Tokyo izakaya/yakitori recommendations (for people living in Japan)
My husband and I will be in Tokyo later this week for 5 days. We live in Sapporo, which has some of the best seafood on the planet, and we've already done Tsukiji so we're not really after sushi on this trip.
We're looking for the best izakaya or yakitori as these are our favorite kind of Japanese restaurants...we love places with a seasonal/local focus (though most izakaya are) and lively atmosphere. We can read kana and we can speak Japanese well enough. Our budget is mid-range but we prefer to spend 3,000Y or less per person, if possible (we like to try lots of dishes but don't have huge appetites). As far as location, we'll go almost anywhere. We have visited Shinsuke (Yushima Station) and Morimoto (Shibuya Station) and really enjoyed both.
Have scoured past posts and done some digging elsewhere. Here are some names that I'm hoping to get opinions on:
- Buchi or Buri (pretty sure we'll go to one of these, but which?)
- Seigetsu in Kagurazaka
- Tobu Sakana in Shimokita-zawa
- Koyu (Nezu? don't know where this is exactly)
- Ishii in Shinbashi
- Teppei (Okinawan style?) in Kagurazaka
- Maru (upscale place near Omotesando Station)
- Saiki (Ebisu Station)
- Hiro (Nakameguro station...anybody actually know how to find this place? We couldn't last time)
- Birdland: this place comes up again and again. We aren't fans of innards but we love tail, neck, skin, sasami, and toriwasa. Is it worth going to this place? Any other yakitori that we shouldn't miss?
While I'm at it, a few other specific questions about Tokyo dining:
1. Looking for a straightforward dinner spot on a Thursday night before a big test. We're staying near Aoyama Ichome (not the most exciting area), so anywhere easy to get to on the subway from there is preferable.
2. We're always up for some ramen, though we have our fair share in Sapporo. Not to be missed ramen spots? (Ivan? Fu unji? Ikaruga? Bassanova? Intrigued by the green curry but ONLY if it's exceptionally good)
3. Are the dumplings at Gyoza Stadium worth seeking out? We are fiends for dumplings in Hong Kong and Korea but don't have so many up good spots here in Hokkaido.
4. Tenpura...would love to have some amazing tenpura but don't really want to have a splurge dinner on it. Would be sufficient to eat it with soba or udon. I've heard Asakusa is a good area for tenpura but have no specific recommendations.
This is short notice since we're leaving on Thursday but any tips or thoughts to narrow down our izakaya list (and augment our yakitori options!) would be much appreciated!
>- Buchi or Buri (pretty sure we'll go to one of these, but which?)
There are at least a couple of different places called Buri - one in Ebisu (which once was good but which I've heard has gone downhill) and one in Ueno (which I haven't been to). Buchi has pretty good food, and they have a seating area downstairs.
>- Seigetsu in Kagurazaka
This was still pretty good the last few times I've been, despite some reports to the contrary. Their menu has shrunken though.
>- Birdland: this place comes up again and again. We aren't fans of innards but we love tail, neck, skin, sasami, and toriwasa. Is it worth going to this place? Any other yakitori that we shouldn't miss?
If you don't like innards you should probably skip Birdland. I love Souten Minami-guchi-ten in Otsuka (03-5944-8105) if you don't mind traveling up there.
>1. Looking for a straightforward dinner spot on a Thursday night before a big test. We're staying near Aoyama Ichome (not the most exciting area), so anywhere easy to get to on the subway from there is preferable.
The yakitori at Touan (03-5770-5767) is quite nice. It's in Gaienmae, one stop from Aoyama Itchome or maybe a 15-minute walk.
>2. We're always up for some ramen, though we have our fair share in Sapporo. Not to be missed ramen spots? (Ivan? Fu unji? Ikaruga? Bassanova? Intrigued by the green curry but ONLY if it's exceptionally good)
The green-curry ramen at Bassanova is exceptional. If I had to choose one though, I'd go for the four-cheese ramen at Ivan Plus.
>3. Are the dumplings at Gyoza Stadium worth seeking out? We are fiends for dumplings in Hong Kong and Korea but don't have so many up good spots here in Hokkaido.
There are nine or ten spots in the Stadium and they vary. It's a fun experience more than a gourmet destination I'd say.
>4. Tenpura...would love to have some amazing tenpura but don't really want to have a splurge dinner on it. Would be sufficient to eat it with soba or udon.
>I've heard Asakusa is a good area for tenpura but have no specific recommendations.
I think Tsunahachi Rin in Shinjuku (03-3352-5652) offers a good balance between upscale tempura and reasonable prices.
re: Robb S
Thank you for the updates! I meant the Buri in Ebisu, but if it's gone downhill, maybe we'll head to Buchi (or neither, as they are sister restaurants, I believe).
Been torn between green curry at Bassanova and the four cheese at Ivan...will maybe try to do both. One can never eat too much ramen!
Any other izakaya or yakitori places that you think we shouldn't miss?
Thanks again :)
I don't think Buri and Buchi are sister shops anymore. Buri seems to be part of the Takewaka group (and the non-standing Buri in Akasaka was renamed Takewaka). Buchi's website lists its sister shops as Bongout Noh, Kitchen Cero, and Kinsai. (All of those are still quite good as far as I know.)
I wouldn't know where to start with izakaya - there are hundreds of great places, and it all depends on what you're looking for in atmosphere and food and drink, what price range you're comfortable with, how interactive you want to be with the staff, how sensitive you are to cigarette smoke and noisy crowds, etc.
I like the Himonoya chain - they have very good prices, a reasonable sake selection, and interesting food, although himono (grilled dried fish) can be an acquired taste. Kaba in Hamamatsucho (03-6802-3370) is very down-to-earth and inexpensive and it can be a lot of fun if you're in the right mood.
Here are some of my favorite places for good sake: http://www.bento.com/r-sake.html
For sake, Buri in Ebisu is boring. It's the kind of place to meet someone before you head out. I would check out one of the places in Robb's list. On it, Akaoni is a classic shitamachi feeling place in Setagaya-ku. You need to call in advance for the sashimi special I think....As a ramen fanatic, I always recommend the blended broth shops, which are the popular thing these days. They are reasonably unique to Tokyo. Some of them are not conveniently located, but places like Fu'unji, Warito, and Testu aren't too hard to get to. They will not taste anything like ramen in Sapporo nor Hakodate. The Ivan shops come up here all the time but if you can speak Japanese, I would venture to other places. Bassanova I tried the pork ramen and it was average. They weren't making the curry one the day I went. Ikaruga is good and their soups are like blasts of umami.
Seigetsu is mentioned all the time here. Kagurasaka is a great neighborhood and I’d consider scoping out a little crawl there…Saiki in Ebisu, if it is still open, is an "interesting" experience and place to practice your Japanese. Not really a culinary or drinking destination in itself…..Tobu Sakana is a pet favorite of mine in Shimokitazawa, another great neighborhood. It’s a fish restaurant/izakaya. Katakana won’t cut it here as their menu is done up in kanji script, but they are friendly and can recommend the day’s specials.
I think to Robb’s point, it would help if you were more specific about the type of izakaya and yakitori places you are looking for. Regional, seafood, chicken, pork, old school, etc. Also, what neighborhoods do you plan to explore and possibly dine in?
Thank you for all the great information.
Robb - I read through the list you sent and got some good ideas. Bongout Noh I had ruled out because we are usually disappointed with non-Japanese food in Japan (though clearly, Tokyo is a different beast. The review sounds great). Also, glad to get a second opinion on ramen, Silverjay. I try to avoid ramen spots that are primarily frequented by foreigners and will definitely give some mixed broth places a try.
About the izakaya/yakitori, I'll try to be a little more specific....
Price range: we're comfortable spending around 3,000-4,000y per person on average for a dinner. That said, we'd be willing to spend more for good meals but not every night. We come to Tokyo about once a year and we're not really that interested in haute cuisine or 30,000Y sushi. Not to discredit those things, which are very worth doing, we just find that we are satisfied and have more fun at homestyle places.
Style: In general, we like old school spots. However, I assume that there are some younger, hip chefs in Tokyo who are doing interesting things in the izakaya framework so would like to try a mix of old and new on this trip. After reading the review of Seigetsu on Robb's site, I'd like to give that a try, in addition to some rougher around the edges spots. We are happy to interact with staff in our (limited) Japanese - we're pretty outgoing and like to try things that are recommended (and share bites with customers whenever they're into that sort of thing.) Raucous, smoky, noisy places are ok (cigarette smoke is a necessary evil up here). Our neighborhood place in Sapporo is pretty quiet, but with an old school chef who talks with us. Kanji only menus are no problem, we just look at what other people are eating or ask questions. We like to sit at the counter.
Food: hmmmmmmm...as I mentioned before, we don't eat many organ meats. But we love chicken (tail, skin, wings, etc) and buta yakitori and prefer these to seafood. And anywhere with good small-farm or foraged vegetables (oden, hoiru, interesting salads, home-made tofus, etc) sounds great. Regional could also interesting, especially from Kyushu/Okinawa since we haven't traveled down there yet.
Neighborhoods: This trip is a bit last minute so we don't have any hard plans. Will likely visit Asakusa/Ueno again, Kagurazaka is of interest, Daikanyama/Nakameguro, and Shimokitazawa. Planning to visit Mori Art Museum and a design space in nishi Shinjuku. Haven't been to Akihibara ever so will maybe check that out this trip. We might try to get out of Tokyo to Kamakura or Kawagoe for a day. No real plans yet, so if there are areas (like Kagurazaka) you recommend where we'd have the best/most plentiful dining options, please let me know.
Also, we'll be going out with Japanese friends on Friday night so if there is any place that you especially recommend going with a Japanese speaker, we can try to hit it that night.
>I try to avoid ramen spots that are primarily frequented by foreigners and will definitely give some mixed broth places a try.
I'm not aware that either Ivan or Bassnova has more foreign customers than average; neither have English-language menus or ticket machines, but they do sometimes have English-speaking staff. (At any rate it seems like an odd criterion for rejecting an otherwise good restaurant.)
I know Silverjay is a fan of blended broth, and it's certainly worth a try, especially during a Tokyo visit. Personally I think mazemen is one of the great culinary innovations of our century, and Ivan's is quite spectacular.
re: Robb S
Well, those two shops are discussed a lot here on this English site- more than any others, so I can see a better chance of running into other tourists. I think Bassanova has had it's day and the Ivan shops are not convenient to get to. They seem better options for expats living in Tokyo looking for options. I think the ones that get all the accolades in the Japanese ramen media or whatever, although perhaps overthetop in the hype department, are the real chowhounding destinations and not novelty like green curry, cheese ramen, etc. I still enjoy reading the goings on at RamenDB.
Ivan Plus is two minutes from Kyodo station, which is 11 minutes from Shinjuku. I believe it's a real chowhounding destination and hardly limited to expats (I've never seen an expat there as far as I can tell). But perhaps we should simply agree to disagree rather than drag this out any further.
Buri and Buchi are indeed separate entities, and both have sadly fallen into decline - foreigner friendly 'meat markets' may be a harsh assessment, but, on weekends, its accurate one none the less.
Seigetsu is fine, but it seems to get more air play on chowhound that I think it possibly deserves. As Silverjay says, Kagurazaka is a great place to walk around and hunt out a meal. For example: Isedou is a lovely old izakaya with loads of atmosphere.
I agree that Tobu Sakana is a fun and friendly place, definitely worth a visit. Uoshin is another great option in the Shimokitazawa area. They also have shops in 9 other locations, though the Shibuya honten is a firm favourite of mine.
If you sake is of interest, then Akaoni is definitely worth a visit, though you probably won't get out of there with much change from ¥10,000 for two.
A more reasonable option, and my favourite sake bar, is Sake Dining Honoka in Musashikoyama (2 stops from Meguro). Wonderful food, great sake and warm service.
In Nakameguro, Nakamenoteppen is a cheap and cheerful robata grill izakaya. They have a good selection of shochu and sake, and the menu is based on regionally sourced fish, vegetables and meat.
I have enjoyed several good meals at Maru, but I think it might be one of the meals you will have to stretch your budget for. Even if you order economically from the a la carte menu you are looking at about ¥5,000 p/p. To get more bang for your buck, the best option may be to order the ¥5,000 course menu.
In Kamakura, Matsubara-an is a nice soba-ya in a traditional style house. Its near Hase station, so is conveniently located if you plan to visit Daibutsu.
I was recently watching an old episode of Kazuhiko Ota's izakaya show, and one of his favourite places in Kamakura is Kikuta, near Kamakura station. A young owner/chef doing great things with food, at reasonable prices. I haven't been there yet, but it is top of my list of places to go.
I haven't been there in several years, but I am sure Kushiwakamaru in Naka Meguro is still worth checking out for tasty, reasonably-priced yakitori. It's been around forever and it's a fun place with a classic atmosphere.