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Sep 10, 2008 05:52 PM

Eating in Tokyo & Kyoto


I know that other people have posted questions about eating in Tokyo and Kyoto but I thought I should post a separate one to in order to ask some specific questions (sorry if some of them are redundant). Some background first: my college roommate and I are going to be in Tokyo and Kyoto (and mostly likely Hakone) at the beginning of November and we would love to get some dining suggestions. We're both very adventurous eaters and are completely obessed with Japanese food - the purpose of our trip is to eat. I live in NYC and she lives in LA and we both have good options for Japanese food but we're searching for the amazing food/taste that we can't get in our respective cities. I was in Japan 8 years ago and really enjoyed my meals there but I was on a budget and my taste buds weren't as critical as they are now. Unfortunately, we're only going to be in Tokyo for 3 days (1 of which I will be by myself) and in Kyoto for 2 days. I've read the responses to the other posts but I was hoping to get restaurant suggestions for must eat places where I can dine by myself and with my college roommate. Below are the kinds of foods that we would like to try during our trip:

1) Sushi: I'm a big fan of Sushi Yasuda in NYC, which I think is fantastic, but would love to try better sushi in Japan. I've always wondered how much better the sushi can be in Japan. Also, is it worth trying the sushi in Tsukiji - I remember having a great meal there but some of the commentary on this site seemed somewhat negative. One post mentioned that there's a restaurant in Tsukiji that serves donburi with uni, toro, anago - I would love to go since these are all of my favorite toppings.

2) Yakitori

3) Soba noodles

4) Ramen noodles

5) Izakaya

6) Tofu

Is there anything else that's a must try?

Also, for all the suggestions please let us know what is a must order dish. We definitely don't want to accidentially order the wrong thing or miss trying out the speciality. Price is not a concern but we would like to avoid overpaying. Lastly, I've become very lazy in the past years and have resorted to wearing jeans everywhere so please let me know if that's not appropriate attire for a specific restaurant.

Thanks so much for your help!

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  1. Hi tabby11,

    Here's a summary of places I went to on my Japan Trip this past Spring. Hope it helps. :)

    2 Replies
    1. re: exilekiss

      Thanks so much for your suggestions exilekiss! It was overwhelming reading all of the reviews from all the blogs and difficult to discern the #1 must try places. Do you have any thoughts about eating sushi at Tsukiji?

      1. re: tabby11

        Hi tabby11,

        As FourSeasons has recommended there are some great threads on your Tsukiji topic w/ directions, info and more. Look over everyone's suggestion first and then ask away if you have more questions.

    2. All your topics have been very widely covered on previous threads. Maybe you are new to Chowhound, but I suggest you type the topic on the Search function on the upper left hand corner and do a bit research. Many restaurants have been recommended and reviewed on all the above topics. And then you can come back for more specific questions then we will be able to help you. And you need to be more specific about your budget not to overpay. Pricing in a top notch sushi house at Ginza is much more expensive than one at tsukiji.

      On other note, Sushi Yasuda at NYC is good but it is certainly not in the same league with the top notch sushi houses in Tokyo. On "anything that's a must try?", there are just too many many things to try: shabu shabu, yakiniku, steak, seasonal seafood, fugu, oysters, nabe, oden, tempura, kaiseki (traditional, modern, fusion), curry udon, vegetarian etc etc but the problem is a 5 days trip is just too short to try all. You also need to tell us what your taste bud is like and your preference since it is hard to recommend "must try" dish without knowing your background.

      1. .. u may like to watch the entire bourdain episode instead of this... i guess this was pretty recent.. as they mentioned the 3 star sushi meal at sukiyabashi jiro.. which was to me the best part.. bourdain actually said he was ready to die now after eating the uni sushi from sukiyabashi jiro.. this is madly insane

        4 Replies
        1. re: Lucil

          Thanks for all of your responses. I actually read through a bunch of the threads before my posting...sorry if my questions weren't as specific as they could have been.

          I read a lot of the postings for Tsukiji and that's where I found some criticisms of the sushi restaurants in the market since the market employees want more casual dining options - some posters commented that these sushi restaurants were for tourists. I understand that I'm a tourist but I'd rather avoid that scene if possible unless there's very good quality sushi to be had at reasonable prices. Also, one of the threads commented that there is great restaurant that serves donburi with uni/toro/anago - can I get the name of this restaurant?

          As for pricing, I don't mind spending $250 per person for a meal. My point of reference is NYC where you can spend $250+ (at a high end and formal restaurant) or $100 (at a hole in the wall but with fantastic food.

          Thanks for the tip about Anthony Bourdain's episode. I watched this a couple of weeks ago when it was on tv and have noted all the restaurant and bar recommendations in his show.

          As for my taste bud and dining preference, I entertain clients a lot (I'm in the financial services sector) so I typically avoid going to very formal restaurants when I'm not with reminds me too much of work. However, I will go on special occasions i.e. birthdays, holidays etc. But these client experiences have spoiled my palate so I have high expectations. I absolutely love sushi/sashimi (and unfortunately have developed a distaste for cooked fish), shellfish (oysters, lobster, crab, clams). I've tried fugu a number of times but don't really appreciate it. I love kaiseki meals and am planning to stay at Gora Kadan so I think this will take care of the kaiseki experience. I've tried shabu shabu during my last trip to Japan but thought it's quite bland (I know some may disagree with me). I would love to try nabe, tempura, oden. I'm not a vegetarian but would love to try tofu. Not a fan of curry.

          Thanks again for all of your help.

          1. re: tabby11

            Hi tabby11,

            Thanks for the additional info to help us find restaurants to your liking. :) It sounds like you're really discerning when it comes to Sushi, which in case, I would definitely recommend Sushi Mizutani (which was in the link in my post above). Mizutani-san is a humble, down-to-earth Sushi Master, and I had a great meal there.

            I can't comment on the Tsukiji eateries, but I'm sure there'll be a few Japan regulars that'll chime in on that.

            You should also give Ryugin a try for the Modern Kaiseki experience (also linked above).

            For Tofu, there was a great thread on some Japan Hounds going to Tofu-ya Ukai (near Tokyo Tower), that is supposed to have some great Tofu dishes (an acquaintance of mine went there last month and said it was "really nice!").


            1. re: tabby11

              Hi tabby11:

              My visit to Tsukiji was years ago, pre-Chowhound era, so I can't remember much. A well known one is Sushi Dai but I was told the queue is really long and I don't really have patience to wait in queue while on holiday or business. A personal friend has also recommended Sushi Iwa at tsukiji. But many of the top notch sushi houses are in Ginza area, but the price is much more expensive than Tsukiji. I will second Sushi Mizutani, but if you don't speak Japanese, there maybe some communication problem as nobody speaks English there. I also like Sushi Kanesaka very much, the atmosphere is more relaxed there as Chef Kanesaka is quite friendly and fluent in English. Kyubei is another legendary name in Sushi business but I am not a fan though many in Chowhound love it. I am the lone dissent on this one. Sukiyabashi Jiro at Roppongi Hill is another excellent option if you stay near Roppongi area. Sushi Dai Harumi and Taku are two other names often mentioned here as excellent though I have not visited these two. I don't think you will go wrong with any of the top choices there.

              I am not such a big fan of yakitori or ramen so I don't really try them on short trips. Most here recommend Fuku, Imaiya or Isehiro for yakitori so you might want to type on above search to read the review. There is one well known one called Gonpachi that is really popular with tourists and expatriates. For ramen, beside exilekiss, you may want to check out the threads written by Silverjay, who often recommend and review ramen places. For izakaya, Silverjay and Oonth have written extensively too, so please check their past threads.

              If you come on November, that is actually one of the best periods for seasonal food, especially seafood. On most of my trips, I will usually go to restaurants that specialize on seafood. Most here like Kaikaya, though again I am the dissent here. It is quite popular with the expatriates; price is quite reasonable and the stuffs are friendly but I find that they have catered more to westerners' taste bud. (I am from Singapore) If you are willing to spend more and try really fresh seasonal seafod, I will recommend Nabura. I wrote a thread on Nabura 1 year ago so you can search for it. On November, you can try shirako (fish sperm), ankimo (liver), kinki (fish), Hokkaido crab, different seafood nabe etc.

              For oysters, there is a hip cool place I go to called Maimon, which serve oysters from all over Japan. They also served some yakitori, Japanese style steak and some fusion food (I love the kimchee fried rice, their own interpretation of Korean-Japanese style fried rice).

              I assume you tried fugu in America, so I would tell you to forget that experience. Based on my experience, even in Japan, you should eat fugu in restaurant that specialize ONLY on fugu, not some "generalists" that serve fugu as part of the menu. Wild fugu is in season on winter period, but they are very expensive at more than Yen 30k per person if you go to one that speciallize on wild fugu. If you do go, please review here as noone has done it before. I usually go to Tettiri that serves farmed fugu, so the price is much cheaper.

              For oden and tempura, there were threads focus on them written before. You may want to check them out. I usually go to Otako for oden and Asagi for high end tempura. Both are quite good.

              While I do understand that you do entertain a lot at formal restaurants at NYC, I think the dining scene in Tokyo is much better than Manhattan. I just came back from NYC trip on June, and regrettably, I don't think that the quality at even well known places in Manhattan is as good as compared to what I eat in Tokyo, in terms of culinary skill, freshness of the ingredient and the general service standard. So i do recommend you to try some formal places as well. The kaiseki at Gora Kadan is more traditional style, but there are so many contemporary style, or traditional with modern interpretation kaiseki in Tokyo that are exceptionally good. I have been venturing more and more to such places in recent trips. Ryugin that exilekiss wrote is one that is often recommended here, I will highly recommend this one too.

              1. re: tabby11

                These days, the early morning sushi shops close to Tsukiji market are almost exclusively destination spots for tourists- both domestic and foreign. There is no avoiding the tourist scene. The one I am most interested in is Sushi Bun, which I've seen featured on tv in Japan a few times. It's been around a while and is slightly less popular than Sushi Dai....There are many kaisen donburi places in that area...For nabe, you might want to look specifically into one of the "chanko nabe" places near Ryogoku. It's and interesting dish, with an interesting story, in an interesting part of town. You should know that nabe is a communal dish though, so bring friends.

                I highly recommend you check out this "Regional Japanese" restaurant page at> , which lists actual local restaurants with various regional specialties. It's the best aggregated list of information on good and interesting restaurants in English for Tokyo. It would be interesting to hear your experiences at these types of places, versus, say, the 1000th posting on what's new on the Ryugin tasting menu.

            2. Tsukiji is worth the visit. You'll find the same kinds of fish you will find at Yasuda in NYC, but it won't cost you the extra from having to fly the fish from Tokyo. While you can order a la carte at the sushi places in Tsukiji, it's more common to get a set "omakase" course. They usually top at 4000 yen. If sushi isn't your thing, you have about a dozen choices to find kaisen donburi.


              2 Replies
              1. re: E Eto

                Thanks everyone for your responses. This is perfect - the exact info that I was looking for. I will check out the bento website and also the recommended chowhound threads.

                I'll let you know which restaurants I'll be able to squeeze in during the trip and report back to everyone.

                Thanks again.

                1. re: tabby11

                  Can I get some advice on Hiiragiya Ryokan in Kyoto? I was thinking about staying here so that I can sample the keiseki menu but I just looked on Trip Advisor and there are a lot of negative reviews on the quality of the food and the rooms. Any advice for an alternative restaurant and hotel/ryokan?


              2. How does anyone like Kyubei in Ginza (the original)? I hear it's fantastic.