Tasting Tokyo in 4 nights
My boyfriend and I will be visiting Tokyo for 4 nights and I'd like to make the most of our time there eating! I've already done some research but would love your recs for the following categories if you have new places to suggest or can weigh in on what we're considering (especially if they're too far for us to get to).
We're from Los Angeles where we already have a great mix of cultural flavors, so I'm really looking to stick to Japanese food during our stay.
We'll be staying near Ueno/Asakusa but will be exploring most probably in Shibuya, Shinjuku, Roppongi, and Ginza so anything fairly accessible is fair game (it's been difficult to tell how close many places are to where we are). Also we're looking to eat fairly inexpensively when possible.
1. Sushi - Have heard good things about Midori at various locations for reasonably-priced sushi; also Sushi Daiwa, Dai Sushi, and Sushi Sei in Tsukiji; kaiten sushi worth trying and if so, where at?
2. Yakitori/Robata-yaki - Birdland (where?), Isehiro in Akasaka, Takumi in Ginza
3. Ramen - Akanoren, Ramen Jiro in Mita, Ippudo in Ebisu, Koumen chain in Ikebukuro
4. Tonkatsu - Tonki in Meguro, Katsuyoshi in Ebisu
5. Soba - Yabu Soba near Akihabara
Thank you in advance for your suggestions! =)
Maybe you've already been on your trip, but I'll chime in anyway -- it seems to me that no trip to tokyo would be complete without at least one meal from the depato, taken back to the hotel room. It's too fun to shop the department store basements. It's also cheap and somewhat risky. At least once in each trip I bring home a meal of various assorted exciting looking foods only to find that none of it is what it appears to be, or tastes like I think it might, or is even worth eating. But the experience is sooo worth the risk: the vendors screaming at you and offering samples, the beautiful and sometimes strange (to my western eyes) arrays of colorful foods, the $60 pears or persimmons or melons right next to the $2 ones, the seriousness of the efforts booth after booth. It's just too fun to miss.
When you are browsing Metropolis, and Chowhound for that matter, pay attention to anything penned by the magnificent Yukari Pratt. She was incredibly helpful to me on my last visit to Tokyo (even joined me for lunch!) and is deeply knowledgable about food, restaurants, shoju, sake etc. You mentioned Dai-- I did go there and it was certainly impeccable but you won't find the sushi itself very different from what you will find at some of the top Edo style restaurants in LA. Also it is incredibly cramped and rushed which could be fun and intimate but for whatever reason I found it stressful at 6 am. Definitely do go to Tsukiji for the tuna auctions though!
It is not inexpensive in absolute terms, but the extraordinary kaiseki lunch at Kozue at the Park Hyatt isn't actually any more expensive than a nice business lunch in New York or LA, and perfects details of service and pacing and presentation and cuisine that don't even rise to consideration much less execution in most top US restaurants.
There is a chain of Izakayas here called Tofuro. They make the absolute best tofu. It's like cheese, maybe you could call it a Japanese buratta.
It's creamy and what, resistant to the bite because they use cream, sesame oil and kanten, a seaweed jelly, in it. Wonderfully adictive.
If you are seeking a really good Izakaya experience try finding a Dai-Kichi somewhere - I lived by this place in many cities. Always delicious and the staff are awesome.
If you get sick of Japanese food (hah, in 4 days, not likely) you should try Japanese Italian at Capprichiosa (they are ALWAYS packed and their food is amazing.). Have fun, I'm jealous!
OK! I just remembered a decent izakaya that I can give reasonably precise directions to. It's in Ebisu, which is on the Yamanote loop line and on the Hibiya Subway line.
Go out the west exit and look for the police box. It's next to the statue of Ebisu and is a popular meeting spot. Cross the main street next to the police box (Komazawa-Dori). Take the first street to the right that runs parallel the the train. There is a take-out sushi place on the corner. Walk down about three blocks. You'll pass on your left a toy/memorabilia shop that's kind of fun to wander into. Anyway, 3 or so blocks down is a large 2 floor supermarket called Peakcock. It's written in English. Can't miss it, it's on the left. Inside Peacock toward the right side is a stairway that leads up to an izakaya called Nihinbashi-Tei. I've taken my parents here, other out of town guests, and had several parties. They have a big menu, including fresh sashimi and seasonal specials. I always get some of these and some of their tofu dishes. They have good tsukune (minced chicken sticks) as well. You can sit at a counter or regular table, but I always try for the Japanese style tiered tables which are to the left as soon as you go in.
You can make the trip to Ebisu even more worthwhile by visiting the Sapporo Beer HQ, which has a museum with free or very cheap samples.
Hope you find a fun place regardless of where you choose...
Gosh, where to begin. Basically, whatever your impression of Japanese food is, you're going to be astonished by the variety and quality from what you're used to. While your list is a good starting point, I would caution you against relying on it so much, because 4 days is a very short time (too short, really) to discover Tokyo, and the best part of traveling is to make your own discoveries. If you're, say, in Ginza and you're trying to get to a specific restaurant clear across town because you had your heart set on it, you might want to have some Plan B's to choose from wherever you are at the time. Frankly, you're going to find good chow (better chow than in LA, at least) in many many places, but it might also require having an instinct for finding just the right place. First, think seasonally. The Japanese are hyper-sensitive to what's in season, and restaurants that feature ingredients that are only available for a short period are a good bet. Also, when you find a really good sake list, you should be able to find good food to accompany it. Also, it would be good to know a little about regional Japanese cuisine, so you have an idea about what the specialties of the house would be a good bet. For example, since you'll be near Asakusa, you should try monjyayaki instead of okonomiyaki, since monjyayaki originates from that area, and okonomiyaki is a specialty of the Kansai region, though it's ubiquitous in Japan. If you're in the Asakusa area, I would try to find a good unagi restaurant too. Also, getting a sense of current food trends would be helpful too. For instance, two dishes that have become popular recently are motsu-nabe, or jingesu-kan (as in Ghengis Khan), which refers to lamb meat.
While you can get really high-end sushi in Tokyo at places like Kyubei or Sukiyabashi Jiro and spend hundreds of dollars, you can find really good sushi at the Tsukiji places you mention or even some Kaiten places. While the Tsukiji places are touristy, I don't think that's a barometer of the quality. In that case, you can say that Ramen Jiro or Tonki are also touristy (and they are) but they are also good places. Anyway, once you're done roaming inside the Tsukiji market, go a few block to what's called the jyogai area, and you'll find several blocks of a neighborhood market. There's some good bargain restaurants around there too. Lots of holes-in-the-wall places serving hearty fare.
Do also check out Ame-yoko as Silverjay mentions. I always do my omiage shopping around there. It's the best bargain shopping in Tokyo.
You might be blown away by the depachikas. If you want sweets, these are some of the best places for it. Near Ueno is Matsuzakaya, which has a decent depachika, so check that out, and then go to the bigger department stores and you'll see what the fuss is about.
Besides bento.com, which I find OK, I like this website to do some restaurant searches. The Japanese version of the site is much more comprehensive, but the english site has many good options and descriptions.
Finally, if you want to see how big Tokyo is, check out this cool map. There's a link "how big is Tokyo" where you can overlay maps of other cities against Tokyo's. Basically, the interior of the Yamanote subway line is about the size of Manhattan, if that gives you a better sense. Not small.
Izakaya: there are many many good ones (far better than anything in NYC)...one that is very consistent is "Goro Goro" in Shibuya...like everything in Tokyo, it's a little hard to find, but it's only a five minute walk from the huge Shibuya Starbucks...it's on a sidestreet, and on the 5th (?) floor...lots of cozy wooden booths and sort of a trendy crowd...delicious salads w/ dried fish, sashimi, etc...huge menu, and lots of shochus...i have no idea of the exact address, but the sidestreet it's on sort of curves (like Doyers St in NYC) and has some big airpipes on it (as if that helps - lol)...
i also went to an excellent izakaya in the Ikebukuro area last time i was there, but i have no idea what it was called...
"it's on a sidestreet, and on the 5th (?) floor...lots of cozy wooden booths and sort of a trendy crowd"...
This makes me laugh because there are probably a few dozen places that fit this description in Shibuya. Even if you narrowed it to "a five minute walk from the huge Shibuya Starbucks", still a ton of spots like this. But this just reveals the difficulty in recommending places in Tokyo- especially izakayas. I think that's why I've found myself, more often than not, recommending the chain izakayas. Well signed, easy to find, and picture menus. BTW, among my "not-so trendy" chowhound friends in Tokyo, Shibuya is considered low on the izakaya totem pole. The common notion is that young people don't know what they're eating and don't really care. Follow the salarymen!
haha...very true regarding the plethora of Shibuya izakayas (i meant the directions as a random comment not as something the OP could follow specifically)...on the other hand, the food quality at Goro Goro is superior to a lot of the others i've tried around there, and is a fav of some of my Tokyo pals...
The Ikkebukro one was fun because of the food quality and also the slightly off-color vibe (e.g. older sararimen on trysts w/ office girls, a sort of sordid drunken cozy atmosphere, almost devoid of gaijin)...
HERE IS THE BEST OF THE BEST. I HOPE YOU ENJOY!!!!
Address: 7-6, Ginza 8-chome, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Open: 11:30 - 14:00, 17:00 - 22:00 Close: Sun, Hol.
Budget: Yen 8,000 (Lunch), Yen 20,000 (Dinner)
Tsukamoto Sozan Building B1F 4-2-15 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Open 5 to 9 PM Closed Sundays, Mondays, national holidays
6-6-5 Ginza (Chuo-ku, near Ginza station on various lines), Tokyo.
Only 4 nights? Wow, you've really carved out a serious dining schedule...
1-Sushi- Midori Sushi is a good choice. There's a location in Ginza and also one in Shibuya. It's economical and tasty. The places you mentioned in Tsukiji are interchangeable as far as I'm concerned and are fairly touristy.
2- Yakitori- You can try Imaiya which claims to be the "ultimate chicken". I've been to the Ebisu location. It was excellent, though a bit pricey. They have an English website- http://www.imaiya.co.jp/. If you want to do it on the cheap, might be a good idea to ask your hotel concierge for a local place near your hotel.
3- Ramen- You're on the right track as you've listed some of the heavy hitters. You can't go wrong with any of those. They're all spread out though. Ippudo is in Ebisu.
4- Tonki is very well known and practically in front of the station on the Yamanote line.
5- Soba- Personally, soba wouldn't crack my 4 dinner menu...
6- Izakaya- They're all over. If you go to one of the chains, you can get menus with pictures and cheaper prices. Might want to check out a Tengu for example....
7- Okonomiyaki- Again, doesn't crack my line-up.
8- Depachika- Chowhound Goddess Yukari wrote up this in a local mag- http://metropolis.japantoday.com/tokyo/535/dining.asp.
Other- You can stroll down an interesting street in Ueno called Ame-Yoko, which is as close to old "Edo" as you'll find food market-wise in Japan. There's lots of stalls and interesting places around here.
You should check in with http://www.bento.com/tokyofood.html if you want real specific places, expecially for upscale izakayas and Japanese specialty foods.
Have a great time!
If you're looking for a bakery recommendation then I'd suggest picking up a sweet potato pie from Kobeya Bakery.
I've had the akamarushinaji ramen at Ippudo and it was excellent.
Tonkatsu is one of my favorite Japanese foods along with korokke [croquettes]. Don't miss either if you like fried foods.
Enjoy your trip.