This Tokyo Foodie Guide was written by our International Food Expert, Kate, from We Travel We Eat!
13.5 million people reside in the city of Tokyo (there are 8.6 million people in New York City for reference).
Yet this city, the largest in Japan, somehow feels incredibly organized and exudes a welcoming warmth. It has a palpable sense of pride in its food, dress, and design, and it’s clean enough to literally eat off the busy streets.
The politeness and generosity of the people in Tokyo never falter with manners and respect at the forefront of every interaction. Their friendliness is almost a shock to the system, often catching you by surprise in the best way possible.
The same care and kindness is felt in the food; the quality, the attention to detail, and the service. I had mostly Japanese cuisine, but when I veered off track I was just as impressed.
The food in Japan is so fun and vibrant it feels more like art than a meal. Here’s where to find the best food in Tokyo!
I was determined to make it to an izakaya for our first meal. I had been told these establishments– Japanese pubs– are a great introduction to the food in Japan and now having tried one, I would be inclined to agree.
Narukiyo, in particular, was by far one of the funkiest, quirkiest and most unconventional places I have ever dined. There are phallic photos and ornaments strewn about, mismatched plates with sketches of everything from Sumo wrestlers to James Dean on them, and an old-school American soundtrack blasting fun tunes in the background.
The owner was an absolute gem of a man, his unique personality clearly shone through, and he helped to make the experience one that I will not soon forget.
In most countries eating food from a train station would be something you went well out of your way to avoid. In Japan, it’s the total opposite.
Rokurinsha, a ramen spot, is located in the area of Tokyo Station literally named Ramen Street. There will be a line since both locals and tourists love this spot, but the system is so efficient it won’t take long.
As some point during your wait you’ll be grabbed by a member of staff, walked over to a machine you will punch your order into, all timed so perfectly that by the time you’re seated those noodles will be in front of you!
At 9:00 pm on our second night in Tokyo we sat down to our first Michelin star meal in Japan. A Michelin restaurant is certainly not something I go out of my way to seek out.
I am just as happy with a complete hole in the wall serving awesome, memorable food with authentic vibes, as I am with a perfected art show of sorts. But in this city, where there were 234 restaurants that took this honor in 2017, you have to try at least one… right?
It’s literally impossible to figure out how to choose which to go to, more difficult of a choice than in any other city, but eventually, I landed on Sushi Nakamura as the one.
The mood is quiet, but not so silent that you feel you can’t speak. The restaurant seats 11, as is typical for Japanese omakase style sushi spots.
All patrons meals are timed perfectly with one another and dishes are presented one after the other for about an hour and a half. The central focus of the meal are the 12 pieces of nigiri, surrounded by small cooked seafood centric plates like Japanese blowfish, smoked clam and a killer egg tamago for dessert.
Before you even step foot into Koffee Mameya, you know you are about to be privy to something special. The entranceway itself makes you feel like you are walking into a high-end spa, with stones covering the ground and black-washed wood walls to greet you.
Inside you’ll find a super charismatic and passionate staff behind the small counter, walking you through the 13 varieties of beans they have on hand from countries around the world. The treatment is somewhat like a brewery– talking through options, taste tasting, making a selection with guidance from the experts.
The space is tiny but the experience is tremendous; definitely worth a visit.
One of the things that struck me about the city of Tokyo was how incredibly varied the different areas were. You could look at a dizzying display of Harajuku girls and colorful cotton candy the size of your head one minute, and fall upon a street lined with funky boutiques and gorgeous city garden homes the next.
Vegetarian friendly Mr. Farmer, which they coin as a “vegetable cafe” was located minutes outside of the crazed Harajuku section, in the entirely calm and sleek Omotesando Hills.
It was gorgeous here, and we were in dire need of a few hours to slow down the pace, so we settled in for some uber healthy and astonishingly delicious veggie based food, everything we needed to regroup and reset.
Pizza Studio Tamaki
In recent months it has become more mainstream knowledge, partially in thanks to David Chang’s Netflix show “Ugly Delicious,” that Tokyo is home to some pretty excellent pizza. Many say it even competes with Naples or Rome, Italy.
I am here to tell you that this claim actually is absolutely true. Every part of the pizza at the newly opened Pizza Studio Tamaki wowed me, easily putting it into one of my favorites throughout the world. The “tamaki” option is the house favorite, so with just a bit of encouragement from the owner, it’s the one we settled on.
A crispy dough made with a blend of U.S. and Japanese flour, topped with char grilled cherry tomatoes, smoked mozzarella, Pecorino Romano hard cheese and basil.
Hakkoku was so fiercely and wholly unbelievable that while I stand by the fact that our first omakase experience was a great one, this next one was a level beyond. I have never in my life seen a set up of a restaurant quite like the one at Hakkuko.
It is like you are walking into another world, where bamboo plants thrive and fatty tuna appears from fancy black boxes (literally). There are three small dining areas here, each with only six seats around a small L shaped counter, each operated by its own chef over the two-plus hours you are there.
Though the utter tranquility is hugely palpable, the atmosphere is relaxed and inviting. Our chef Jun Saito was having fun, and he wanted us to as well.
The menu is designed to lead you through 38 pieces of sushi, 37 that are nigiri style served with a rice browned by vinegar, and one that is a fantastic tuna hand roll right at the start. Go here, settle in, and prepared to have the meal of your life.
I don’t eat burgers but my travel buddy does, and she gave great reviews of Henry’s.
I read about this small, takeaway only spot many times in my lead up to this trip, and encouraged her to try it out to see if it lived up to the hype. Sounds like it most certainly did.
Afrui Ramen is another awesome joint where your finger does the food picking ahead of time, and the service is quick and efficient. The selections are slightly broader than at Rokurinsha, but most of that choice comes in the forms of toppings; soft boiled eggs, braised pork, nori, bamboo shoots.
I went with the vegan ramen here, not knowing if a city mostly known for it’s pork based broths would be any good at all. Turns out it was- it was the most impressed I’ve been with a ramen yet.