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Oct 18, 2010 03:04 PM

Looking for a Tokyo food guide

I am going to Tokyo in early December and want to hire a food tour guide (if such a thing exists) to take me to restaurants and markets that are off the beaten path - - I am thoroughly familiar with Japanese food and want to avoid the foodie tourist spots that I can find on the web - anyone have any ideas ?

Thanks so much


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  1. When you say "avoid the foodie tourist spots that I can find on the web" can you clarify more? Do you mean that you don't want to go to any restaurant in the Michelin Guide? Because just about every restaurant is 'on the web' in Japan.

    8 Replies
    1. re: gkanai

      What I mean is I don't want to go to Michelin restaurants or go to those that regualrly come up on the chow hound site as place to go in Tokyo. I am also interested in going to markets aside from tskiji.

      1. re: porkchampnc

        I see. So you want to go to the lousy places in Tokyo instead? Believe it or not, there are a number of them.

        1. re: Uncle Yabai

          Not a very productive reply Yabai - so let me get this straight - are you saying all the great places have are only on websites - really? Believe it or I have been to a # of places in tokyo and kyoto that are off the foodie radar that are terrific - I was just looking for a local who might have more first hand knowledge about them -

          1. re: porkchampnc

            There is NO restaurant that I know of in Tokyo that isn't on Tabelog, AskU or similar. EVERY restaurant in Tokyo can be written up by anybody that goes there, and pretty much all of them are. As a matter of fact, a good indicator of how good a place is are exactly these writeups. Very few writeups are as much a sign of meh-ness as a bad writeup.

            Now, are there good restaurants that aren't in the Michelin guide? Certainly. As a matter of fact, Chowhound can definitely help you scope out some of these hidden-ish places, and there is no reason not to visit them just because they "come up on Chowhound".

            Are there any good hidden gems that don't come up on Tabelog or AskU (or similar). I highly doubt it. And given that premise, Chowhound is a pretty good place to get "translations", both literal and cultural, as to what the locals are saying is good and what is bad.

            1. re: porkchampnc

              And just because they are off *your* "foodie radar" doesn't mean they aren't in somebody's "foodie radar". These places you speak of, were they deserted and you were the only diner? No? Then *somebody* had to know about them, it just wasn't you. And I'd bet you that many of those people eating there while you were there had picked up their recommendation from "the web." It just wasn't any web you could read. So maybe what you need is a translator, not a food guide.

              1. re: Uncle Yabai

                AND ANOTHER THING!!!!

                No, seriously, I've found only a handful of places for which I couldn't locate some kind of site or review (don't ask me which ones, OK? They weren't famous or great.). That's like 5, at most, out of the 1,000 that I've blogged and mapped. Tabelog has got to be one of the most incredible restaurant resources in the world. On the other hand, if 'foodie radar' means 'Chowhound', I would happily believe there are thousands of good places not mentioned on it. I used to use Tabelog before I could read much - just find the map and start looking at the pictures in the high-scoring places.

                Japanese people deserve some of their reputation for obsessiveness, and it benefits both owners and customers for people to spread the word.

          2. re: porkchampnc

            Uncle Yabai is right, there are a lot of really bad places in Tokyo, but there are also a bazillion good places that have not been discussed on chow hound either, I could be convinced to show you around for a price.

            1. re: steamer

              I see a new business opportunity developing...

        2. I don't think it's too bad to have a guide.

          Even if you go to an excellent place that comes highly recommended online, it might not be as memorable as a less-than-excellent place that you go to with a local.

          It's about putting a face to the food. You can discuss why they connect with the place. You can experience the atmosphere with a person rather than just reading about what you're supposed to expect.

          Sure, there's always the possibility of striking up a conversation with the chef or the people seated next to you, but not every restaurant is the ideal place to do that and sometimes language can be an issue.

          If I went to a city by myself where I didn't know anyone, and I had the money? I might consider getting a guide.

          1. Curious, I looked up a couple of my hidden gem places on ASKU and Tabelog. One of them, which wasn’t listed on Tabelog for a long time, finally, to my dismay made it on. There was one “kuchikomi” review. This shop has a semi-hidden entrance and you pretty much have to be introduced to it. I had thought there was a tacit understanding by all of us patrons not to publicize it, but this is what we’ve come to I guess. I had seen it in some blogs before, but not Tabelog. Oh well…The other restaurant, which is in more of commercial area, had merely a listing on Tabelog. It had a couple of reviews on ASKU that were about 10 years old and mostly focused on the lunch special.

            I love Tabelog though and use it constantly for research and planning- though it’s less of a divine resource outside of Tokyo. And I usually cross-reference everything with personal blog accounts, which will often go into more candid detail. Honestly, if you read Japanese, there’s not much you’re going to learn on the Japan board, as the predominant focus is on advice to newbies, Michelin places, and Park Hyatt/ Roppongi/ Ginza environs. I’m consistent in my lament of this, but hey, I don’t live full time in Japan anymore, so what can I do about it.?.?. Still, if you are a visitor and you’re interested in dining in restaurants other than Fuku, Kaikaiya, Tonki, Ryugin, and the other usual suspects or even just dining outside of the aforementioned heavy foreigner trafficked environs, I can understand the appeal for a local Japanese speaking/ reading guide. And that said, provided you matched my rigid compatibility requirements, I would gladly offer my services for an introduction and sponsor to my favorite hidden gems. But alas, I won’t be in Tokyo till the end of December.

            I suggest posting more specifics about what you are looking for and where. There are many places that I haven’t been to, but have bookmarked over the years. You could try them and report back on Chowhound- thus adding to this English language resource. It’s certainly more in the spirit of what this board is all about.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Silverjay

              Thank you Silverjay for this informative reply.

            2. I recommend Yukari Pratt now married so is now Yukari Sakamoto. She has extraordinary knowledge of the Tokyo food scene. One of her blogs is Food Sake Tokyo and she has posted on Chowhound Japan. She is an ideal guide for you if she still does it.

              3 Replies
              1. re: amrx

                Yukari lives in New York now, so may not be available in Tokyo when you would need her.

                1. re: amrx

                  arigato - I do still do it but need to schedule well in advance. Shinji Nohara is great.

                  1. re: Yukari

                    Hi Yukari, trying to get in contact with you for a project early August in Tokyo. What's the best way to get in touch? (tried both your blogs, but there is no contact form). Thanks. Gabriel

                2. Have you been to Tokyo before? If not, you might be missing a lot by excluding places just because they are mentioned on this board or in other guides. I understand the desire to avoid tourist traps but going "off the beaten track" purely for the sake of it makes little sense, particularly for a first time visitor to a city like Tokyo. With the exception of a few places like Gonbachi, in Tokyo, you will usually be eating in a room full of Japanese people and the celebrated tables are generally excellent, particularly in Tokyo because the Japanese have an amazing ability to deliver consistent quality at the top level. By all means, find a guide to take you to a hidden Izakaya in a dark part of Shinjuku, but don't turn your nose up at places like Ishikawa or Aronia just because they are well known. Not only will you be needlessly missing good places, you will increase your chances of eating badly. Places get good reviews for a pretty obvious reason. Many years ago as a student, I recall a "hard-core" backpacker in Rome who proudly told me he had no intention of seeing the Vatican. "Too touristy" he said. Hilarious.