Tokyo, Japan - Places to Eat, Over-Indulge and Foodgasm

Ok, so you are in Tokyo and want to sample the local and sometimes 'quirky' cuisine. I am not going to tell you to do what it says in your guidebook - check out the underground infamous stereotypical Ninja restaurant in Akasaka or the godforsaken-overpriced-Robot restaurant in Shinjuku. Typical, Typical, Typical, tourist packed and kitschy. Ninja restaurant has great food though, but save that for your second trip to Tokyo because you won't have enough time to check and eat at all the 17 places listed below. 

The list below is composed for the adventurous eater (RAW RAW RAW) to the picky 2 year old type (who doesn't like earl grey flavored ice cream?). You can have a lot of money at your disposal (Wagyu/Kobe melt-in-your-mouth steak) or be the budget-minded individual (100 yen beer please!). So please try one or all - just remember you probably will always be full but you will always be hungry when you go to these places.

Price Ranges: $ (under 1500 yen), $$ (5000 yen and under), $$$ (10000 yen and under)

To find maps on how to get to these places, search the place names through Tabeblog.com. All places are also within the Tokyo Subway Metro Area - you can download the map here

1. Hotto-Motto

O-Bento! means a 'Japanese lunch-box'. I personally think that definition is quite lacking. It is a Japanese lunch box full of yum yum delicious Japanese food delights. The usual staples of these compartmentalized meals includes rice, pickled somethings, meat of some sort (fried chicken, fish) and other little goodies that sometimes (even I) can't tell but just pop in my mouth and enjoy! Best eaten under a tree, possibly blooming sakura blossoms. Fair warning, these meals are often sometimes cold or room temp - so don't expect a piping hot meal. You can find bento in HottoMotto which are everywhere in Tokyo. No need to for Japanese, just point at the pretty yummy bento picture and it will be freshly prepared for you. There are also more delicious bento-ya places around Tokyo but it is usually made by someone's grandma/mom and sold at a corner (I recommend those if you find them!)

Price Range: $

Location: Anywhere

2. shabu shabu at imahan (Asakusa)

Shabu Shabu was like the best thing since the ipod when I first came to Tokyo. The sure genius of this old school style delight amazes me every time I indulge in it. Thinly sliced (usually Grade A at Imahan) beef, marbled to perfection, is dipped in boiling hot water for a short amount of time (depending how well done you like your meat) and dipped in a sauce of your liking (just do the ponzu - a citrus soy sauce). Once placed in your mouth, foodgasm - if your life ended you would die a happy shabu-ing person. It really is about that fatty rich buttery-ness of the meat that makes Shabu Shabu at Imahan great. You can also get sukiyaki there (which is what they are known for) but hands down I think Imahan does Shabu the best.

Price Range: $$$

Location: Near Asakusa station (Asakusa and Ginza line)

3. Kujira Restaurant (Shibuya)

Kujira Sashimi

Let me get this out the way really quick (otherwise the guys at the front of the restaurant will overly warn you). Kujira stands for whale, so they will be serving whale in all forms. I have been to this restaurant about four times and only during lunch time because the prices are significantly cheaper. You can find kujira on the menu at other restaurants such as izakayas and the like but this restaurant focuses specifically on this magnificent ocean animal. Their lunch menu hasn't changed much in the last five years and you can take your pick of kujira prepared sashimi, steak or fried. I have tried all and all are delicious. Exit to Hachiko from Shibuya station and walk toward Shibuya 109 building. You might have to ask around to get the exact location since the restaurant name is in hiragana くじら

Price Range: $$

Location: Shibuya Station (Hachiko Exit)

4. alice Restaurant(s)

Themed restaurants are big in Japan and I love them! It is so interesting to see how they will transform a space and the food to fit the theme of the restaurant. Since 2010 there seems to be many different Alice and Wonderland restaurants in Tokyo. The one I went to was in Ginza for a friends birthday party and was a really wonderful experience. The menus exhibit what the food is about - nothing complex, just a pizza tweaked to the theme of the Alice in Wonderland tales and through the looking glass. Watch out for the guy that sometimes walks around with the eerie bunny helmet/mask thing!

Price Range: $$-$$$

Location: The Ginza location, nearest station is Shimbashi Station (Ginza and Asakusa lines)

5. Parfait

Jasmine Ice Cream Parfait

I love parfait! It is almost like a decadent, over-extravagant meal (check out that huge cup!). These are not your normal Dairy Queen parfaits. These are like spruced up with Jelly, exotic ice creams, wafers, glutinous rice creations, fruit, whipped cream, etc. Heaven in a 1950s ice cream cup! You can randomly find these places anywhere (just look out for the plastic samples displayed in a case) while walking along the street and stop to take a break from walking everywhere in Tokyo.

Price Range: $

Locations: There are some of these cafes in the Daimaru Department Store at Tokyo Station (Marunouchi Line)

6. Coco ichibanya

My sister loves this place and therefore it is a must go anytime we are in Japan. Coco Ichibanya (Coco Ichi for short) specializes in Japanese style curry - so don't expect a Thai or Indian type curry taste for this meal, expect better. My sister's favorite is anything fried (think like a lobster cream croquette cracked and oozing over some curry and rice). I personally love some meat with the essential onsen tamago (hot springs egg aka soft boiled egg), whose yellow yolk mixes in with my curry - it is just so fantastically foodgasmic and filling. You can find Coco Ichi anywhere really, just look out for the yellow and brown signs.

Price Range: $

Locations: Everywhere, but there is one outside Exit 14 Tameike-Sanno Station (Ginza, Namboku, Marunouchi, Chiyoda lines)

7. Kaiten Sushi

Negi Toro and Negi Toro with quail yolk

Kaiten Sushi (conveyor belt sushi) is great, especially if you are on a budget and cannot afford luxury style Jiro sushi in Japan. Granted the quality will greatly suffer, especially if you are used to like $50 toro nigiri but at the same time I found kaiten still tasted good enough for the price you pay. Most kaiten are anywhere between 100-150 yen per plate and each plate usually contains two pieces of nigiri and usually they are the basics, like salmon, tuna, negi-toro, etc. Prices go up from there - for more specialty items like O-toro or something like Aji, it might cost like 170-200 yen. I usually avoid sushi like uni (sea urchin) or roe (fish eggs) because you pay like 300 yen and get a really crappy peice of fish that you would of rather paid the legit sushi bar price. Kaiten are found everywhere as well but the ones that are tailored more to non-Japanese speaking tourists and have the touch screens for you to place your order (and sometimes in English) are in the Kabuki-cho area in Shinjuku.

Price Range: $

Locations: Everywhere, but there are several in Kabuki-cho near Shinjuku Station (Oedo and Marunouchi Lines) 

8. Mitsuyadoeseimen (Nakameguro)

Tsukemen

Now I love tsukemen! but funnily enough I am not a die hard fan of ramen. Ramen is noodles in the soup and tsukemen is noodles outside the soup. So where is the logic in loving this great meal? The quality and thickness of the soup! The dipping sauce for tsukemen is so thick and bursting in flavor (think broths soaked in pork bones and spices for more than 24 hours). You can order tsukemen at some ramen shops around Tokyo, but Mitsuyadouseimen specializes in Tsukemen. I used to go to the one outside of Nakameguro station near my home all the time!

Price Range: $

Location: Outside of Nakameguro Station (Hibiya Line)

9. Alcatraz er (shibuya)

Sex toy food

Alcatraz ER is like a mashup theme restaurant channeling prisons, psych wards, horror movie mad scientists...and sex toys?! This place is really crazy and fun and just out there. The food is all themed to something related to jail or an ER motif (caged fried chicken to bloody tacos or something). Drinks are pretty normal except for the fact they are served in a beaker and mixed with a strange sex toy (Exhibit A above). The atmosphere is well...you are in a jail cell. I highly recommend this place as a pre-game starting point then migrate to the slew of clubs right outside their doors.

Price Range: $$$

Location: 10 min walk from Hachiko Exit, Shibuya Station

10. Okonomiyaki/monjayaki

Okonomiyaki is defined loosely as a Japanese pancake but it is not sweet but instead savory and packed with a lot of different ingredients (meats, veggies, sometimes cheese!). Monjayaki I like to define at vomit on a grill (so appetizing right?) - as much as it does look like the result of a hangover it is believe me quite delicious - basically okonomiyaki ingredient contents tossed onto a grill without the flour or binding agents to keep it together. You scratch away at it with these little metal spatulas. The best monjayaki are the ones with cheese or mochi (glutinous rice). You find these types of food in a variety of places and restaurants - it is especially a well known local delight in the kansai area (south of Tokyo). You can find one of these places in Shibuya nonetheless titled after what they serve お好み焼き

Price Range: $$

Location: Hachiko Exit (near the Starbucks), Shibuya Station 

11. Sukiya

Think Yoshinoya  but better (all the Japanese imports that have taken root in America are actually better in Japan). I love me some Donburi which I like to define as delicious things thrown on top of a steaming hot bowl of white rice. It is usually very cheap and very filling. The most popular dish I always indulge in is Gyudon which is like sauteed meats in sukiyaki sauce (or some restaurant special sauce) with onions and poured on top of the rice, so damn delicious! You can find this and more cool creations (that comes with a full picture book menu) at Sukiya anywhere around Tokyo.

Price Range: $

12. Rue De Passy (Gakugeidaigaku-Mae)

When in Tokyo, eat cake! and lots of it! Especially since a lot of it tastes oh-so-delicious and is not laden with sugar and butter and preservatives but don't be mistaken they can be incredibly rich tasting. Cake slices in Japan are like a true artisan delicacy. Small and cute and food-gasmic! You can find a lot of these great cake shops in the the giant department stores but if you have the time and wherewithal to find truly food-gasmic cake (which I was always cake hunting) then take a small trek to Rue De Passy nestled in a local neighborhood (the one I happened to be living in). Rue De Passy is a street in France (somewhere) and the cakes are prepared to French specifications. Once you get to gakugeidaigaku-mae station you have a 10 minute walk to this place - it is not so easy to find but once you find it, reward yourself with the Fromage Cake (pronounced Fro-ma-ji in Japanese), you will not be dissapointed.

Price Range: $

Location: Gakugeidaigaku-mae Station - take the Tokyu Toyoko Line from Shibuya (10 min train ride)

13. aalawi (ebisu)

What's a half-jamaican girl to do when living in Japan for two years? Seek out and find a great place to go down on some real Jamaican food, that is actually prepared and cooked by talented Japanese chefs. This place has been open for awhile now - the first time I went was in 2006. Aalawi means 'all of we' in Jamaican patois. This place obviously specializes in the Jamaican staple - jerk chicken and it is comparable to the jerk centers in Jamaica. I was more impressed by the fact that they have other national dishes I never thought I would find in Japan like Ackee and Saltfish and festivals (fried dough)! All totally delicious and worth checking it out if you want to try something different in another country.

Price Range: $$

Location: Near Ebisu Station (Hibiya/JR Lines)

14. Misono (Tochomae)

Sorry guys, the best steak in the world is hands down in Japan. And Misono is only one of many restaurants where you can indulge on a good piece of cow (I even find affordable grocery store beef is like akin to $50 quality US steaks back home). I recommend going to Misono during lunch time when the prices are way cheaper but don't go for the cheapest steak on the menu. If you have money to spend definitely get the $30-60 cuts of meat (which is still considered a discount during lunch time), you will not regret it. The steaks are served with a salad and bowl of rice. Please enjoy wisely, you may close your eyes, look to the heavens and thank God.

Price Range: $$$

Location: Near Tochomae Station or Shinjuku station West entrance (Oedo Line)

15. kamonka bamboo garden (Ueno)

Real Chinese food without going to China. This restaurant is great for a soft introduction into the delicacies of Chinese cuisine. Some of my friends say it is representative of a certain part of China's cuisine and adapted to Japanese palettes (which automatically means delicious!). Atmosphere is great and the interior design is cool. I highly recommend getting the soup dumplings but for the more adventurous get the pidan (black eggs pictured above) and the pickled jellyfish called kurage (looks like pasta in the picture above).

16. komoro Soba

Komoro Soba is dirt cheap but delicious nonetheless. It is like typical college hangout, where all my grad student friends and I would go grab a nice cheap bite for sometimes under $5. They specialize obviously in soba (buckwheat noodles) which can be served hot or cold. Oddly enough I have a dipping fetish and love it served cold, which is called zaru soba (pictured above) and you dip the noodles in a sauce with ginger and scallions. A really filling meal without the heaviness. Usually you have to tackle the vending machines at Komoro, which means you identify the button of what you want to eat, put your money in, press that button, take the ticket and put it on the chefs counter in the back who will prepare your meal. When in doubt choose one of the options in the sample display box of what you want and the staff will help you navigate the rest.

Price Range: $

Locations: Everywhere

17. wako

Finally, my favorite food in all of Japan - and of course the most fattening - fatty pork cutlet, encapsulated by eggs, sauce and onions thrown over some rice - Katsudon! You can of course find this meal anywhere at different types of restaurants, but Wako specializes in the fried pork cutlet! From Tonkatsu (fried pork) to Katsudon, you will enjoy the savory flavors of the meat and the fullness of your tummy afterwards. You can find Wako anywhere in Tokyo.

Price Range: $

Locations: Anywhere but there is one outside Exit 14 Tameike-Sanno Station (Ginza, Namboku, Marunouchi, Chiyoda lines)