Tokyo has once again been named the city with the most Michelin-star restaurants in the world, with over 230 establishments. And if you know where to look, you can find some of the highest quality dishes for the price you’d pay for a sandwich at your local café. From traditional comfort food to top-notch ramen dishes, the Japanese capital allows you to indulge in some delicious experiences at affordable prices.
Visit Kyorakutei for the most affordable handmade soba noodles
Restaurant, Japanese, $$$
Tokyo is home to eight Michelin-star soba restaurants, so competition is tight. Using grain-like seeds found in Aizu in Fukushima prefecture, the distinct handmade soba noodles served at Kyorakutei are milled fresh on the day they’re served. The restaurant has counter seats, so freshly cooked noodles and tempura are delivered from the pot right to your plate. All ingredients, from the soba, dashi broth and soy sauce to the wasabi, are sourced from Japan. Try the Juwari soba, which are made from buckwheat flour, so they are darker in colour and firmer than your average soba. Reservations are only available in the evenings, for up to three people.
Michelin-star ramen joint Nakiryu specialises in dandan noodles, a dish that originated from Sichuan cuisine and features flavourful and aromatic spices, egg noodles and minced pork. It costs a mere ¥850 (£6) per bowl, making it one of the more affordable ramen places in the city. If you’re not a fan of spicy food, fear not: Nakiryu also offers broths based on shoyu (soy sauce) and shio (salt) for those who can’t handle the heat. As at most ramen joints, you purchase a ticket from the vending machine and hand it over to the staff so they can start assembling your dish, delivering the noodles in less than five minutes. There will most likely be a long queue as there are only 10 counter seats available at Naikiryu, but the line moves pretty quickly and the food is worth the wait.
After a long day of sightseeing, nothing beats a hearty bowl of oyakodon – chicken and eggs over rice. And there is no better place than Toritsune Shizendo, the only Michelin-star oyakodon restaurant in Tokyo. Oyakodon is a delicious Japanese comfort food made of chicken cooked perfectly with a delicate and silky textured soft-boiled egg, topped with the most orange egg yolk you’ll ever see. Toritsune Shizendo sources high-quality Nagoya Cochin chicken and slowly roasts it over a charcoal grill to bring out its flavours. A meal usually costs under ¥2,000 (£14), unless you opt for a course that offers a variety of chicken dishes including hotpots and chicken wings. The restaurant has held a spot in the Michelin Guide since 2016 and is currently the only Michelin-star oyakodon restaurant in Tokyo.
Located in the winding streets of Yoyogi-Uehara, Anda Gyoza attracts diners with its cheap and simple but utterly delicious gyoza. This charming space seats just 10 people at a time and has a Taiwanese street-vendor atmosphere to it. The boiled dumplings are stuffed with chicken and pork, along with seasonal vegetables wrapped in a home-made dough. The reasonably priced lunch set gives you eight dumplings, a bowl of special rice and soup. Although it closes at 10pm, Anda Gyoza serves a limited number of dumplings each day, so on busy days it tends to close earlier.
Try crispy deep-fried pork cutlets at Tonkatsu Hasegawa
Restaurant, Japanese, $$$
Not far from Ryogoku station is Tonkatsu Hasegawa, which serves some of the most delicious deep-fried pork cutlets (tonkatsu) in Tokyo. The restaurant can be slightly overwhelming due to the numerous types of tonkatsu on the menu; if it’s your first time, try the regular pork loin cutlet, which costs a mere ¥1,500 (£10). The meat is the perfect thickness and is coated with a home-made panko crust, giving it a satisfying crispiness. Though it’s recommend that you eating tonkatsu with just salt to enjoy its pure flavour, you can also dress it in sweet, spicy or ponzu sauce to change it up.
Although dinner at Nakajima is likely to empty your wallet, at lunchtime you can get a delicious meal for a fraction of the price. It specialises in sardine, serving five different preparations for lunch including finely sliced sashimi, deep-fried, simmered, grilled and nabe (hotpot) style. Each set comes with a bowl of rice, miso soup and pickles, just like a typical Japanese home-cooked meal. With only 10 counter seats, Nakajima is best suited to solo travellers and small groups.
Eating at Tsuta – Tokyo’s original Michelin-star ramen shop – is potentially going to ruin you for all future ramen experiences. Overflowing with complex flavours and noodles cooked to absolute perfection, this dish is the epitome of umami. The noodles in Tsuta’s ramen bowls are made with buckwheat, which is typically used in soba noodles, giving the dish a unique twist. The noodles are topped with herb-marinated char siu pork and wine-seasoned menma (fermented bamboo shoots) giving the ramen an elegant lift. Believe it or not, a bowl of this high-end ramen will set you back only a wallet-friendly ¥1,000 (£7) or so.