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Going to Tokyo. Need some recommendations.

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Hey guys, I'm going to Hokkaido next week to snowboard but will be in Tokyo the week after for 4 nights. I'll be staying at the Century Southern Tower in Shinjuku. Official address is 2-2-1 Yoyogi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo.

Before I ask for recommendations is there an English food review site (sort of like yelp in the US) that I can do the research myself?

Although I am not that price sensitive the friends (6 of them) I am traveling with might be a little so we're not really going to try any super high end place. My current plan is basically to find:

1) Tasty places in Shinjuku we can easily get to
2) Tasty places in Tokyo we could try out if we are nearby

So things I love:

- Ramen (damn I crave a good bowl of ramen)
- Delicious sushi (was thinking about trying the ones at the fish market...is that good bang for your buck or it is a tourist 'scam'?)
- Yakitori
- Donburi/Curry Rice
- Really good soba
- Chanko Nabe/Sukiyaki (kind of appropriate for winter eats)
- Okonomiyaki

I'm a major foodie but I've never been to Japan to eat....SO EXCITED! While I'm doing my research I'd love to hear all your great opinions! Thanks!

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  1. "is there an English food review site (sort of like yelp in the US) that I can do the research myself? "

    Bento.com

    1 Reply
    1. re: gkanai

      Thanks! This site seems more like 1 person's reviewing. Are there good English sites with lots of people reviewing? We have something similar in Hong Kong called Openrice.com (very similar to Yelp but it is in Chinese & English).

    2. I would suggest using the search function, aggregating your findings, and re-posting a list of your discoveries. This board is a relatively small pool of posters and there is definitely fatigue of typical requests for Shinjuku/ramen/sushi/yakitori, etc. Eating and drinking through Tokyo with 6 friends sounds like a blast.

      24 Replies
      1. re: Silverjay

        Totally understand. I've actually been searching immediately after I posted this thread. It's just not that easy reading through hundreds of replies for the 'best ramen' threads...haha. Both RamenTokyo and RamenDB "Suplex" are awesome finds from your threads. Will be doing some research through that.

        2 quick questions:

        1) So do you guys think the fish market sushi places are good or more of a touristy thing?

        2) Do you guys know of any good offline Tokyo street maps apps for the Iphone? Will make life easier when walking around Tokyo.

        1. re: big_apple_ken

          They are good and touristy. But getting 6 or 7 people into most places (at the same time) will be tough. You should consider Sushi Zanmai if you go with the group.... There are multiple threads covering Tsukiji tips.

          1. re: Silverjay

            I will actually have 2 vegetarians in tow (so I doubt they will want to eat sushi for breakfast). Plus chances are only 2-3 of us will want to wake up early and go have sushi at Tsukiji.

            Are the best choices Daiwa and Sushi Dai?

            1. re: big_apple_ken

              As I understand it, Daiwa and Sushi Dai are two of the most popular and well known. Can you read Chinese? Eric Wong recently wrote in the HK city newspaper (also archived online) of a recent Tokyo business trip where he named a spectacular place in Tsukiji. You may have to log in

              http://www.eric-wong.hk/main/PunBB/vi...

              http://www.eric-wong.hk/main/PunBB/vi...

              He didn't specify the name but I knew right away it was Sushi Bun. If I were to ever visit, I'd pick Sushi Bun, not just because they have been around 100 to 150 years, but they retain traditional style of preparation and their brushed sauce (nikiri) for abalone and anago are molasses like thick (a receipe that has basically remained unchanged), and perhaps is less touristy.

              Sushi Bun's website: http://www.tsukijinet.com/tsukiji/kan...

              1. re: K K

                Yup I can read Chinese and read both links. Just for fun I plugged it into Goggle Translator and it translates just fine (albeit a few weird translations of expressions). If you can't read Chinese use Google Translator. So Sushi Bun sounds pretty awesome. JPY3150 (about USD35) for their regular sushi set which is pretty cool.

                So a few questions:

                1) Is Sushi Bun inside or outside of Tsukiji? In the article he says 20% of shops are located inside Tsukiji and 80% outside. I always assumed they were all inside.

                2) Are you suggesting this is better than Daiwa/Sushi Dai or maybe it is a better option since the wait will not be as long?

                3) Do all these shops (Daiwa/Sushi Dai/ Sushi Bun) all just serve you a platter of sushi (to save time) or do any of them serve them to you piece by piece?

                4) Does Sushi Bun also have about a 20 minute eating limit? It seems like you can't really stay longer than 20 minutes at Daiwa/Sushi Dai.

                5) Does Sushi Bun also have a no photography rule? I'm an avid photographer and it pains me to hear that Daiwa/Sushi Dai does not allow photography.

                1. re: big_apple_ken

                  Unfortunately I cannot answer questions 1-4 as I have never even been to Tsukiji, all I know is from reading books on the subject and online research.

                  With regards to 5), I entered "sushi bun" on flickr.com and a pic dated early 2009 by blogger chaxiubao mentioned no photos allowed inside Sushi Bun. I'm curious how Eric Wong spoke with Sato-san (the chef), whether he conversed in Japanese or English (or had a Japanese speaking native with him). If you go when it is least busy, they may be more accomodating.

                  As for 3) my guess is that the sushi set meals (e.g. 7 nigiri or 10 nigiri, one hosomaki, one miso soup) is priced for easy and quick ordering. It is my understanding that one of the priced sets at Sushi Dai, that your last item in the shop owner's special set meal, where you may get to choose, or you can let the chef pick something seasonal and unusual. The others can refute this if I am wrong (just quoting from one of the books).

                  One book I read, written in 2007, you can order nigiri separately, and gave prices like around 800 yen for ni-anago and 1600+ yen for ni-awabi (abalone). If you end up at Sushi Bun, definitely get something that will give you a taste of their brushed sauce (anago might be part of the set menu), but abalone for sure won't.

                  I would also suggest you check out your local Hong Kong bookshop (a big one, like Page One) and see if they have any travel books written by Japanese and translated for Taiwan or HK market that centers on the subject, like those MOOK series, or check the Food section of the bookstore. That's the best insight you can get.

                  1. re: K K

                    What's up with these sushi restaurants not allowing cameras? That really blows I can't document and let my friends see the awesome food they are serving...haha.

                    Yup, if I go to Sushi Bun I will definitely look foward to the Anago with this signature brushed sauce. As for books...I find usually I get just as good info off the Internet.

                    1. re: big_apple_ken

                      Well part of it is the business philosophy and the other aspect is probably competition, worrying that the others may emulate or attempt to steal trade secrets (yes just by observing or picture taking). Or that these touristy places think picture taking dampens the eating experience (not to mention slow down the flow of customers), unless you have proper press/media pass and have obtained permission in advance.

                      The no photography allowed rules goes for quite a few non sushi places in Tsukiji like Nakaya, who specialize in kaisen-don (raw fish over rice). Apparently their toro uni ikura over rice is a popular seller.

                      The same thing happened to me upstairs in Taipei Main Station Breeze Center upstairs, where there were tons of Japanese chains (bakeries, mochi dessert vendors) except the ramen chains like Kagetsu Arashi didn't care. It's weird because several years ago I swore I saw a lot more pictures of the Sushi Bun set meals on flickr, and maybe in 2006 pictures of some guy's visit to Dai and Daiwa. Perhaps someone can clarify whether these no photography rules happened around 2007 and beyond?

                      Also, blogs don't tell you everything. Most of the good info I have are from the Japanese books translated into Chinese.

                      Sushi Bun is inside Tsukiji's Uogashi, according to my book's map, two "blocks" south of Sushi Dai and Daiwa. Open 6 am to 2:30 pm, closed Sundays, public holidays, and days when the fish market is closed (check the calendar).

                      I see Sushi Zanmai Honten was recommended because it is open 24 hours. Even Japanese expats I spoke to in the USA who have been here thought it blew away 90% of most Japanese restaurants in Northern California...

                      I would spend a few hours just walking around and just soaking in the experience of watching what goes on around the market, including the fish vendors as well as the shops and various restaurants. It's definitely not just about sushi and raw fish.

                      Like take a look at Yachiyo on the same block as Daiwa / Dai, famous for that ramen style chashu over rice with fried egg and pepper. Looks like a Hawaiian loco moco but even better.

                      Or Takeda whose specialty is red wine stewed tuna tail dish (Japanese style western spin). Looks like HK style ox tail stew but it's the tuna tail instead.

                      Or Inoue ramen for shoyu ramen (outside the market), or Kitsuneya if you are into beef parts/organs over rice.

                      Or the shops that specialize in konbu, katsuoboshi, nori, spices (that you can buy and bring back to HK)... Anyways I wish I could go. Have fun.

                      1. re: K K

                        Awesome suggestions. Will do my research into these places :)

                        1. re: big_apple_ken

                          While there are likely other places for yakitori, Toritoh seems to be a pretty well known name and brand.

                          http://www.toritoh.com/

                          The chicken tails over rice looks interesting and I'm sure you can get your oyako-don fix here as well.

                          There's a soba restaurant (that also offers udon) called Fujimiya, perhaps the others can comment. Address is 5-2-1 (#10). My book recommends zaru soba and wild duck meatball udon. Open 6:30 am to 2 pm.

                          Curry rice....the book mentions a few places, but if you want to go to a specialist, Nakaei at 5-2-1 #1. Apparently they've been around since 1912, curry is stewed for 6 hours and contains upwards of 19 kinds of herbs, dubbed Indian style. Supposed to be a fast food type joint too.

                          Other than Inoue Ramen, there's also Ramen Kiku at 5-2-1 #6, although their specialty (and perhaps only broth) looks like egg drop soup...

                          Don't take my book as gospel though....search around the net for more info before you take the plunge, but I'm sure it is all delicious!

                      2. re: big_apple_ken

                        they all allow cameras, and you can take pictures of the food as long as you don't overdo it. So leave the DSLR at home, get a capable pocket camera and limit yourself to a few select shots.

            2. re: big_apple_ken

              As for offline maps, not that I know of. Also, there isn't much wifi either, good luck with that.
              Sushi at the market is very touristy, but also very very good value. It's good sushi with great prices. I'd go to Zanmai with your friends, you'll all enjoy it and it'll be cheap. I really like it actually.
              Bento actually has a few people working there, so it's not all one person. But as for yelp-like things, they exist but only in Japanese. Will that help you?

              1. re: lost squirrel

                Have you tried tabelog? It's not that bad even if you don't read Japanese. Here is a link to ramen listing in Shinjuku:

                http://r.tabelog.com/ramen/tokyo/A130...

                I can so go for a bowl of ramen right now.

                1. re: lost squirrel

                  @ lost Squirrel: Yeah that was my concern. I personally don't want to use 3G in Japan since I am sure roaming charges will be through the roof.

                  My Japanese is rusty but I would love to get the link for the Japanese yelp thing. I think at least I should have no issue navigating it. Plus I am Chinese so I can read all the kanji. If all else fails I am sure I could use the Google Translator to get a quick idea of what they are saying.

                  @ kikisakura: Just browsing that right now. Google Translator actually works pretty well with this. Thanks for the link!

                  1. re: big_apple_ken

                    Anyone know 'the best' Tokyo (or Japan) food blogs in English?

                    1. re: big_apple_ken

                      Not sure if they are the best, but the one's I read regularly are:

                      http://gaishoku.blogspot.com/
                      http://iitokorone.blogspot.com/
                      http://tokyoeater.blogspot.com/
                      http://www.potatomato.com/seat/

                      1. re: big_apple_ken

                        I would also enter keyword searches like Tsukiji and or Sushi Bun (in kanji) to see what the HK/Taiwanese etc bloggers say. Lots of info to be found just by searching in kanji!

                        1. re: K K

                          Well I am not only going to Tsukiji so keep the suggestions coming! Thanks!

                          1. re: big_apple_ken

                            As for soba, I suggest you head to Namiki Yabusoba in Asakura. I'm sure it's in every guidebook and it is a tourist destination just as Sushi Dai is in Tsukiji but their soba also has a strong local following. For me, it was not the best soba I've ever but it sort of set the standard as in it gave me a point of comparison and reference.

                            1. re: kikisakura

                              Actually that is very helpful. I had read about Yabusoba through an article online and wondered if it was truly that great (since it has great history). From tabelog.com it seems like the reviews rate it as an above average place (but a lot of places are rated above it):

                              http://translate.google.com/translate...

                              I also searched for the place Bourdain & Morimoto went to called Sarashina Horii which serves a white 'sarashina-style' soba noodle.

                              http://translate.google.com/translate...

                              2 questions:

                              1) What are the other dishes you usually order at a soba place?

                              2) How far is Kandan from Shinjuku?

                              Considering I'll be traveling with a group of friends to me proximity and price will be key to convincing my friends to go along. A non-food question:

                              Is there hopstop.com like website in Japan? Basically you plug in 2 address and it will tell you the correct subway to take and how long it anticipates the journey to be? It is ok if it is in Japanese (my Japanese is rusty but I read fine) but English is better.

                              1. re: big_apple_ken

                                Hmmm? I think you're referring to another soba place. Here is a tabelog link to Namiki (not Kanda):

                                http://r.tabelog.com/tokyo/A1311/A131...

                                Namiki is in Asakusa, an obligatory stop in any tour of Tokyo. Soba starts at 650 yen.

                                Have you considered getting an iphone app for Tokyo metro system?

                                1. re: kikisakura

                                  Oh my bad. I had only read of one (Kanda) from this article (http://foodsaketokyo.wordpress.com/ca...) that was posted in another thread. Just did some more research. Kanda is Yabusoba's sister store.

                                  Which specific app? I have the "Tokyo Underground" one for $.99. Will try to use that in airplane mode when in Tokyo. Is there a better one?

                                2. re: big_apple_ken

                                  My Japanese is quite weak, so I just use Google Maps. For train and subway connections Google maps works well - just write or copy-paste the addresses (in Kanji - within Tokyo form "something-ku-something 1-2-3" is sufficient) and it will give you couple of routes with prices and times. They have options for public transport, walking, and car.

                                  1. re: big_apple_ken

                                    Use Hyperdia for travel. They've been bought by a larger company and totally upgraded their site. It's much better than Hopstop- http://www.hyperdia.com/

                  2. Hey Ken. Thanks for all your posts on the HK board.

                    As far as offline maps: if you have a jailbroken iPhone or iPod Touch you can install "iphoneofflinemap" http://code.google.com/p/iphoneofflin... and then load up cached google maps tiles (ones for Tokyo are readily available, just google). Working with bookmarks is rather crippled, but the maps themselves look great and work as they would online.

                    There's a bit of tweaking involved to get this to work if you have iPhone OS 3, so give yourself a few hours to get it working.

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: Luther

                      Thanks Luther, TTJ & SilverJay! My 3Gs is not jailbroken but this is definitely something I will look into since I think an offline map will help us immensely in Tokyo. Back to discussion about food:

                      1) I am intrigued by this Yakitori Alley (Omoide Yokocho) in Shinjuku (which is close to our hotel). Is this place more 'touristy' or are there places you can recommend there for food?

                      2) I am also interested to try some chanko nabe. Are there any good places that serve this (still at a sumo dojo)? I believe it would be a treat if we could check out the sumo wrestlers practicing or just get a little tour of the dojo.

                      3) I'll also have 2 vegetarians in tow. Although I'm not super worried about most meals since their will be vegetarian options available... there are a few meals I think vegetarian options might be limited. Anyone else have experience dealing with vegetarian friends in Japan?

                      1. re: big_apple_ken

                        Ah, indeed. They are related; seems like they split "noren" way back in 1913:

                        http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/藪_(蕎麦屋)

                        As for having chanko nabe at a sumo room, it's going to cost you but it sounds like a fun thing to do:

                        http://hisexperience.jp/culturalactiv...

                        If you just want to watch them practice, you can do it on your own for free:

                        http://www.arashio.net/tour.html
                        http://www.bekkoame.ne.jp/i/gb3303/in...

                        Now, as for your veggie friends, how vegetarian are they? Would they eat dishes with fish stock? If they don't, then I'd be super worried if I were you. I used to be a veggie but it became too much of a pain in the rear for my family and friends to accommodate me in Japan as virtually almost everything has fish dashi in it.

                        1. re: kikisakura

                          Hmm...maybe then we'll skip the chanko nabe package and just tour the practice ourselves. Plus it chanko nabe might be a slight issue for my vegetarian friends since everyone is cooked in the same pot.

                          My 2 friends - one is technically a pescetarianism although he seems to eat fish very rarely. My other friend is more hardcore vegetarian (she hasn't had any real meat in 10-15+ years) but from my understanding she is has been to Japan recently (she is moving there immediately after our trip) and loves eating udon/ramen in Japan which is a little strange since the stock is usually made with pork or fish. I guess she'll adjust accordingly.

                        2. re: big_apple_ken

                          Quite honestly, if the vegetarians start getting really picky, I'd ditch them. It's difficult enough to please 6 people (7 including yourself), and in Japan, it will be even more difficult with hyper-vigilent vegetarians in tow. As you say, one of them has been to Japan before and will be moving there, so there's really no harm in separating for a few meals, and allowing people to go their own way. Except for izakayas and chain restaurants, it's pretty difficult to seat 7 people at a time, anyway.

                          1. re: prasantrin

                            Considering they are my close friends it's going to be hard to 'ditch' them per say. I've eaten with them many times in the US and sure it's sometimes not the easiest but I know we make compromises on both sides. They are not hyper vigilant vegetarians.

                            As for seating issues...I've thought about that. My group size will actually be 6 people (myself included) so it might not be the easiest seating all of us in those super small Japanese restaurants. Oh well, guess we'll work something out.

                            1. re: big_apple_ken

                              newsflash! almost *NO* food in Japan is vegetarian, not even the the vegan-looking stuff.

                      2. Ken - hope you had a good trip.
                        As I will be heading over to Tokyo myself very soon on a foodie trip, I'll be very interested to know where you ended up going and your (brief) reviews on them.
                        Perhaps you have a blog of some sort where hopefully you documented your culinary adventures?

                        cheers