There’s so much more to try at Tokyo’s best Japanese restaurants than ramen and sushi. After all, the Japanese capital has more Michelin stars than any other city on Earth, and even the budget places rarely serve up a bad meal.
Partake in a traditional Japanese barbecue at Yamano
This intimate restaurant, situated in bustling Akihabara, is one of the best places in Tokyo to try the Japanese specialityyakiniku (Japanese-style barbecue). Yamano serves the finest quality A5-rank Japanese beef, which guests cook themselves on an open fire. Dip your meat selection in sweet soy, miso or a spicy tomato-based marinade before barbecuing it and enjoying with vegetables, miso soup and rice side dishes.
Afuri is a great option for a light and delicate ramen. The dish features fresh, local vegetables and spring water from Mount Afuri, which gives it a completely unique flavour that has made it a firm Tokyo favourite. The speciality dishes at Afuri include yuzu ramen, which features a chicken-based broth, and vegan ramen with lotus root. While you can often expect queues at the door, the service is quick, so it doesn’t take long to be seated. Afuri has locations across the city, but the Ebisu branch is the most popular due to its larger interior and convenient location next to Ebisu station.
Kobe beef is famous for very good reason, as it has a truly special taste. Kaiseki 511 serves A5-quality kobe beef (which is as high quality as it gets) prepared in various ways, including as steak, in sushi or ready to dip in shabu-shabu (a boiling broth that cooks the meat at your table). The wide range of beef-based dishes on offer means that it’s sure to suit plenty of tastes, and while the excellence of the food does come at a price, Kaiseki 511 also offers a special lunch deal that will suit those on a budget.
Tucked away in Harajuku, and very unassuming from the outside, is the tiny Harajuku Gyozaro, which is well known for offering some of the best, and most reasonably priced, dumplings in Tokyo. Gyoza (pan-fried dumplings) are common in Japan and Harajuku Gyozaro has taken this simple dish and made it the restaurant’s pride and joy. Customers can pick from steamed or fried gyoza in trays of six, stuffed with either vegetables or chicken and vegetables. The shop usually has a sizeable line outside but it serves quickly, and you can either take your food away and sit in the nearby grounds of Meiji Jingu Shrine or sit inside on one of the few seats (around six).
Fans of tuna sushi and sashimi can’t go wrong with a visit to renowned tuna experts Itamae Sushi. Famous for sourcing the freshest and finest tuna, there are also live tuna-cutting performances while you eat, meaning a meal here is an experience you’ll remember. It has a traditional wooden interior and bar seating set around the kitchen, so you can also get a view of the impressive chefs at work. Just a one-minute walk from Asakusa station, this restaurant is convenient if you’d like to explore the area.
Kozue has already achieved three Michelin stars for its contemporary take on kaiseki (a traditional Japanese style of dining, in which a number of courses are served individually on a tray). Waiters in kimonos serve customers beautiful and well-thought-out dishes, such as pufferfish, matsutake mushrooms and shabu-shabu beef. Book a window seat to enjoy the vista of Mount Fuji from the large windows.
A classic Japanese-style restaurant near Ueno Park that specialises in pushing tofu to its maximum culinary potential, Sasanoyuki is a family-run business that is now in its ninth generation. The restaurant’s surroundings are typically Japanese, with low tables and muted lighting, tatami mats, traditionally dressed staff and a beautiful Japanese garden to look out on. Most dishes are perfect for vegetarians and vegans, but some incorporate a fish-based broth or are sprinkled with fish flakes (just specify if you’d like these left off your meal). Offering a tranquil and healthy food experience, Sasanoyuki is also ideal for anyone interested in fine, authentic Japanese food. The most popular dishes are the plain tofu with soy dip and the tofu soup, but if you’re not sure what to pick, consider choosing the taster dish, which has a little of everything. The tofu ice cream is a must-try.
You haven’t experienced the best in Japanese cuisine until you’ve tried soba (Japanese buckwheat noodles), one of the country’s most traditional foods. Yabu Soba is one of the longest-established soba restaurants in Tokyo and has been around since 1892. Although visitors might notice that there are similarities between soba and ramen, soba is different as the noodles are served separately to the broth, which is provided on the side, and into which it is customary to dip your noodles. Soba is also served with a side of meat, vegetables or tempura, making a meal here a wholesome and unique experience.
A very popular ramen restaurant in Tokyo, Ippudo specialises in tonkotsu ramen, a dish that originated in Fukuoka, in the southernmost tip of mainland Japan. Tonkotsu ramen is traditionally served with pork broth, but Ippudo also serves a number of other ramen options, including a vegetarian version. Ippudo has branches across Tokyo but the original outlet is in Roppongi, and this restaurant also has the largest interior. The restaurant doesn’t require reservations, but you may have to wait a little while to be served.
Yakitori (grilled chicken skewers) are a delicacy in Japan, and the simple dish is sold everywhere, from convenience stores and pubs to the finest restaurants. You’ll be spoilt for choice at Kushiyaki Bistro Fukumimi, nestled in the heart of Tokyo’s Ginza neighbourhood, as it’s the only restaurant in town to serve more than 40 different kinds of charcoal-grilled skewer, all of which are grilled to perfection. The restaurant cooks only free-range chicken, and there is also an extensive sake menu to accompany the yakitori sticks.