I’ve been to Japan dozens of times and friends always ask for restaurant recommendations. While I have some favorites, my usual answer is I usually pick restaurants based on where I end up at the end of the night, rather than reserving places before arriving to Japan. This way, it wouldn’t restrict me from having to rush to the reservation if I was at the other side of town. I was told, at least in Tokyo, that there would be a charge for any cancelations regardless of reason. I know some desirable places really need reservations, so I have since limited myself to making 1 restaurant reservation on each trip so that I can try those more desirable restaurants. I do also sometimes make same day reservations for places I know may need a booking. Also, I don’t tend to go to too fancy places, or Michelin starred restaurants. I find there’s a lot of good choices everywhere I go.
Instead of sending restaurant info emails to friends or me keeping track of business cards (which I’ve lost a lot of already), I’ve decided to list out my favorite places here. This list will be updated when necessary. Most of these places didn’t have English menus nor did their staff spoke any English, but it was still easy to communicate as their menus usually had pictures.
Sushi Midori 寿司の美登利
They have various locations in Tokyo but the one I usually go to is in Shibuya. They don’t take reservations and the wait can be long. During my last visit (Jan. 2017) we waited for 3 hours, but the average wait is around 1.5 – 2 hours. They now have have a ticket system, so you can walk around while you wait for the table instead of lining up (which we have done many times). Although there is a long wait, I still frequent this place at least once every time because I find the sushi to not only be of quality, but the cuts of the fish are generous. They also have cooked items and sides. The average check per person is around HK$250 (US$31). It’s definitely value for money!
Uogaashi-Ichi Standing Sushi Bar 魚がし日本一
Like sushi Midori, there are a number of outlets within Tokyo. The one I go to is in Shinjuku. This was a recent random find. As it states, it’s a standing sushi bar, so the shop (at least the one in Shinjuku) is quite small, with around 15 spots. This place usually isn’t that busy, but during peak times, there is a short line. The average check is about HK$250 (US$31).
Tsukiji Sushi Ko Nagomi 築地すし好 和
This was also a random find as I was in Tokyo Station on my way to take the subway. The picture of the of the tuna attracted me to go in. The location is on the lower ground of the subway passageways. It was very unassuming. Their focus is fatty tuna, so I ordered their Jo-Tekka Don (Fatty Tuna Bowl) and a crab salad. It was amazing! I didn’t have time to go back to this place, but will definitely revisit next time when I’m in Tokyo! The Don was about HK$185 (US$24) and the salad was about HK$62 (US$8). I realized they also operated a standing sushi bar restaurant directly adjacent to this place.
Yoshizawa 銀座 吉澤 – Shabu Shabu, Sukiyaki
Another random find after a trip to Itoya, my favorite stationary store in Ginza. The restaurant is actually within a very short walk from the back entrance of the main Itoya store. (Itoya also has an annex building across from back entrance of the main building). What attracted us to try the place was their butcher store that’s attached to the restaurant. Their beef looked very fresh and was for sale for locals to buy for Shabu Shabu or Sukiyaki at home. The restaurant is authentic and is one where you have to take off your shoes and sit on the floor. Totally didn’t mind, as the food was superb! We ordered their lunch sets. I tried going back for lunch and dinner a couple of times, but they were all full. I think next time, it’ll be better to make a reservation. Lunch averaged to about HK$171 (US$22).
Kira Ginza 佐賀牛銀座季楽 – Teppanyaki
I made reservations for dinner at this place before arriving to Tokyo. They served Wagyu beef that was from Saga in northwestern part of Japan. This was recommended by a friend who thought it was worth trying. The restaurant served the beef in two ways, teppanyaki or steamed (in a wooden box with vegetables). We choose teppanyaki style. There were 4 types of teppanyaki dinner sets to choose from. The difference laid in the price, number of courses and what was included in the course. There were two types of Wagyu Saga beef – sirloin or fillet. We choose the fillet because it was less fatty. There was an English speaking staff, so we were able to ask specific questions on the menu which was helpful. Prices ranged between HK$890 (US$115) to HK$2,050 (US$265). It was definitely worth it. The beef had the perfect amount of marbling while the other courses were also cooked to perfection. Next time, I want to try the steamed version.
Yakitori Hachibei 焼とりの八兵衛
This place is one of my Japanese friend’s favorite and I now know why. Not only was the food outstanding, but it had great ambiance. We went to the Roppongi outlet and was easily accessible via the subway, just a short walk from Tokyo Midtown. I was glad I had a local with me as they didn’t speak anything but Japanese. I’ll need to practice my Japanese before I go again next time!
Dominique Ansel Bakery
I knew of Dominique Ansel when I lived in New York. Their bakery created the cronut, one of the most sought after baked goods in the city. People would line up at 7:30am and would be sold out in minutes. I never got a chance to try them in New York, so I needed to try them in Tokyo, and I finally did. I heard there’s also usually a line, but was lucky I didn’t have to line up when I went. They change the flavors of cronuts every few months. I went there on two separate trips and was able to have strawberry cream and peach. I also tried their only savory item in the cafe, the egg sandwich. All were very good, including their coffees. In addition to the cafe on the ground floor, there’s a cafe on the second floor. The menu is different and serves salads and sandwiches. The menu wasn’t attractive, so I advise eating in their cafe on the ground floor.
Blue Bottle Coffee
Originated in California, Tokyo is their first destination outside of the United States. I’ve only been to the Shinjuku shop and it’s always filled with people. The lines are getting longer and longer. I think I’ll need to try other shops to see if there’s less people. Their coffee was pretty good. I appreciate the staff’s dedication on making the best cup of coffee.
The following places have outlets across Japan, so no matter if you’re in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya or whereever (I assume it’ll have to be in a major city), there should be one available.
This place makes one of the best cream cakes I’ve had. They’re famous for their layered fruit crepe cakes (similar to Lady M), I think the ones from Harbs is better than Lady M! Their savory items are nice too, which are mostly a variety of cream pastas and small salads.
Afternoon Tea Tea Room
I was first attracted by Afternoon Tea’s flowery and girly houseware and lifestyle products. Most of their shops are attached to their tea room, which typically serves pastas, salads, cakes and of course, teas. I had tried their cafes in various locations and cities and think they’re consistent and good. A lot of the times, there’s a line for lunch and afternoon tea. They often have seasonal food items so every time I visit, I always find something new to try.
Soup Stock Tokyo
I really enjoy having soups from Soup Stock Tokyo. They have a variety of western and Japanese inspired soups. They’re great as a light snack, and for lunch, there’s option to add rice or bread rolls. They also have curries, but I haven’t tried. I hope to try some next time.
Nana’s Green Tea
This is a great place to go for a “pick me up” in the afternoon. I particularly like the combination of green tea and red bean desserts. They also have drinks and light snacks as well.
Parachutes Cold Pressed Juices
This is the best cold press juice place I’ve had in Japan. It’s a “must go” for me every time I’m in Japan. I really enjoy their green juices in particular.
Gram Cafe & Pancakes
They’re most famous for their ultra fluffy pancakes, which are offered in limited qualities and at specific times throughout the day. I was able to try one and they are in fact pretty good. I’ve tried similar ones in Japan and in Hong Kong and think Gram is one of the better ones. I don’t think this is a must go, but if you’re around the area and looking for a cafe for coffee and sweets, it’s worth considering. They also have regular savory and sweet pancakes if you don’t fancy the ultra fluffy ones.
I first came across Luke’s Lobster in Osaka, and not in the United States, where they originated. I wasn’t very impressed and wasn’t too keen on trying them again when I was in New York, read my experience here. It’s now become one of my favorite places. A good tip when going to Luke’s in Tokyo, go to the outlet in Shibuya instead of Harajuku, there’s a lot less people!