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Need Help....Some Basic Tokyo Foodie Questions...

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Let me preface this with the fact that I dont speak japanese and I have also spent about 50 hours reading through these and other forums, so I am trying not to repeat old questions but looking for some current info. I am visiting tokyo with my wife in 3 weeks and CANNOT WAIT to get there and try many different foods. But we want to get the most from our trip and Tokyo seems like 10 cities in one. Your help is SO much appreciated:

What is the nicest way to say hello when you walk into a restaurant?

Can you order omakase at any restaurant (lets say yakitori, tempura, etc) if you want to leave it in the expert hands of the chef? How would you say this in the nicest way?

Can you order nigiri only omakase and how? how would you say omakase, but no fugu or something like that if you didnt want something in particular?

Does anyone recommend some great yakitori that specializes in horumon, similar to ones that I think bourdain and zimmern have been to?

What is your favorite sushi experience that is around the $250 or less per person in tokyo?

If we show up to Tsukiji around 730AM, will all the fish still be in the market to walk around and look at? Are there places inside to sample little things that you recommend? We will try to go to one of the famous sushi places just outside.

Our plan is to do the more expensive meals for lunch (Beige, Robuchon, Ryugin, Sawada, etc) and then go to more casual yakitori, tempura, etc places for dinner. Does this sound like a good plan to save some $ on the fancy meals and also keep evenings more flexible? Knowing this info, this also segways into the final important question:

We are having a really hard time deciding between the park hotel near ginza and shiodome or the hyatt regency west of shinjuku station. I have started mapping out places we are interested in eating, and it appears that a lot of the nicer places (particularly sushi, french, and kaiseki) that we are interested in are near Ginza. But a lot of people seem to say to stay near shinjuku. I think whats important to us is being close to a lot of energy, and cool little places to grab an espresso and pastry in the morning, and have drinks and yakitori, ramen, tempura, etc at little places in the evening. For lunch we can travel wherever. I dont think we will be traveling outside of tokyo because we only have a week and there seems to be so much to see and eat! Our budget for hotel is up to $300 per night and I guess I shouldnt be surprised that in tokyo you dont get much for that much money. If we were able to get a larger nice room would be awesome, but I guess location is priority. I have read there is yakitori alley near ginza and also "piss alley" near shinjuku, which both sound similar. so any ideas or experiences on what you guys prefer? Is shidone too far from ginza to walk at night? is west shinjuku too far to walk to the heart of everything also? Which area do you think will be better for our experience for the week and are there any hotels in our budget that you love?

Thanks!

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  1. I'm only addressing the Tsukiji question--the wholesale area is not open to the public until after 9:00 a.m. (or 9:30?). I ended up in the wholesale area around 6:30 or 7:00, and there was plenty of fish to be seen, but I really shouldn't have been there. It is definitely NOT a place where a tourist should be wandering around.

    You can wander around the outer market just fine, though.

    Regarding restaurants, the more "famous" restaurants are in the inner market--a separate area from the wholesale area that you can access without going through the wholesale market. But there were plenty of restaurants in the outer market that seemed to have their share of customers.

    1. What is the nicest way to say hello when you walk into a restaurant?
      -"Konnichiwa". If it's evening, you can say "konbanwa".

      Can you order omakase at any restaurant (lets say yakitori, tempura, etc) if you want to leave it in the expert hands of the chef? How would you say this in the nicest way?
      -Pretty much, yes. Especially at upscale restaurants. Some places have set or "course" menus though and restaurants often steer tourists toward those. You can say something like "Omakase ni shite kudasai", but it is probably better to preface it with a statement about not speaking Japanese. I'm pretty sure we've done language threads with translations in Japanese that you can print out. Might try a search of up to 5 years.

      Can you order nigiri only omakase and how? how would you say omakase, but no fugu or something like that if you didnt want something in particular?
      -You're not going to die eating fugu, but anyway it is not a common nigiri item. Yes, you can order nigiri "only" omakase. It's fairly common. You can make it simple by saying "Nigiri omakase kudasai."

      Does anyone recommend some great yakitori that specializes in horumon, similar to ones that I think bourdain and zimmern have been to?
      -Birdland always comes up but many places will do this sort of thing.

      What is your favorite sushi experience that is around the $250 or less per person in tokyo?
      -Covered a million times. Just pick one of the ones that is mentioned frequently and go with it. You should book asap.

      If we show up to Tsukiji around 730AM, will all the fish still be in the market to walk around and look at? Are there places inside to sample little things that you recommend? We will try to go to one of the famous sushi places just outside.
      -You can't really sample from the vendors. It's not a retail market. It's an open air wholesale market, not in a market hall or something like that.

      Our plan is to do the more expensive meals for lunch (Beige, Robuchon, Ryugin, Sawada, etc) and then go to more casual yakitori, tempura, etc places for dinner. Does this sound like a good plan to save some $ on the fancy meals and also keep evenings more flexible?
      -Sounds like a plan. Evening is a good time to hop between two or three places if you're appetite can handle it.

      We are having a really hard time ...but I guess location is priority.
      -Between West Shinjuku and Ginza/Shiodome, I prefer the later and being on the east side of the city for general sightseeing and dining/ drinking. I mean for every person, there is going to be an opinion so map out your destinations and choose a hotel in that general area. There are many bustling neighborhoods in Tokyo and the transportation system in the central part of the city makes it unnecessary to be concerned with being within walking distance of your hotel.

      I have read there is yakitori alley near ginza and also "piss alley" near shinjuku, which both sound similar. so any ideas or experiences on what you guys prefer?
      -They are both just downmarket, old timey, grimy, drinking and snacking spots. The ones near Ginza are I guess less touristy. If you are into horumon stuff and this kind of street dining, you might look into a restaurant called Daitoryo in Okachi-machi/ Ameyokocho area near Ueno.

      Is shidone too far from ginza to walk at night?
      -No. Close.

      Is west shinjuku too far to walk to the heart of everything also?
      -The action is on the east side of Shinjuku station. 10 minutes walk.

      Which area do you think will be better for our experience for the week and are there any hotels in our budget that you love
      -Up to you. There are tons of good <$200/night hotels in Tokyo and better locations than the Hyatt Nishi-Shinjuku. JGI.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Silverjay

        That was super helpful thank you. Can you give me some more detail on what places you like to eat at and drink in Ginza? Is there an area where you can grab drinks and food at different places all close to each other that are not too fancy but not too grimey either? Thanks!

        1. re: sdiddy

          From Tokyo Station running south to Shinbashi (which is next to Ginza) under and along the train line are tons of places of all types and price ranges. This area is called "guardo shita" in Japanese. The yakitori places are part of this scene...We did a Tokyo Station area thread a year or so ago that mentioned a bunch of places.

          1. re: Silverjay

            just a note on the yakitori places under the tracks - if what is being referred to are those stalls (i.e. unenclosed unlike proper restaurants) near yurakucho station, then the quality is really not there. i know it's mentioned in lonely planet and all, but it's really not worth your time (or money - they can get expensive real quickly!). better to get your yakitori fix in one of the good yakitori shops all around town - i recall someone made a whole list of yakitori shops recently in a reply.

      2. One more thing, Ryugin is not open for lunch. It hasn't opened for lunch for quite some time. And they only have one course available (Y23 100), so it wouldn't make a difference when you ate it. (Of course, you can order a la carte after 9:00 pm, but reserving for that is same-day only.)

        1 Reply
        1. re: prasantrin

          humm, not sure it is such a good choice to go to high sushis at lunch. I mean, you won't drink with your high meal, right ? Or your afternoon with sake (stronger than wine, do you know?) might end up in a big nap, and diner with a gazzling stomach ! In particular, with sushi Sawada, you will miss all his preparation of sea food, and uni in Japan has to be tasted when really well prepared. Sawada-San was one of the first to ask for uni to be stored and washed with sea water ! So with a price at 35,000.-yens, it is around 13,000-yens more than the lunch nigiri omakase, worth it I believe. I don't think that 'expensive' is necessarily the best, but in this case, yes. I don't think I have mentioned it before, sushi Sawada San is actually his 3rd place, he had previously very hard time and was referred as 'running red eyes', as in his previous shop, he used to sleep in ! So even if it is not favorite, I hope he will keep in business, not like the rumors of sushi Araki that seems to close this year (which I recommend!).