Tokyo is Japan’s capital and one of the best places to eat Japanese food, of course, but also Italian food, French bakeries, and more. Learn about 10 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 my trip from October 30 – November 9, 2016.
Numbers on the map correspond to listings below and appear in alphabetical order instead of order of preference.
1. Abura Soba
Abura Soba in Shinjuku specializes in “dry” (broth-less) ramen noodles that are served in a savory soy based sauce. Place your order at a vending machine by the entrance and take a seat at their square bar. Each bowl comes with nori, negi, roast pork, and bamboo. Add vinegar and sesame oil to bolster the flavor at this basic, but satisfying noodle shop.
MUST ORDER: Dry Ramen
2. 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
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
A honeycomb logo signaled our arrival at a recent Shinjuku offshoot Rokurinsha, a popular ramen shop that first debuted at Tokyo Station. Their signature Special Dip Noodles tout thick, chewy noodles come garnished with nori and join a sizable sidecar of murky broth crafted with pork, katsuoboshi, and dried sea creatures that combine to deliver crave-worthy umami. Each bowl comes bobbing with a firm fish cake with pink spiral pattern. On the side, you’ll find a plate of juicy chopped pork, and if you’re smart, a soft, seasoned egg. I bombed my bowl with all the pork and cracked the egg, which allowed for runoff of vivid orange yolk. Dip noodles judiciously, so they don’t get soggy in hot broth. My friend added shrimp oil, which brings yet another dimension to the tsukemen experience. Chinese Spicy Sesame Paste Ramen, aka dan dan, are also worth ordering for their strong sesame flavor and a finishing kick.
MUST ORDER: Chinese Spicy Sesame Paste Ramen (Dandan Noodles), Special Dip Noodles