Best Restaurants in Tokyo
The first time I visited Tokyo in the Fall of 2015 I went in not knowing what to expect. I did some research online, spoke to friends, and had my hotel’s concierge help with the harder-to-secure reservations. By the end of my week I was completely blown away with the food scene in Tokyo. From the inexpensive bowls of ramen to the 20+ course omakase sushi tastings, Tokyo has it all when it comes to food. Below are my Top Tokyo picks.
7-2-6 Nishishinjuku | K1 Building| 1st Floor
Named after the famous samurai, Menya Musashi was my first meal in Tokyo! Offering affordable and delicious food, I would recommend this place for its solid ramen and light atmosphere. Filled with locals, it’s a fun experience especially if you are either staying in or find yourself in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo.
Although there can be a wait, the ordering process is quick. Similar to other restaurants in Japan, you order and pay for your meal at a vending machine and then seat yourself at the counter. The average meal per person at Menya Musashi costs less than ¥ 2,000, or $20 USD.
Sushi Bar Yasuda
4-2-6 Minamiaoyama | Building B1 | Minato-ku | Tokyo
“De nada,” Chef Yasuda says to me with a smirk as he places three different types of sea urchin on my plate. While there are almost 200 different species of sea urchin, or uni as it’s referred to in Japanese, located in Japan’s waters, only 10 of them can be eaten. “Different DNA equals different taste,” Yasuda-san says as he places the pieces down, all of which originate from Hokkaido in northern Japan. 3 down, 7 to go I think as I try each delicious bite.
In between each piece, the Japanese chef formerly known for his acclaimed New York City restaurant delivers an explanation of his preparation, along with a joke or two along the way. If sushi weren’t his profession, Chef Yasuda would surely be a comedian. And a successful one at that. Recounting stories of late nights of drinking in Tokyo’s Golden Gai district and his daily motorcycle rides to Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji fish market where he picks up his fish, he also shares details of his intense workout routine.
While the fish was delicious, Yasuda-san is perhaps most proud of his preparation of the sushi rice. “Sometimes chefs at Italian restaurants get so caught up in the pasta sauce that they forget about the pasta itself.” He feels the same way about sushi chefs, explaining that high-quality sushi rice is key since it’s the majority of what you’re actually eating. Yasuda-san says it’s 90% rice and 10% fish in terms of his priorities. “Fish is the second ingredient,” he says as he carefully forms my next piece. With the perfect combination of vinegar, salt, and warmth, each piece of Yasuda’s fish melts in your mouth over a bed of delicious rice.
Yasuda is always changing his menu based on what he finds at Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market, where he goes each day. He also employs unique freezing techniques where he stores his fish at degrees lower than minus 80 degrees Celsius. Notable pieces during the tasting included scallion sprout sushi, the shrimp piece, and ikura (salmon roe). Check out this place next time you’re in town, and be sure to reserve a seat at the sushi counter for the full experience.
Sukiyabashi Jiro (すきやばし次郎)
4-2-15 Ginza | Chūō-ku Tokyo
Jiro Dreams of Sushi. For those who haven’t seen the 2011 documentary, legendary sushi Chef Jiro Ono runs this 3 Michelin star haven out of the Ginza subway station! Eating at Sukiyabashi Jiro is different than eating at any other ordinary sushi restaurant. Seats must be reserved at least one month in advance, and the restaurant only serves an omakase tasting menu comprised of about 20 sushi pieces. The sushi is determined depending on the season, and the restaurant has an old school Japanese feel that can be a bit stuffy at times.
Taking part in this culinary history will set you back about ¥30,000 before tax and tip, which is about $300 USD per person. Is it worth it? To have Jiro serve you is pretty legendary, especially when sitting at the same counter where President Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe dined together in 2014. That said, we rank others like Sushi Dai and Sawada higher.
Note: You can also try his son’s restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro Roppongi Hills, which has fantastic reviews. Click here to secure your reservation at Sukiyabashi Jiro Roppongi Hills without needing an expensive hotel concierge service.
4-1-15 Nishiazabu | Basement Level | Minato
“Shrimp brain,” one of Masa-san’s young apprentices says with a grin as he places an unlucky prawn’s cerebral remnants on my plate. Among the meals that I have experienced in Tokyo, none compares in variety or adventurousness to the 40+ course omakase sushi saga that is Sushisho Masa.
Tucked away in a basement in Tokyo’s Nishi-azabu neighborhood, Sushisho Masa is one of the best (and underrated) restaurants in town. I realize that’s a bold statement for a city with more than 200 Michelin-starred restaurants, more than any other in the world, but I stand by it.
“How did you find this place?” asks a generous Taiwanese couple sitting next to me at the 7-seat sushi counter. They pour me sake from their bottle and tell me about their longstanding friendship with Chef Masa. “It’s my job,” I say with a smile as I thank them with an arigatō and use my hands to eat two small pieces of Monkfish liver. They love this hidden gem so much that they fly in regularly from Taipei with their two young boys to indulge in the special omakase experience that takes approximately 3 hours and offers 40 to 50 courses.
“He’s getting bigger!” Masa-san says with a deep smile as he nods in the direction of the couple’s oldest son. His eating habits are becoming more adventurous as he partakes in the pieces of Baby gizzard shad and Shrimp head for the first time.
Throughout the legendary meal, which included other exciting pieces such as clam, squid tentacles and tuna cheek, Masa’s eager young apprentices share pictures of each creature using an enormous Japanese book from behind the counter. All the while Masa-san is elegantly slicing up raw fish with a childlike smile on his face as he sneaks in bites. He is doing what he loves and it shows.
And true to form of the Japanese culture, when I alerted the staff of my bullet train ride to Kyoto later that evening, Chef Masa made sure to have one of his apprentices hail a taxi for me and explain to the driver best entrance at Tokyo Station to leave me. Another incredible Japanese experience in the books.
Uni (sea urchin) from Hokkaido, Japan
5-5-13 Ginza | Sakaguchi Building| 9th Floor| Chuo
When President Obama and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe inquired about visiting this 2-Michelin star tempura haven, they were turned down for not having made a reservation with sufficient notice! While most restaurants would not hesitate to make room for the pair of political bigwigs, Chef Fumio Kondo exclaimed that his restaurant was already fully booked and that his customers’ reservations were equally important.
What’s so special about this tempura spot? Well, Chef Kondo has mastered the art of preparing Japanese vegetables and seafood in lightly fried batter. The tempura at this restaurant is done to perfection, leaving the vegetables or shrimp inside juicy and fresh! Not only is the food delicious, but the service is exceptional as well. Also, you can grab a drink at Bar High Five after your meal, as it’s just around the corner from Tempura Kondo and is one of the best bars in Tokyo!
5-2-1 Tsukiji | Tsukiji Fish Market | 6th Building
Sushi Dai will likely serve you the freshest sushi you’ll have in your life. While critics call this Tsukiji Fish Market staple overrated due to its multi-hour waits, every bite is better than the next during their Omakase tasting menu. Sushi Dai was named the third best restaurant in all of Japan in 2014, and the best sushi restaurant. Each piece of sushi is fine-tuned to perfection, with the rice still warm and the seaweed crisp. The fish is incredibly fresh and full of taste. The restaurant is also relatively affordable for its quality. Each meal costs around ¥ 4000, about $40 USD.
Filefish (Kawahagi) with its Liver on Top:
5-9-19 Ginza | MC Building| 3rd Floor| Chuo
Chef Koji Sawada delivers a culinary experience for the ages at his exclusive 6-seat sushi bar in the Ginza district that offers “Edo-mae style” sushi. Edo refers to when fish would be caught in Tokyo Bay, and freshly served.
Sawada begins with a stern discipline, delivering piece after piece of overwhelmingly delicious raw, torched and cured fish dishes. His quiet intensity transforms into a warm welcome to his kitchen as the tasting menu goes on.
Just don’t forget your checkbook at this 2-Michelin Star restaurant where the tasting menu costs approximately ¥31,000 for lunch or ¥35,000 for dinner, so expect to shell out at least $300 U.S. per person. But to eat at one of the best restaurants in Japan? We say it’s worth it.
In Japan, getting reservations at many of these restaurants requires a hotel concierge, which means shelling out $100s if not $1000s on a 4- or 5-star hotel to secure your reservations of choice. A better option is Voyagin’s booking service below that I use to land the best reservations in town while also allowing me to stay wherever I’d like!
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