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.
Pastry chef Yuichi Goto and chef/partner Taichi Hara debuted Path in 2016, and the perpetually packed café and bakery near Yoyogi Park has become particularly well known for pastries and breakfast. Crowds form in an outdoor waiting area that houses benches and wood wine crate tables. A drool-worthy pastry counter leads to a worn bar with kitchen views and rear dining area with small tables, textured walls, and wood banquettes. During my visit, Beirut’s “No No No” LP set the mood on the record player. Their fluffy Dutch pancake topped with silky prosciutto di Parma and creamy burrata cheese is worth the 30-minute cooking time. Sandos are ubiquitous in Tokyo, but Path opts for sturdier bread for their limited edition pork cutlet sandwich with Worcestershire sauce. Spectacular pastries including flaky pain au chocolat with enough butter to defy the laws of physics and dark-crusted canelés with custardy cores. Wine predominates later in the day, but breakfast calls for coffee and interesting non-alcoholic beverages like fermented strawberry juice.
MUST ORDER: Canelé, Dutch Pancake, Fermented Strawberry Juice, Pain au Chocolat, Pork Cutlet Sandwich
11. Rokurinsha Ramen
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
Seirinkan, a Nakemaguro pizzeria favored by “Tokyo Fixer” Shinji Nohara, only serves two types of pizza: Margherita and Marinara. Since 1995, Susumu Kakinuma has manned a black steel framed oven that burns nara, Japanese oak. Classical music. Four seats at white marble bar. Marinara Pizza with tomato, garlic, and oregano. Margherita Pizza with tomato, basil, and mozzarella. Pomodoro Pasta was also nice and bright, featuring spaghetti cooked al dente, piquant tomato sauce, and fresh basil. After hours, Kakinuma serves drinks at a secret bar downstairs, when he feels like it. The 2016 U.S. Presidential election was the next day, and the chef said he was considering opening an L.A. branch, but only if Trump lost the election. Clearly, we won’t see him doing business Stateside anytime soon.
MUST ORDER: Margherita Pizza, Marinara Pizza, Pomodoro Pasta
Ghibli Museum is devoted to the whimsical works of Hayao Miyazaki and team, and it’s possible to continue the fun at Shiro-Hige’s Cream Puff Factory, a bakery known for Totoro cream puffs that opened in the sleepy southwest Tokyo neighborhood of Matsubara in 2008. The two-story business features decorative Studio Ghibli figurines, including the mind-bending catbus from “My Neighbor Totoro.” Buy Totoro puffs to go on the ground floor, or climb some steep stairs and sit at an upstairs cafe with full menu and more pastries like the “Super Bun.” Shiro-Hige’s Cream Puff Factory focuses on four types of Totoro-shaped cream puffs – custard & fresh cream, chocolate, chestnut, raspberry & cream cheese – each with a different flourish. Custard & fresh cream sports a green leaf, chestnut a brown leaf. Also a tiny hat. All puffs with sturdy but light choux pastry. I preferred earthy chestnut studded cream. Opened in 2008.
MUST ORDER: Chestnut Cream Puff, Custard & Fresh Cream Puff
14. Sushi Tou
Chef Matsumoto has presides over an 11-seat wood sushi bar in Nishi-azabu since 2016. He prepared a noteworthy Edomae-style sushi lunch for a quite reasonable 9000 yen per person. Memorable courses from my seasonal meal included firm Japanese swordfish (katana) dippable in seaweed salt and soy sauce; firefly squid spooned with tangy miso vinegar sauce and showered with yuzu zest; and broiled, seaweed-wrapped sea scallop sprinkled with ichimi and dabbed with soy sauce. “Next, sushi.” The impressive progression, served on warm sushi rice, included lightly scored sayori (garfish) featuring scallions below and ginger above; scored squid dressed with a dab of wasabi, seaweed salt, and sudachi; and broiled sea eel (anago) brushed with soy sauce. Impeccable sushi accompaniments include fresh-sliced pickled ginger, fresh wasabi grated with a shark’s skin paddle, and sudachi from Tokoshima. A rice bowl with bursting ikura and tiny Hokkaido sea urchin helps to provide an exclamation point, along with miso soup.
MUST ORDER: Omakase
Toritama is a subterranean chicken skewer specialist in Kagurazaka with the widest selection of parts in Tokyo, according to Shinji Nohara. Jazz music and soft lighting wash over a U-shaped bar. Keiichi Kasai and his team opened in 2009 and preside over stainless steel trays with skewers that await binchotan grilling behind glass. Don’t worry; high-powered suction keeps the smoke at bay. I pointed at diagrams depicting “cuts of chicken meat” and “position of internal organs” and made sure to experience many rare parts and a variety of textures. Every skewer hit, including soroban (neck), genkotsun (knee gristle), hiza-gashira (knee cap), obi (outside of thigh), engawa (diaphragm), gin-kawa (thin skin of gizzard), chigimo (liver), peta (thick skin), saezuri (trachea) and tsukune (meatballs). For a change of pace, maitake mushroom and fuyu persimmon were two seasonal vegetarian highlights. Sweet miso, spicy miso, chile powder (shichimi togarashi), sancho powder, and ginger powder are available to dress your skewers, depending on your taste. Each meal includes a dish of crunchy chopped radish mixed with egg yolk.
MUST ORDER: Chigimo, Engawa, Obi, Saezuri, Soroban, Tsukune
Apparently all roads lead to Toriyoshi. On my two trips to Tokyo, I’ve now eaten at three Toriyoshi branches – one by accident – all very good. To give you a sense of its renown, Toriyoshi is where Shinji Nohara brought Anthony Bourdain for robata, and he led us to the Nakameguro branch as well. In this flagship basement location, which chef Yoshito Inomata debuted in 1994, chefs fan binchotan flames behind a wood counter. The Akasaka branch dates to 2006 and features a 20-seat wood counter, and the Ginza outpost opened in 2003 and touts 20 seats at a three-sided wood bar and just two tables. Notable skewer-free plates include oyakodon, a rice bowl featuring runny egg, skin-on chicken pieces cooked medium, and nori strands; and the fantastic rolled omelet; and usudukuri, sliced chicken breast carpaccio with minced shallots and vinaigrette, possibly the best way to eat chicken breast. Grilled vegetables included great ginnan (ginkgo nut) and kinshinsai (day lily bulbs). Really, though, the best reason to visit Toriyoshi is for a flurry of chicken skewers, all uniquely special. Options included tsukune (meatballs), sunagimo (gizzard), shiratama (quail egg), tebasaki (splayed chicken wing), hatsu (heart), accordion-like skin (best in Ginza), and cyouchin (bursting embryo with organ meats like liver attached). Special Parts involved hizanankotsu (chicken knee cartilage), maruhatsu (whole chicken heart), neck (kawa), and the prized oyster (chicken thigh groin). Each meal comes with a daikon quail egg mix that one chef said was designed for “mouth refreshment.”
MUST ORDER: Cyouchin, Egg Yolk and Liver, Hatsu, Lily Bulbs, Maruhatsu, Neck, Oyakodon, Oyster, Rolled Omelet, Shiratama, Tebasaki, Tsukune, Usudukuri
Viron is a French cafe in Shibuya from same owner as Ginza’s popular Centre the Bakery. The display at their downstairs bakery is full of tantalizing breads and pastries that happily taste as good as they look. Cravatte was soft, yolk-rich brioche loaded with pastry cream and chocolate chips. Tarte Paysanne incorporated walnut and apple for fall. This bakery group is also famous for baguettes, and I enjoyed Viron’s Jambon Fromage Baguette. The bread was crusty, with great chew, slathered with butter, and layered with ham. Grab-and-go or visit Viron’s upstairs brasserie with red leather booths and banquettes and a zinc bar that requires one order, at least a single espresso, to sit.
MUST ORDER: Cravatte, Jambon Fromage Baguette, Tarte Paysanne