I enjoyed visits to the Ghibli Museum to see Miyazaki Hayao’s animation come to life, strolled the Imperial Palace’s impeccably manicured grounds, marveled at Yayoi Kusama Museum’s infinity rooms and colorful pumpkins. My wife and I also took our daughter to the Roppongi Hills “robot park,” and celebrated her second birthday at DisneySea, but as always, food is the focus in Tokyo. Japan’s capital is one of the best places to eat Japanese food, of course, but also Italian food, French bakeries, and more. Learn about 17 places to eat well in Tokyo, with considerable help from Tokyo Fixer Shinji Nohara (who leads amazing culinary tours) and fellow Tokyo native Tomo Kurokawa, based on 2016 and 2019 trips.
Numbers on the map correspond to listings below and appear in alphabetical order instead of order of preference.
Bakeries in higher traffic neighborhoods like Ginza get far more hype, but Boulangerie Comète produces patisserie on par with any big name. This tiny Azabu-Jūban bakery with sea blue facade and tantalizing counter opened in 2015 and tempts guests with takeaway pastries, tartines, and sandwiches. Their textbook croissant sports a crispy base and buttery, flaky top. During my visit, their seasonal snail pastry was soft inside, crispy outside, and cradled strawberries and cream. Their boat-shaped apple tart showcased artistic fruit tiles and incorporated crushed pistachios, almond paste, and a hint of sea salt. This culinary comet is also skilled with savory baking, as their spinach empanada proved.
MUST ORDER: Apple Tart, Croissant, Seasonal Snail Pastry
2. Centre The Bakery
Toast that requires a reservation may be hard to fathom in the U.S., but Centre The Bakery, a Ginza phenomenon from Viron baker Takahiro Nishikawa deserves the hype. People line up for piping hot white bread loaves at a small counter, and an adjacent dining room showcases sliced bread in terrific toast and sandwiches.. Their jam & butter set is a great way to sample their wares, including three different breads with recommended toast levels, three different butters, a choice of a colorful tabletop toaster – I opted for green DeLonghi – and a glass of milk or iced tea. Breads included rounded British bread made with “North American super strong flour” and a “well-toasted” prescription; square bread featuring “North American strong flour” and the choice to toast or eat “raw”; and square bread made with domestic, “Yume-Chikara” and “Kitahonami” flours and “raw” instruction. Salted butters come from Echire, France and their Hokkaido “Biei farm,” plus “domestic manufacturer butter.” Francis Miot jams – wild blueberry, orange, and raspberry – joined peanut butter, acacia honey, and praliné (hazelnut). Mix and match for a fun interactive meal. Cheese toast is another signature item starring Hokkaido raclette melted to order with a heat wand, which slowly drips down and spreads over toast. An egg salad sandwich on pillowy bread co-stars crunchy iceberg lettuce. Their tonkatsu sandwich is another standout, combining fat-rimmed panko crusted pork loin with crunchy cabbage and katsu sauce.
MUST ORDER: Cheese Toast, Egg Sandwich, Jam & Butter Set, Tonkatsu Sandwich
Hokkaido Dosanko Plaza is an orange and wood-panel shop in Ginza that features Hokkaido’s culinary products, including cheese, seafood and sausage. A window called Dosanko Plaza Yurakocho is worth seeking in back for ultra-creamy soft-serve ice cream starring legendary Hokkaido dairy. They offer a choice of milk flavor, melon flavor, or best of all, melon & milk mix. Order a towering swirl in a flower-shaped cake cone or more basic cup from a vending machine.
MUST ORDER: Melon & Milk Soft Serve
A notable farmers market convenes on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. outside United Nations University in Shibuya. Vendors sell individually wrapped produce, artisans sell crafts, and food lovers seek out some compelling prepared foods. I started by sampling local citrus and Dorimi Farm quail eggs pickled in beet juice. Staffers make Iyoshi cola to order in a plastic bag with a rush of syrup released over ice, a soda gun’s blast, and a refreshing lemon slice. Iyoshi’s motto is nearly as unforgettable as their cola: “We break the mold as a kingfisher diving into the water.” Still, Kome Shiru Na’s stylish, pork-fueled retro van is the primary draw. Burnished pork roasts hang in the window and form powerhouse combos with jammy smoked eggs, smoky grilled rice balls, and unctuous “special bacon,” all served in a bamboo boat with punchy pickled cabbage.
MUST ORDER: Kome Shiru Na Omusubi Set A + Special Bacon, Iyoshi Cola
5. Ginza Kagari Echika Fit
Ginza Kagari was renowned for their tori paitan (chicken-based ramen) that drew long lines, but closed. Ginza Kagari Echika Fit is a Ginza Station spinoff with only eight stools at a wood counter and similarly devastating bowls. Bright yellow chicken broth is supposedly enriched with heavy cream and delivers what my wife describes as ““lip smacking viscosity.” Each bowl comes loaded with seasonal vegetables and some of the only chicken breast I’d actually eat. I’d recommend adding soy-marinated soft-boiled egg and green leek. Dip noodles were also devastating, with noodles served separately from a bowl of more savory broth crafted with “concentrated chicken stock, soy sauce, sea tangles and clam.” I’m guessing that sea tangles are seaweed. Ginger, fried onion strands and chile sauce are available to dress your ramen.
MUST ORDER: Dip Noodles, Soup Noodles
6. Hocus Pocus
Hocus Pocus challenges accepted donut definitions by serving steamed, baked, and mochi versions with great success. These are creative, thought provoking, flavorful donuts that appear in jewelry cases at the base of a Hirakawachō office tower. The self-described “donuts laboratory” debuted in 2017 and features a communal glass table, street-facing wood counter, and cassette player that takes analog audio – typically LPs – to unprecedented nouveau retro depths. Conversely, their donuts are cutting-edge, including a fluffy steamed blueberry donut with firm blueberry coat, Belgian chocolate base, crunchy almond praline, and dill. A beautifully chewy sakura mochi donut incorporated seasonal cherry blossoms, white chocolate, wormwood, and firm matcha cookie base. I also enjoyed their baked donut coated with flaky crepe chunks that also factors in pistachios, and milk chocolate. Hocus Pocus delivers on their experiments, and doesn’t need magic to achieve desired results.
MUST ORDER: Baked Crepe Chunk Donut, Steamed Blueberry Donut, Sakura Mochi Donut
For my 40th birthday, I indulged in kaiseki at chef Hideki Ishikawa’s seven-seat wood counter. Ishikawa debuted on a Shinjuku side street in 2006 and has become renowned for seasonal Japanese cooking. He also runs Kohaku and Len, but Ishikawa is his crown jewel. Ishikawa’s menu changes monthly; my nine-course dinner cost about $250 per person, including service and Japanese tax, and was worth the cost. Highlights included a “Deep-Fried” course of delicately fried Ise lobster garnished with ginkgo nut, sticky tab of dried mullet roe, lobster liver, and kelp salt. “Sashimi” consisted of flatfish garnished with fresh seaweed, thin-shaved oba and myoga, wasabi, and soy sauce; creamy cod milt covered with grated white radish and ponzu; fresh salmon roe spooned with yuzu citrus; and seared Spanish mackerel in a sauce “like ponzu” with grated ginger, oba, and negi. “Hot Pot” starred snow crab and seasonal vegetables, a green called komatsuna, crab liver, crunchy kikurage mushroom, negi, a nutty tofu square, and kelp and vegetable stock garnished with gobo and a bit of yuzu. “Steamed Rice” was surprisingly dramatic, starring freshly harvested rice from Niigata in northern Japan (Ishikawa’s hometown) served with sea bream paste, nori, sesame seeds, arare, wasabi, and pickled vegetables (cucumber, kombu tiles, and fibrous taro batons). Drink with hojicha, toasted brown tea, and eat everything together until half the rice remains; then pour in a pitcher of dashi. Remaining rice becomes onigiri to take home.
MUST ORDER: Tasting Menu
Kyourakutei specializes in soba around the corner from Ishikawa in Shinjuku. The restaurant touts a tan and wood panel facade and a window showcases stone ground buckwheat that fuels their soba. Nishoku Soba provides a good base soba understanding, teaming zaru soba and jyuwari soba, the second soba ground with un-hulled buckwheat seeds. Each bamboo mat comes with a dipping sauce of soy, negi, mashed radish, and wasabi. Pour a pitcher of cloudy soba broth (sobayu) into remaining sauce for an ultra-savory experience. I can see the appeal of Hot Yuba noodle soup with skimmed tofu skins and egg. Sadly, soba softens quickly. Hiyashi Yuba, chilled noodles with tofu skin, probably would have maintained more structural integrity, unless you can eat the hot soup lightning fast. I enjoyed Gyu Suji, stewed beef sinew in bubbling broth with negi and sesame seeds, which is great in cool weather. Kyourakutei also excels at lightly battered tempura, whether it’s tiny fish plucked from tanks, chopped scallops with shiso, or seasonal vegetables.
MUST ORDER: Gyu Suji, Hiyashi Yuba, Nishoku Soba, Tempura Seasonal Fish
9. Muromachi Sunaba
Sliding doors lead to eight tables in a split-level dining room that includes traditional cushioned flooring in the “upstairs” portion. Shoes off, of course. Muromachi Sunaba is a small Akasaka restaurant that’s specialized in soba since 1964. Basic “mori” involves cold buckwheat noodles served on a bamboo mat with a classic dipping sauce: nori, wasabi, and soy. Taut noodles also star in okame, a hot soup dressed with a single sweet shrimp, two bouncy white fish paste slabs, one braided bean curd bow, nori, sprouts, mushrooms, and tamago. Soba even factors into dessert; zenzai is available hot or cold, coated with earthy adzuki bean paste that resembles chocolate. Side dishes include tamago-yaki, juicy fried egg flavored with a fumet; and asari, tiny, briny short-neck clams tossed with ginger. Muromachi Sunaba serves salty fried buckwheat buds and a red pitcher filled with hot, soulful soba water – two nice touches – to end each meal.
MUST ORDER: Mori, Okame, Tamago-Yaki, Zenzai