cream puffs are made to look like one of Miyazaki’s most memorable creations, Totoro. Shirohiges is located on a residential street, about a 10 minute walk from the main shopping district of the hip Shimokitazawa neighborhood. There is a bakery downstairs if you just want your cream puffs to go, or a cozy café upstairs where you can enjoy a beer or coffee along with your adorable baked goods.
Incredible ramen restaurants are a dime a dozen in Tokyo. You can barely walk a block without passing one. So the fact that our favorite bowl wasn’t from a tiny, local joint, and was instead from a popular worldwide chain with locations in NYC and LA, makes us feel a little guilty. But what can we say? It was a bomb bowl of ramen. The broth is super flavorful and not too thick or too thin, the pork is succulent, and the noodles are perfectly cooked. Even the side of gyoza we ordered was really tasty. I am sure there is better ramen to be had in Tokyo, but Ippudo was the best of the ones we tried. It even beat out Ichiran! Although eating in the personal booths at Ichiran was a more entertaining experience than Ippudo offers.
In order to avoid spending too much time in our cramped Airbnb studio, we tried to work in coffee shops as much as possible. We tried a bunch of different ones all over the city during our month in Tokyo, but our favorite ended up being the one just around the corner from our apartment, Streamer Coffee. Although there are multiple locations of Streamer, the Gohongi location is the best in our opinion. It is bright and spacious, with plenty of seating options, ample power outlets, and free wifi. The coffee is great and they usually have donuts in the morning. We spent a lot of time writing there and the staff was always super friendly. Upstairs, they have a pretty cool vintage clothing shop called Kilo where you can buy clothes by, you guessed it, the kilo.
Yakitori places can be surprisingly pricey in Tokyo. At first glance you think $5 per dish isn’t so bad, until realize that each dish is just one small skewer of meat. All of a sudden you have spent 50 bucks and aren’t even close to full! Thankfully we found Torikizoku, a Yakitori chain very popular with students in Tokyo. Everything on the menu is 280 yen and the portions are generous. Each order usually comes with two large skewers. We filled up pretty quickly splitting just 6 or 7 dishes between us. You do all of your ordering on an Ipad, which has both pictures of the food and English translations. Best of all, the alcoholic drinks are only 280 yen as well, (probably why its popular with students haha).
Another counter seating spot where the chef cooks up the food right in front of you (I guess we have a thing for that!) This restaurant specializes in Tempura, and for 800 yen you get a couple courses including shrimp tempura, squid tempura, vegetable tempura, and soft boiled egg tempura over rice. The chefs here are very friendly and occasionally they will even put on a show for their customers, splattering batter all over the place and flinging egg shells around. It’s off the beaten path in the trendy Koenji neighborhood so you won’t see many tourists here, but it is very popular with locals so still expect a line to get in.