Where and what to eat in Tokyo: the Ultimate Tokyo Guide for Food Lovers

tokyo food guide

Eating in Tokyo is a pleasure, both for the eyes and for the mouth; it may not be such a pleasure for the wallet as many places are quite expensive but in principle, in Tokyo, you can eat very well and spend little if you pay attention to small details that can make the difference. In this article, I’ve collected a list of tips on what to eat in Tokyo but also where to eat in Tokyo and how to find the best places, those attended by locals. Enjoy my superduper ultimate Tokyo guide for food lovers.

Where and what to eat in Tokyo: typical food and unmissable restaurants

With millions and millions of inhabitants, finding a place to eat in Tokyo is not difficult in absolute terms but finding a reliable one can be more problematic. Below is a list of typical dishes to try and restaurants that I tried myself and that I recommend for quality, prices and also respect for tradition. In some cases, the owners and waiters do not speak English but with a little effort they can understand each other; in other cases, the place may not be palatable at first sight but I assure you that the taste changes.

In the list of dishes, you will not find some of the foods that are designed especially for tourists (such as Shabu Shabu) or that are of Chinese origin (like gyoza): I tried to narrow down the choice to the most famous and unmissable dishes of the Japanese cuisine that you find in Tokyo, also suggesting where to eat them.

Takoyaki

Probably the most famous street food in Tokyo and Japan: round dough, cooked masterfully on a special plate and filled with octopus. They can be eaten without sauces or with the addition of soy sauce, mayonnaise or other.

Where to eat takoyaki in Tokyo

  • Gindako, various locations
  • Fukuyoshi, Ginza
  • Takoazabu, Omotesando

Takoyaki

Yakitori

Skewers of meat and vegetables, typical in Japan: to be eaten to accompany beer or even as a main meal. There are several types:

  • Momo (chicken legs)
  • Negima (Chicken breast and spring onion)
  • Tsukune (chicken meatballs)
  • Kawa (Chicken skin)
  • Bonjiri (chicken tail)
  • Liver (chicken liver)
  • Hatsu (Chicken Heart)
  • Sunagimo (Gizzard)
  • Nankotsu (Cartilage)
  • Seseri (beef neck)
  • Japanese mushrooms
  • Shishito Japanese green peppers
  • Onions

Where to eat yakitori in Tokyo

I recommend Memory Lane (also called Piss Alley), where you will find many small restaurants specializing in yakitori and grills.

Yakitori

Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki is a sort of open pancake/omelette with as many ingredients as possible on it. Originally from the Osaka region, classic Okonomiyaki usually includes cabbage, shallot, and pork belly slices. It is cooked on a hot plate and served with a sweet and sour soy sauce. You can choose between different types of Okonomiyaki:

  • Negiyaki: provides a larger quantity of shallots;
  • Hiroshimayaki: the ingredients are not mixed but are added in layers;
  • Monjayaki: it is the most brothy and less compact

Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki

 

Where to eat okonomiyaki in Tokyo

Sometaro Okonomiyaki, Asakusa

Ramen

A typical broth served with long pasta and other ingredients in addition (eggs, meat, vegetables, etc). There are different types of ramen broth and for all the same one rules must be followed: the broth is cooked for 24 hours before serving. These are the different types of ramen  you will find in Tokyo:

  • Shoyu (based on soy sauce)
  • Shio (based on salt sauce)
  • Miso (based on miso sauce)
  • Tonkotsu ((based on pork sauce)
  • Others (based on oil, fish sauce)

Where to eat ramen in Tokyo

  • Ramen Jiro, various locations
  • Ichiran, various locations a
  • Mutekiya, Ikebukuro

ramen

ramen pork

Udon

Similar to ramen but thicker and without eggs in the dough. Served in broth, grilled or cold.

Where to eat udon in Tokyo

I recommend choosing one of the many restaurants in the area between Shibuya Station, Futakotamagawa Station, and Jiyugaoka Station, specializing in udon.

Udon

Miso soup

Dashi broth and miso paste are the ingredients of miso soup, one of the most typical dishes of Japan. It is eaten for breakfast but also for lunch or dinner, with or without rice.

Where to eat miso soup in Tokyo

Difficult to find a bad miso soup in Tokyo and Japan; I personally recommend Katsukura (Shibuya) and Tonkatsu Tonki (Meguro).

miso

Soba

Spaghetti made with buckwheat flour that is usually served cold and accompanied by soups and especially tempura because soba is light and refreshing and balance the heaviness of the tempura.

Where to eat soba in Tokyo

  • Narutomi Soba, Ginza
  • Kanda Matsuya, Asakusa
  • Tamawarai, Omotesando
  • Kyotei Daikokuya, Asakusa

soba

Sushi and sashimi

The classic dishes of Japanese cuisine, sushi and sashimi are the must try if you’re in Tokyo. There are restaurants where you can eat sushi and sashimi at every corner, some very cheap and some very expensive.

Where to eat sushi and sashimi in Tokyo

Sushi and sashimi can be found everywhere but I recommend you try them at the Tokyo Fish Market. For a good and cheap sushi, Genki Sushi (various locations) is the solution but do not expect the same quality you find at Tsukiji.

sushi tokyo

sashimi tokyo

Tonkatsu

A pork cutlet one or two centimeters tall, breaded and fried in plenty of oil. The tonkatsu is crunchy on the outside, thanks to the use of the panko, without being greasy. It is served with a cabbage salad and a bowl of white rice.

Where to eat tonkatsu in Tokyo

Tonkatsu is so loved that there are special restaurants where only this dish is eaten. Personally, I advise you to enter the first you find and where you see locals queueing. If you are in the Hamamatsucho area try Tonkatsu Aoki: they do not have menus in English but they can make themselves understood and if you follow their advice you will not have problems.

Tonkatsu

Unagi

Japanese eel usually prepared on the grill or used for sushi.

Where to eat unagi in Tokyo

Without any doubt, the fish market is the place to choose for eating good unagi, raw or grilled.

Unagi

Crepes

The Japanese have a real obsession with crepes and in Tokyo, you can find all kinds of crepes, in every corner, and especially in the Harajuku area. If the consistency of the dough is typically western, the fillings are brilliant and delicious; besides being, clearly, beautiful to see.

Where to eat crepes in Tokyo

Harajuku is the place to go to eat the crepes in Tokyo: there is not one better than the other and all are recognizable both from the outside tail and the presence of colored signs.

crepes Tokyo

Tempura

Tokyo and Japan rhyme with tempura; learn more by clicking here.

Where to eat tempura in Tokyo

Good tempura is eaten everywhere in Tokyo if you are looking for restaurants but I recommend three really incredible places:

  • Tendon Tenya
  • Tempura Tsunahachi So-Honten
  • Tempura Daikokuya

tempura

Kobe beef

It is not typical of Tokyo but of the Kobe region although in Tokyo there are excellent restaurants serving Kobe beef. Kobe beef is a Japanese cow with a black coat known to be fat but high in polyunsaturated fat and therefore low in cholesterol.

Where to eat Kobe beef in Tokyo

  • Zakuro, Nihonbashi
  • Kobe Beef Kaiseki 511, Akasaka
  • Yoroniku, Roppongi

kobe tokyo

Dango

Balls of very glutinous rice flour, covered with soy sauce or other sauces. They are found everywhere, in the form of skewers, and are grilled on a glowing plate.

Where to eat Dango in Tokyo
Wherever there is a market or stalls selling food.

dango

Mochi

Crushed rice balls that turn into a very sticky and glutinous white paste (but without gluten, in the artisan version!) that can be simple or filled with creams of various kinds. The artisan versions in which the mochi are crushed by hand are of different shape and consistency, even more glutinous and sticky.

Where to eat mochi in Tokyo

Wherever there is a market or stalls selling food.  If you are looking for a unique place and want to be part of a unique experience, plan a visit (which could take hours as there is always a queue outside and there are no tourists) in Gekkou, Ikebukuro: try the Karamimochi, a soup served with mochi, or take part in the tea ceremony that includes mops pounded by hand and two types of tea.

mochi tokyo

Matcha

Matcha tea is the main character not only of the classic tea ceremony but also of many other desserts including the famous matcha ice cream.

Where to drink and eat matcha in Tokyo
Any tea room serves excellent matcha, impossible to choose the best.

matcha tokyo

Dorayaki

They are also often called pancakes because they can actually be considered two pancakes on top of each other filled with red bean cream, the azuki.

Where to eat dorayaki in Tokyo
Wherever there is a market or stalls selling food.

Dorayaki

 Taiyaki

A dough that recalls the pancake and that is poured into molds usually in the shape of fish (but also found in the shape of a cat, for example in the area of Yanaka in Tokyo), cooked and filled with red bean jam (anko), custard, chocolate or cheese.

Where to eat tayaki in Tokyo
Wherever there is a market or stalls selling food.
tayaki tokyo

Melonpan

A sweet bread that can be empty or filled with whipped cream and characterized by a crunchy and sweet surface.

Where to eat melonpan in Tokyo
Wherever there is a market or stalls selling food.
Melonpan

Anpan

A very soft sweet sandwich filled with azuki cream.

Where to eat anpan in Tokyo
Wherever there is a market or stalls selling food.
Anpan

Anmitsu

A cold dessert made from agar agar and azuki beans served with fresh fruit and a sweet black syrup to be poured on jelly.

Where to eat anmitsu in Tokyo
Ueno is the area par excellence where to eat the anmitsu. I recommend a visit to Mihashi and Kissako.
anmitsu tokyo

Karaage

Fried chicken marinated in sake, soy sauce, garlic and mirin sauce: a light batter, an unmistakable and excellent flavor. To try.

Where to eat karaage in Tokyo
The premises that serve karaage are easily identifiable and all are excellent.
karaage

Onigiri

A thin layer of crunchy seaweed wrapped around the rice: the onigiri is the quintessence of simplicity and even if it is often filled with something salty, it is also simple without anything, as a snack or for a light and healthy meal.

Where to eat onigiri in Tokyo
Wherever there is a market or stalls selling food. I personally recommend Onigiri Asakusa Yadoroku, Risaku (Sendagi station area) and Onigiriya Marutoyo (Tsukiji area).
onigiri tokyo

The extra culinary experience: the Kaiseki

For a truly unique experience, I recommend you try the Kaiseki, a real set of courses served in a sequential manner, considered a must among connoisseurs of Japanese cuisine, at fairly high prices. The beauty of the Kaiseki is the fact of providing micro-courses assembled in such a way as to guarantee a perfect balance of flavors and, above all, to require attention when eating, patience and time. A good Kaiseki consists of the following dishes:

  1. Sakizuke (先附): Starter
  2. Hassun (八寸): Second course based on seasonal availability
  3. Mukōzuke (向付): Sashimi
  4. Takiawase (煮合): Vegetables with meat, fish or tofu
  5. Futamono (蓋物): Soup
  6. Yakimono (焼物): Grilled dish
  7. Su-zakana (酢肴): Palate cleanser
  8. Hiyashi-bach (冷し鉢): Cooked or raw vegetables
  9. Naka-choko (中猪口):Palate cleanser
  10. Shiizakana (強肴): Seasonal main
  11. Gohan (御飯): Rice with seasonal ingredients
  12. Kō no mono? (香の物): Seasonal vegetables or legumes
  13. Tome-wan (止椀): Miso soup or vegetables with rice
  14. Mizumono (水物): a typical cake (anmitsu, usually(

Where to eat Kaiseki in Tokyo:

  • Akasaka Eigetsu, Akasaka
  • Aoyama Gato, Harajuku/Omotesando
  • Ginza Uchiyama, Ginza
  • Tokuuchiyama, Ginza

Kaiseki

Eating in Tokyo: essential advice to find the best restaurants and places attendend only by locals

If it is true that language can sometimes be an obstacle when looking for a good restaurant, here are my suggestions to find good restaurants in Tokyo attended mainly by locals:

  • Check the queues: the places where there is a line and where most of the people line up are Japanese, are the places to try. Often they do not speak English but you will not have difficulty choosing something to eat, especially if you use an automatic translator to communicate with the waiters or, even better if you let yourself be guided by them;
  • Use the maps and tips of the locals: open Google Maps, search for “restaurants” or any type of food you want to eat and, once you’ve opened the list of suggested places, look for the ones with the highest reviews but, above all, those with reviews in Japanese that you can then translate with the translator.
  • Ask the locals: using a translator, ask the locals to recommend a place. The Japanese are notoriously very friendly and do not hold back, they always advise and wait for you to accompany you even in the room that they have recommended!

[All the pics are copyright of Giuseppe Milo]