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Sep 20, 2007 10:21 PM

Must-eats for a Tokyo first-timer

Hello! I'm traveling to from Los Angeles to Tokyo for a week at the end of October for the first time and am looking for recommendations for places to eat. I love both modest, low-key spots as well as more refined, exalted ones. I'll be staying first at the Four Seasons Marunouchi, then at the Park Hyatt. I'm particularly interested in katsu, wagyu, sake and, of course, sush, but am also open to other ideas. Please let me know if you have any suggestions.Thanks!

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  1. Don't forgot true Ramen!
    I'm a miso ramen kind of guy myself.

    2 Replies
    1. re: lost squirrel

      Ya can't just say "true Ramen". There are *so* many different kinds of ramen out there and they're all real:
      Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum
      2-14-21 Shin-Yokohama, Kohoku-ku, Yokohama 222
      It costs money to get in and really, a portion of ramen inside (which you also have to pay for) is enough for a meal, but it is definitely authentic.

      1. re: Luthien

        Agreed, I meant that in reference to what is referred to as 'ramen' in the states, 'cup ramen'

    2. For sushi go to the fish market. There are about 10 restaurant sushi bars where the fishmongers go to eat. No language skills needed, point and nod at what you like. Go to the ones with line-ups and wait. Be prepared to spend $100.00 for breakfast and you will be rewarded with a unique experience.

      There are some restaurants with extremely focused specialities. I went to one place that was an 1880's dojo and served 1 dish, loach stew ( it's a fish). The noodle stands ( located around major train or subway stations) are amazing.

      Department store food courts have wild selections of prepared foods for snacks. They also have big sake selections ( 2000-3000) choices, so do some research, try to find some sake guides written by John Gauntner. Sake is also sold at small independent retailers who may be the 10 th generation of their family to be in the business.

      Aside from food and drink, do to the public bathhouses for a scrub.



      9 Replies
      1. re: onionbreath

        Yep John Gauntner (aka the Sake Guy) is your man for sake, I did one of his courses in Tokyo earlier this year and it was hugely informative not to mention enjoyable.

        If you can get hold of his guide to 40 worthwhile Tokyo izakayas, you'll be doing yourself a favour although you'll need to have someone who reads Japanese to extract a lot of the info:

        Sasagin is one of the places in the book and was recommended on this board over the summer, definitely worth it for the sake list and the food ain't bad either. Could be combined with a visit to Roman ya (see link below which contains lots of other useful info).

        I would definitely recommend Buri which is outstanding food, one cup sake selections and atmosphere and also Hasegawa sake shop where you can do tastings in plush surroundings and where the staff and other customers are charming and helpful (may need to speak Japanese to get by here).

        Overall just try and hit as many bases as you can - top end sushi (say Kyubei Ginza), regular sushi (Tsukiji market), ramen/soba yas, tonkatsu (Tonki or Maisen), yakitori, izakayas, okonomi yaki, kaiseki, curry shop, regional eg Okinawan, the list goes on. And do try neighbourhood places if you get a chance. And also doing multiple places per evening (see link above again) is a great way to go.

        1. re: oonth

          One great thing to try is chanko nabe, sumo wrestler's soup. Those restaurants also tend to be more tourist oriented than many izakayas and ramenyas. Warning about the ramen shops--the broth is often chock full o'MSG, so if you've got any sensitivities, beware. Not comfortable for single females, as well. Ditto cheap curry. You can also try what most young Japanese survive on--stuff from the convenience store. Rice balls, oden, soba, it's not bad, cheap and everywhere.

          1. re: newhavener07

            I second the fish market recommendations--for a more mellow experience, try the sit-down places on the outskirts that have combo meals. There's a great one with a giant fish pond in the middle of the dining area, but I don't remember the name, near Tsukiji station. Tokyo's also a great place to eat Korean and stuff you can't find easily in the U.S., like Malaysian street food and Burmese. Look around Ikebukuro for that stuff.
            Just beware of sushi places in that the prices are often astronomically high and not really marked, especially if you go by the chef's recommendation. Can easily top $500 per person if you're not careful. Go with a Japanese collegue and be clear about what you're willing to spend, although they'll probably pick up the tab.

            1. re: newhavener07

              Okubo, near Shinjuku, is the area known for Korean food. Besides some good restaurants, there are street stalls there from the early evening on- something relatively rare in Tokyo these days. Ikebukuro is known for ramen and cheap Japanese places. There's one well-known Malaysian place there though- Malay-chan. Tokyo is actually pretty weak for Southeast Asian fare. There's only a handful of each and most aren't really chow destination dining examples. Indian and Chinese cuisines are much better represented.

              1. re: newhavener07

                As Silveryjay said, Tokyo isn't awash in great Southeast Asian places, especially for someone traveling from Los Angeles. Many of the Burmese spots have closed down, possibly due to changes in immigration enforcement policies.

                There is some very good Korean though, and there's no need to brave the wilds of Okubo anymore. Jap Cho Ok ( and Chimtak ( are a couple worth trying.

                1. re: Robb S

                  Compared to the East Coast there's lots of Korean, and it's usually reasonable. Sorry to hear that Burmese places closed down. I found Japanese versions of Chinese and Thai pretty poor in general and weirdly homogenous from place to place.

                  1. re: newhavener07

                    Within Japanese culture, "Wafu-Chuka", often advertised purely as "Chinese" is comfort food. Hence the ubiquity of such shops and the standardized menus you can find anywhere throughout Japan. Beyond these though, there are a plethora of regular Chinese restaurants- particularly Cantonese and Taiwanese cuisine- that are good to excellent throughout Japan.

                  2. re: Robb S

                    I'd also definitely recommend Magokoro for lunch for their Soon Dobu:

                    Magokoro Restaurant
                    Momose Building 1st Floor, 3-7 Surugadai, Kanda
                    Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo Japan 101-0062
                    Phone: +81) 03-5283-1550

                2. re: newhavener07

                  I'm not sure where you get the idea that ramen shops (at least the good ones) add MSG to their ramen. If you have some sources, please let us know. From my experiences with ramen in Japan, that doesn't seem to be the case.

            2. For sake I'd recommend Buri in Akasaka - better sake than the original Buri in Shibuya, and more consistently good food and service than Sasagin. Treat yourself to some good yakitori - Toriyoshi Dining ( is a very good, accessible spot in Shibuya.

              1. Just returning from a week in Tokyo and a culinary highlight was the BBQ freshwater eel served over rice in the basement of "Hiltopia:" the restaurant and shopping arcade in the basement of the Hilton Tokyo in Shinjuku. There are a bunch of restaruant options down there, but the best is the one that specializes in BBQ eel, right across the way from the Indian restaurant. For good kobe beef shabu shabu, try the Prince Hotel Sakura Tower Tokyo restaurant near the Shinigawa Station.