Best restaurants in Tokyo: How to hit them all
By Alyson Sheppard, Jul 2020
When globally acclaimed chefs want inspiration, they visit the best restaurants in Tokyo. American chef David Chang, of Momofuku fame, considers Tokyo the best food city on the planet, according to Travel + Leisure.
In Tokyo, chefs spend their whole lives perfecting seemingly simple crafts, such as slicing raw fish or boiling noodles. In doing so, they elevate their cuisine to new heights. And you don't have to visit an exclusive fine dining establishment to access this skillful dish preparation; some of the best restaurants in Tokyo are casual streetside holes-in-the-wall.
Here are five unique dining experiences to check out the next time you're in Tokyo.
Settle into a warm, savory bowl of ramen in Tokyo with add-ons like boiled eggs and seaweed.
Here's a travel truism: When you see a line for food, get in it. There's almost always a line at Ichiran, a Michelin-starred ramen shop in Shibuya, packed with locals and tourists for bowls of the restaurant's signature tonkotsu ramen. The soup broth is made from pork and bones, giving it a cloudy appearance like miso, and it's chock-full of thin noodles, sliced pork and spicy red sauce.
Ordering the dish is an experience in itself. Instead of ordering, you purchase a ticket from a vending machine at the front door. You're then guided to a private seat and given the option of adding more ingredients, such as boiled eggs, mushrooms and seaweed. When your food is ready, it's passed to you under a screen. If you like to dine in a private setting, this is the restaurant for you.
Tonkatsu, a dish of breaded and fried pork cutlets, sounds hearty and straightforward, but like everything else in Tokyo, it's raised to an art by local master chefs. Get your tonkatsu fix at Butagumi, a restaurant in a two-story traditional house in Tokyo's Nishi-Azabu neighborhood. The pork here comes from a few dozen heritage pig breeds, in a range of fat content and in a variety of ages and thicknesses; it's fried golden brown and served with crunchy shaved cabbage and a sophisticated house-made Worcestershire sauce.
Sample rare cuts of wagyu beef from regional cattle breeds in Tokyo.
Han no Daidokoro (Shibuya)
Japan is known for its limited supply of high-end wagyu, the finely marbled beef that comes from special regional cattle breeds (including the special Hyogo-raised Kobe cows). At Han no Daidokoro, a yakiniku (Japanese barbecue) restaurant, you can sample up to 10 cuts of rare beef and cook them to your liking on a built-in grill at your table. Each melt-in-your-mouth order comes with filling traditional sides such as salads and rice.
Sushi Dai (Koto)
Sushi? For breakfast? In Tokyo, absolutely. Michelin-starred Sushi Dai is one of the most popular restaurants in Japan, and it used to be just steps from Tsukiji Market, the largest open-air fish market in the world. It's since relocated to Toyosu Fish Market in the heart of the city. People still line up at 3 a.m. for the restaurant's ridiculously fresh fish and rice; there are only 10 seats inside the restaurant, and people sometimes wait up to five hours for one. Order the omakase; the affordable chef's choice option includes 10 pieces of nigiri, a sushi roll, tamagoyaki (a Japanese omelet) and miso soup.
While Tokyo's restaurants are renowned for their formality and adherence to tradition, Japanese chefs, like most locals, loosen up at the corner izakaya. These laid-back drinking and dining establishments are usually small, local joints with only a handful of seats. Kotaro, in a residential part of Shibuya, doesn't even have a menu. Instead, chef Kotaro Hayashi chooses whatever he thinks his patrons will enjoy. The hearty bar snacks include bowls of duck meat and taro stew topped with wasabi, sliced and deep-fried chestnuts and hand-cut udon noodles.
A trip to Tokyo will expose you to the world's finest dining, whether it's at a high-end, Michelin-starred establishment or at a humble corner eatery. Either way, you'll leave agreeing with David Chang and hailing Tokyo one of the best dining destinations on the planet.
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