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Help needed for 2 Japanese food novices. 7 days, 24th May, Tokyo! Really appreciated!

Hello everyone, new member here, so noob food alert!

My g/f and I are going to Tokyo on 24th May for a week and I would really, truly appreciate some recommendations for places to eat. I guess it is true to say that in some ways (many ways perhaps!) we are Japanese food novices. I have had some of the usual Ramen, sushi etc....but these are from pretty generic (though fairly tasty) places like Wagamamas in the west. We are both looking to get a taste of the real Japan, in comfortable, not overly pretentious places with great food!

I will list a couple of details about ourselves and our trip to narrow down any expert advice you all can give.

1. We are not going to be loaded with cash; I myself am a full-time University student so it can't be 3 Michelin star places every night. Far from it. Though one or two splurge lunches could be tolerated financially, we have been saving up. If we go to a place with a couple of Michelin stars I think we would both prefer either French or traditional Japanese. Anywhere in the central wards (central Tokyo) can be possible.

2. We are staying at shinagawa prince hotel, in Minato-Ku. For the first day we will probably stay around this area (jet-lag etc). Any reasonable priced informal eats around here for lunch/dinner? Japanese? By reasonable I am talking (per head) £30/$45 dinner, £15-£20/$30-$22 lunch.

3. Usual prices for dinner and lunches in general would be preferred to be not over the above mentioned prices (minus 1 or 2 splurges like I mentioned).

4. A couple of all you can eat lunch buffet places would be appreciated, as backups if we spend a little too much! Japanese food preferred. Soba...Tempura, Yakitori etc

5. We would like to try a good few izakayas, nice beer, great food, relaxed atmosphere, what’s better?

6. We are there 7 days, we will probably roughly do something like a day each in, Shibuya, Shinjuku, Ginza, Arakawa, Ueno, Odaiba, Roppongi.

7. Where is a reasonable priced place to get a drink which has a great view of the city at night? I have heard of the New York Bar etc but that seems way too expensive.

8. Anyone know of reasonable places to get a kobe steak? Teppanyakis? In the districts mentioned above?

9. What local beers are recommended? Pretty cheap but good!

10. We would like to try at least one of all of the following 'genres' whether lunch or dinner, Soba, Raman, Yakitoro, Shabu-Shabu,Tempura, Sushi and Sashimi, Udon etc. Basically Japanese!

I am sorry for some of the vague area stipulations, we have 7 days, so pretty much anywhere in central Tokyo is possible! Oh also many thanks in advance. I really hope you guys and gals can help us!

Kampai!

Mark

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  1. As a general rule of thumb, you should try to splurge at lunch because most restaurants have great deals for lunch - the dichotomy in price between lunch and dinner is huge, and often times not that justifiable! For lunch, you can easily do a 1000 yen set lunch in most non-fancy restaurants, and 2000-3000 yen for even the top notch ones.

    Here are some of my favorites in three of the areas listed:

    Shibuya: Kaikaya by the Sea - an izakaya with a creative and extensive menu of fresh seafood, with a great set dinner value of 4000 yen per person with about 9-10 courses!

    Ginza/Tsukiji: Sushi Dai in Tsukiji market is the best, but if you're not keen on waiting 3 hours, Sushi Daiwa 2 doors down is also delicious!

    Roppongi:
    Ramen - Ippudo (about 900 yen per person at all times)
    Udon - Tsurutontan (about 1100 yen per person at all times)
    Tempura - Yotaro (dinner only - be warned, it's pricey! Michelin starred, husband and wife run - about 14,000 yen per person)

    For cheap but good sushi in pretty much any neighborhood, seek out Sushi Zanmai - they have a couple in Tsukiji, as well as two locations in Roppongi.

    For reviews of all of the above, see www.epicurious-deb.blogspot.com

    Hope you enjoy Tokyo!

    2 Replies
    1. re: epicuriousdeb

      epicuriousdeb, would you share with us why you think Sushi Dai is the best of the best sushi you can get in Tokyo (as you also indicate in the other post) when compared to say Sushi Saito in Akasaka or Kyubey in Ginza ?

      And why is Ippudo at Roppongi the best out of all the locations in Japan ? Thanks.

      1. re: epicuriousdeb

        Thanks alot for the detailed imput, I will most certainly check out at least some of those suggestions. Great advice!

        Any more suggestions people, please keep them coming!

      2. Sure, I'm happy to answer - I realize taste is all subjective and I only offer my own opinions. As a disclaimer, I am a food critic/writer for Tokyo Weekender, one of Tokyo's biggest English magazines, but I have no affiliation or interest in the restaurants I suggested.
        I have been to Sushi Saito as well as Kyubey (albeit the Hotel Okura location, which a few Japanese friends recommended over the Ginza location) and I think they are also good. Kyubey is the "creator" of gunkan sushi (the kind with nori wrapped around the rice, as in uni or ikura), and it had long been on the top of my go-to list. However, I found the rice really disappointing - to my taste, it was not well seasoned and lacked adequate vinegar. The fish was very fresh however. But when you consider that the sushi at Kyubey is only about 60% of the size of any of the shops in Tsukiji, and is 12,000 for the chef's omakase course for almost the exact same number of dishes as Sushi Dai, whose omakase is only 3,900 yen, I think Sushi Dai is clearly the better between the two. But price aside, I still like Sushi Dai's sushi better than Kyubey based on taste alone.
        I have also been to Sushi Saito and am a huge fan. It is a 3-Michelin starred sushi restaurant across from the US embassy. I think their lunch course is an amazing deal for such a highly rated restaurant - 5000 yen for ten pieces - only about $10 more than Sushi Dai, but instead of waiting in line for 3 hours and eating at the market, you get a classy sushi joint with a world class chef preparing the sushi for you! I really enjoyed my meal at Sushi Saito and would highly recommend it as well - however, in terms of taste and quality, I STILL think Sushi Dai is superior. Also, Sushi Saito's prices go way up at dinner, you can expect to pay at least 15,000.
        Thus, with the caveat that taste is entirely subjective, Sushi Dai is my pick for the best sushi in Tokyo, but I am always happy to be proved wrong and continue to try to find better sushi out there!
        Here's my review of Sushi Dai and Kyubey, unfortunately I haven't gotten around to writing up Sushi Saito yet: http://epicurious-deb.blogspot.com/se...

        Regarding Ippudo - I have not been to the Ebisu location (or others, if there are any), although I have been to the NY one. So perhaps the quality is the same or even better at other locations, but I've been told by friends and colleagues that Roppongi's is the best, and to be honest, the Roppongi Ippudo's ramen is pretty much PERFECT, so I can't imagine anywhere doing better than perfect.
        My Ippudo review: http://epicurious-deb.blogspot.com/20...

        Joy - hope you enjoy your visit to Tokyo - there are SO many delicious restaurants, your taste buds and stomach will be very content here!

        4 Replies
        1. re: epicuriousdeb

          I have also been to top end sushi places such as Sushi Saito, Kyubey, and those popular sushi places at Tsukiji market such as Sushi Dai and Daiwa. Really like Sushi Dai, much better than Sushi Daiwa, in terms of quality and service. The chef at Sushi Daiwa basically tries to finish making the sushi as fast as possible like a machine, and the sushi is not as well-formed as those found in Sushi Dai. I do think the quality of Kyubey at the Ginza location better than one at Hotel Okura.

          However, I do think the sushi at high-end places such as Saito and Kyubey a different experience. You are taking the sushi at a different pace one by one slowly as they are prepared by the chef. Quality is also better in those places with more varieties, for example, I have abalone at Sushi Dai which is too hard to chew but the one at Saito is cooked for 6 hours to ensure it is tender and served together with the liver. However, of course it is at a different price point. The nori is prepared one by one by the chef at the back as it is time to make the gunkan sushi to ensure it is at its best form.

          1. re: skylineR33

            Skyline - I agree with you that at high-end sushi places such as Saito and Kyubey, the overall service and care put into each piece of sushi is higher than Sushi Dai, which is quite honestly a hole-in-the-wall! So it's hard to compare (and I think in my blog review of Sushi Dai, I note that the term "best sushi" really depends on what you are looking for - ambience, interaction with the chef, creativity, etc.), but when judging purely on freshness of fish, texture and taste of rice, and overall taste/texture/happiness in my mouth, my pick is Sushi Dai. That being said, i ABHOR the 3 hour waits and each time wonder whether it's really worth it to waste 3 hours of my life waiting in line to eat sushi!

            The ability to make a reservation at Saito, the interaction with the chef, the joy of watching him put so much care and thought into each piece - Saito is definitely one of my top choices, if price was not an issue. However, since I believe Mark is looking for more reasonably priced choices, I think Dai is the best bang-for-buck sushi in Tokyo.

            1. re: epicuriousdeb

              Hmm, Y5000 for lunch at Saito or Y4000 for lunch at Kyubey, with reservations, vs. Y3900 at Sushi Dai with a three-hour wait - I'd say Saito and Kyubey are a much better deal.

          2. re: epicuriousdeb

            The broth mixtures at Ippudo NY and at the Ippudo branches in Tokyo are not really the same. Whether one is better than the other can be debated, but as someone who puts down Ippudo 2-3x a month and has been to the NYC one a couple times too I can say that you can't use one as a judge of the other. The tonkotsu soup smell during cooking turns some people off, they may have adjusted the recipe at the NYC location for that reason.

            One of my colleagues just became a member of the Ippudo "premier club" with a snazzy VIP card, a limited edition donburi, hashi etc., I think he had to eat 60 or 80 bowls in a 6 month period or so. Poor guy.

            Also in my experience all the Ippudo branches in Tokyo that I have been to have pretty much the same taste, the one in Roppongi may just taste "better" after a night of drinking... :-)

          3. 8. Anyone know of reasonable places to get a kobe steak? Teppanyakis? In the districts mentioned above?

            I would like to find this out as well. Anyone have any good recommendations?

            1. Recommend this person’s strategy of posting research results and seeking comment- http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/697526
              Here are some general responses to your queries.
              1. Buy the Michelin guide. It will list Michelin restaurants and price ranges.
              2. Shinagawa is a hotel and travel hub, not really a dining destination. You’d probably be best to ask the concierge for specific advice. On the other side of the station (East Side/ Minato) is a business district and there is an area with some chain places and izakaya. A branch of the large chain Tengu is there. This branch brews their own beer and has seasonal food specials. They also have picture menus. It’s not great, but it’s Japanese, and it’s inexpensive. There is also a little red lantern alleyway neighborhood over there with old school drinking and eating places, but it might be difficult to navigate without Japanese ability.
              3. Doable.
              4. AYCE buffet tend to be ethnic places like Indian, Chinese, or sort of eclectic Continental. AYCE yakiniku and shabu-shabu places abound though. You can usually tack on another 1000 YEN on top of food cost for AYC-drink.
              5. Relaxed atmosphere is the opposite of what izakaya are about. Best to be specific about location and type of food.
              6. I don’t think those places require one full day of exploration each. Except for the two large mall complexes, Roppongi is more or less dead in the daytime. It might be fun for a young foreign couple for a night of clubbing or late drinks…. Odaiba came up in your research and Asakusa didn’t? What about Kamakura?
              7. There won’t be a really cheap place. The observation deck at Tocho is free though. There are also reasonably priced izakaya in the Shinjuku skyscrapers. Might be better to check out Midtown or Ebisu Garden Place or somewhere more on the east side of the city so you can capture the Shinjuku skyline itself in the view.
              8. Nope.
              9. Craft beers are expensive and not so widely available. From the big boys, Yebisu and Suntory Premium are 100% malt beer available all over. If price is a major constraint, you can explore the wonderful world of happoshu.
              10. …

              5 Replies
              1. re: Silverjay

                A few more ideas, now that Silverjay and others have gotten things rolling:

                2. There are actually some decent izakaya over on the east side of Shinagawa - it's a bit of a walk through the station from the hotel, but at least you won't get lost. I'd recommend Maimon, Kanou-ya, Tsuki no Shizuku, or Yebisu depending on your mood and budget. All listed here: http://www.bento.com/ra-shina.html

                4. There are a few good, reasonably priced Japanese natural foods buffets, in Marunouchi and Ueno:
                http://www.bento.com/rev/2452.html
                http://www.bento.com/rev/2701.html

                5. Upscale izakaya like En, Hibiki, etc. are pretty relaxed and fun. Here's one to start with: http://www.bento.com/rev/2322.html

                6. You can safely skip Arakawa.

                7. Tapas plus a drink or two at At in the Sumitomo Building in Nishi-Shinjuku might be your best bet: http://www.bento.com/rev/0251.html Get there early, and forget about trying to get in on a Friday night.

                9. Yona Yona Ale, in a can, from Natural Lawson's convenience store is worth a try and very reasonably priced for the quality. Limited-edition beers from Sapporo can be found at the Yebisu Beer Museum: http://www.bento.com/phgal-beermus.html but it's a daytime-only destination. For evening bars, Towers and Maltan might have the best prices: http://www.bento.com/r-beer.html (but Japanese craft beers aren't particularly cheap).

                1. re: Robb S

                  Besides Yona Yona, try to keep your eyes peeled for a Yamaya shop. They look like this: http://www.yamaya.jp/pages/store/stor...
                  They carry a large Japanese beer selection, including the Hitatchino ales which are my favorite. http://beeradvocate.com/beer/profile/...

                  Why don't you email me when you get here, I have lots of advice on cheap places and my lady works near your hotel.

                  1. re: lost squirrel

                    Have you had Hitachino's Ginger Beer? So good.

                    1. re: Notorious P.I.G.

                      Yessir! I just picked up a few bottles last weekend. Pretty nice.

                      They have a coffee stout that I haven't seen, but I'm keeping my eyes peeled for it.

                      1. re: lost squirrel

                        Sweet!

                        Oh yeah, the Coffee stout is nice as well. They also have a Red Rice Ale that I like.

              2. Robb S, Silverjay,

                Your a credit to the chowhound community. Great advice.

                1. Good thing you're staying in Minato-ku - It is home to that most revered, hallowed temple of ramen - Ramen Jiro. A bowl will cost roughly $8. Check out Rameniac's review below:

                  link: http://www.rameniac.com/reviews/comme...

                  Tempura: Ten Ichi is a bit more upscale, but has incredible tempura. The experience is worth it.

                  Izakaya: Go outside the city (45 min. train ride) to Utsunomiya, and take a cab to Kayabukiya Izakaya for great gyoza, and trained Nihonzaru (Japanese monkeys) as waiters! Bring the camera... It costs about $30pp for a BIG dinner there.

                  City views: I still like the rooftop bar at the Park Hyatt Hotel in Shinjuku - They have reasonably priced drinks, too. Bring your camera. The nighttime Tokyo skyline is straight out of a manga.

                  Enjoy your trip!

                  Fellow Joy Division & New Order fan,
                  J.L.

                  1. Thanks for the help so far everyone. Got a few of the places suggested so far crossed into our itinerary!

                    Any more suggestions would be great, as we are there over a week, that's if this bloody volcano doesn't blow into next month!