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Mar 31, 2008 08:54 AM

Best of the Tokyo Food Halls

I've been to Tokyo several times in the last couple of years. Every time, I stroll through the food halls of the Ginza department stores. It's quite overwhelming to someone who is not familiar with the myriad local specialties on offer.

Which of the department stores are regarded as the best overall?

Does anyone have recommendations for specific shops and food items that should not be missed?

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  1. Do you mean restaurant areas or department store basements?

    I like the depachikas (dept basements) for the sheer variety of different foods. Recently, I tried the Takashimaya in Nihonbashi and it was overwhelmingly huge.

    Keio are Odakyu are both good, and right by each other in Shinjuku station.

    5 Replies
    1. re: lost squirrel

      Ditto Takashimaya in Nohonbashi. That is the one I liked too.

      1. re: lost squirrel

        I mean the department store basements.

        Are there any shops in Takashimaya basement that you would recommend in particular? Will definitely check that out.

        Sorry, but what are Keio and Odakyu?

        1. re: chutster

          There are so many shops at the basement of Takashimaya. Just take your time to stroll around the place;most of the food are in display so you will have a good idea of what you would like.

          1. re: chutster

            Keio and Odakyu are department stores with branches in Shinjuku.

            Seibu Ikebukuro is possibly the biggest food floor in town, and worth checking out for its sheer size. Isetan in Shinjuku is also highly regarded.

            1. re: chutster

              It's not really a place where you can recommend anything, it's more of a mix between food stalls and a supermarket. You just wander around checking out all the available options, there will probably be some free samples as well.
              Here are a few articles about what to expect:

              On second thought, the above articles indicate good places to sit and eat as well. Good luck!

          2. I just went to Odakyu in Shinjuku today, and I was very disappointed with their depachika. I may have gotten a bit lost, however, and not found the "good" part of the depachika (possible with my track record).

            Isetan in Shinjuku, if you're into sweets and prepared foods, is excellent! Today I drank chocolat chaud at the Jean-Paul Hevin Cafe, bought macarons from Pierre Herme, Dalloyau, Sadaharu Aoki, Henri Le Roux, and Chez cima (this one is a Japanese company, I think), and bread from Boulangeriepicerie and Hediard. All these wonderful things from just one store!

            I'm going to get to Nihombashi Takashimaya tomorrow, I hope, but the friend I was with today says Isetan seems to have more exclusive stores in their depachika than Takashimya, particularly with regards to sweets. And in case anyone is wondering, all those macarons (only 9, actually!) I bought are for a taste test I'm doing. I'm not usually such a pig!

            13 Replies
            1. re: prasantrin

              Sounds fun, let us know how the taste test goes.

              I should have mentioned, I don't like sweets at all. Japanese sweets are even worse for me. I always skip over those sections when in Depachikas and just head to where the salty foods are. My recommendations should be ignored if you're looking for something sweet, sorry!

              1. re: lost squirrel

                I went to Takashimaya and Mitsukoshi in Nihombashi today.

                Mitsukoshi had a better floor plan--the food was spread out over two small floors. But they didn't have the variety I have come to expect from depachika. It was very disappointing.

                Takashimaya had a lot more, but the floor plan was so confusing and the space was relatively small, so everything seemed crammed in together. They had more interesting shops than Mitsukoshi, but shopping there wasn't a very pleasant experience.

                I then went to Daimaru at Tokyo Station before catching my shinkansen. I wish I had more time there, as it was a much better depachika than either of the above. It was quite crowded, though, so I didn't really get to enjoy browsing through all the shops.

                I still think Isetan had the best depachika, though, in terms of foods and layout. They had a really great selection of savoury foods, as well (including Iberico ham at Y10 000/100g and some fabulous cheeses).

                As for my macaron taste test, Chez Cima placed first in the caramel division (perfect in every way), and Pierre Herme was first in the coffee division (with caveats--they have much too much filling in their macarons, and they're too big).

                JPHevin (tried both caramel and coffee) and Sadaharu Aoki (only had caramel as they didn't have coffee) were the worst overall. I definitely won't be buying Aoki's macarons again, though I might give JPHevin another try (I think they gave me a chocolate one instead of caramel, so I need to try them again). After eating 9 macarons within one hour, and before 8am at that, I don't think I'll be trying this again soon, though!

                1. re: prasantrin

                  You should try the chocolate at JP Hevin and Aoki. Their mararons were never that great. Their chocolate are much better.

                  1. re: kobetobiko

                    Agreed on JP Hevin, since it's primarily a chocolaterie, but Aoki is supposed to be a patisserie--they should be able to do decent macarons.

                    I'm already planning my next visit to Tokyo. I won't have as much time to wander because I'll be there for a wedding, but I'm hoping to get to Mitsukoshi in Ginza and Seibu in Ikebukuro this time around. Plus Isetan, of course!

                    1. re: prasantrin

                      I think Pierre Herme is hard to beat for macaron, but I tried three "Japanese" flavors (matcha, sakura and kurogoma) from Aoki and thought they were pretty good. I also bought a salted caramel eclair, which was incredibly good.

                      Next time, I'll have to give Hevin's a try.

                      All in Isetan!

                  2. re: prasantrin

                    First a general thanks to everyone on this thread – used on my recent trip to Japan. As a ‘grand finale’ we wanted to find the best caramel macaron, so repeated the taste test that prasantrin described. Of course, for value we rated the Henri le Roux salted caramel tart as the best (approx 50% more than a macaron, but a much larger portion size).
                    But back to the macarons (all bought at the Isetan in Shinjuku). As we weren’t familiar with prasantrin’s preferences we also tried some of the dislikes to get a consistent comparison.
                    Both Amusegirl and I tasted separately, then compared notes after, but there was general consensus. We also re-tasted the top 3 to ensure consistency (somebody has to do these things).
                    Top on both our scorecards was…….CHEZ CIMA (same result as prasantrin), The textures and flavors really evolved with this caramel macaron. In particular the caramel kicks in a little after the initial taste and was particularly creamy. Runners up were the
                    Henry le Roux (that salt gives it a kick that sets it apart) and the Pierre Herme (which has a slightly different overall texture because of the thicker filling – I found it chewier and less crisp, which muddies the flavors a bit). Bottom was another Japanese macaron (whose name wasn’t on the wrapper). We intended to retrieve the name as we returned to buy the ‘best’ – but forgot to check – but it was by far the lightest covering in the test – almost white – so should be easy to identify (and avoid). Also poorly rated was the Sadaharu Aoki (again matching prasantrin), which had hardly any caramel flavour, but a decent texture. For completeness the other two participants (neither best nor worst) were the Sebastian Bouillet versions – the ‘regular’ and the chocolate-covered (technically not a macaron, but a macalyon, I understand).

                    So we headed home with a selection of Chez Cima macarons (and the C.B.S. tart from Henri le Roux).

                    1. re: estufarian

                      Sebastian Bouillet? Where was that stand? I don't think I got any of those ones, but perhaps I didn't miss much, since our tastebuds seem to align.

                      I added a couple to my list from non-Isetan stores. I picked up some from Payard (Caramel Apricot), La Maison du Chocolat (caramel, I think), and Gerard Mulot (caramel, I think). Of the three, La Maison du Chocolat had the best in terms of texture and flavour, but they were awfully tiny. I liked the one from Payard, but it wasn't quite caramel-y enough. Gerard Mulot was not good--the shells were dry and the buttercream had little flavour.

                      Payard has a very good citron macaron, too. It tastes just like a lemon drop candy!

                      Chez Cima and Henri Le Roux are still my favourites, though.

                      estufarian--did you try the Henri Le Roux sel? It's a chocolate macaron with salt. Mmmmmm...not as good as the CBS, but still very good (and I don't even like chocolate that much!).

                      I didn't buy and Chez Cima on this trip. I wanted to, but after spending Y6000 at Henri Le Roux, I thought I should practise some restraint...(more CBS tarts for me!).

                      1. re: prasantrin

                        My version of restraint was to only try caramel (so I passed on the Henri le Roux sel). The Bouillet stand was very close to Le Roux. Face away from le Roux counter and cross the aisle going slightly left. Both of the Bouillon macarons were too chocolatey for me, so stick with what you know and love. Incidentally, the mysterious 'white caramel macaron' was the counter that backed onto Bouillet.
                        We plan on a 'final tasting' tonight with the Chez Cima collection and the hoard of CBS tarts - it's a thank you to the people who looked after our house while we were away (confirmed francophiles who always bring Hermes macarons back from Paris).

                        1. re: estufarian

                          Just to wrap this up.
                          First, the francophiles rate the Laduree version as the best (not Hermes) - do they have an outlet in Tokyo?
                          And the best overall in the tasting was the Henri Le Roux CBS tart - blew EVERY macaron out of the water - all 4 of us had it top!

                          1. re: estufarian

                            I've looked before, but haven't found evidence of Laduree in Tokyo, or outside of Europe for that matter.

                            That CBS tart is awesome, isn't it? I bought 5 (gave one 1 to a co-worker), so I've been trying to spread them out to make them last longer. I only have one left. I might have to make another trip to Tokyo to get more! (The CBS caramels are the best caramels I've had, too.)

                            1. re: prasantrin

                              Assuming you bought yours no later than mine - remember they expire Jun 2nd. We have 1 left (but not for long!).
                              I don't recall EVER having a better 'pastry'.
                              We tried the caramels too - but figured out that 2 caramels = 1 tart (on a cost basis). So for 'value' the tart was a better deal (if you can't have both). Also found a web notice that Laduree 'intended to open a Tokyo outlet' but didn't find it, so just asking if/when it opened.

                              1. re: prasantrin

                                Laduree has shops in a number of the Mitsukoshi around town, including a cafe right on the Ginza 4-chome crossing Mitsukoshi, second floor, overlooking the crossing. Best damn fine macarons out there.

                                1. re: Uncle Yabai

                                  They opened fairly recently--just last July, so they're just shy of their first anniversary.

                                  I went to the Ginza Mitsukoshi Laduree, but just the depachika outlet. I wanted to try the cafe, but I was pressed for time (due to Hidemi Sugino opening one hour later than usual today--no matter that people arrived for their usual 10am opening).

                2. Most of the Takashimaya have wonderful stores in their depachikas. I also love Jean-Paul Hevin and Sadaharu Aoki~

                  Here is a link that should help:

                  1. I am not ashamed to admit that depachika hopping is one of my favorite activities while visiting Japan. I especially love the Takashimaya in Kyoto. My daughter and I did an onigiri ( surprisingly Tokyu in Shibuya) and mochi( Daimaru in Tokyo station) taste test during our trip to Tokyo last week. I am unable to eat many foods but that doesn't stop me from wanting to learn about them and this is a great way to explore.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: carfreeinla

                      Ha! Me too. I used to stay at a hotel around Shinjuku 3-chome, and everyday when I headed out in the morning, I couldn't stop myself from going into Isetan and spending an hour just walking around the food floors -- sometimes eating, sometimes just staring, always in awe.

                      These days, I stay in the more reasonable Yanaka, but walking through the little Yanaka Ginza shopping arcade, I can still get an eyeful, though the fare, setting and proprietors are more traditional.

                      Isetan has my favorite depachika, and I like Ginza Mitsukoshi's as well, but they're both pretty high-end and refined. The former My City (now Lumine Est) at Shinjuku station used to have a good, reasonable food basement, that was more fun and lively, but that's long gone.

                    2. I liked Tokyu in Shabuya eki. I used to get really fresh, super tasty sushi for wicked cheap at this little corner stall. There was also a cool one in Ebisu Gardens, but I liked the lolipops I could get there when I was a kid.

                      Ueno is open air, and that market is my all time favorite. I used to get fruit on a stick and my all time favorite type of dried squid.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: bicknell_hill_sm

                        I worked for two years at Takashimaya in Nihonbashi. If you go, do not miss the pickles from Kintame, the sake department (they get some great nihonshu and do really good tastings), wagashi from Kanno Shojuan, the osembei from Mamegen, the Italian bread at Peck (especially the focaccia), Yoku Moku for the cigares, and the chocolates from Pascal Caffet (which is actually on another floor - maybe 3rd or 4th?). You can get a glass of champagne with your truffles. Two other well-kept secrets is the wine bar at Taillevent on the 2nd floor and Joel Robuchon also has a cafe on the 2nd floor.

                        All this being said, you do want to get to Isetan in Shinjuku if you can - this is THE BEST depachika in the country.

                        1. re: Yukari

                          Good insider info Yukari, thanks a bunch!

                          I have a friend coming into town this weekend and I'll make sure to show him Isetan, in fact I don't think I've ever been there myself. Thanks!