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Mar 24, 2014 10:06 PM

Are the following restaurants all okay for lunchtime walk-ins with assurance of seating?


- Hatsunezushi
- Hirosaku
- Nodaiwa
- Butagumi
- Tonki
- Goemon in Hakusan for private tatami room (assumably prior notice would be necessary but how far in advance?)


*** I have not recently reviewed each individual restaurant in several months, so please forgive any obvious standouts like a ramen or soba shop, should they be included!


- Momen
- Kani Doraku
- Fujiya 1935
- Hajime Yoneda
- Osaka Ousho
- Geppa
- Ippoh
- Uoman (Awajimachi)
- Kiyoshi (Kita-ku)
- Endo Sushi
- Yummu Shio Ramen


- Harijyu
- Ajiho
- Kamatake Udon
- Daruma Kushiage
- Kuro-Chan
- Mizuno
- Kinryu Ramen

PS - I'm not inquiring as to whether I can call ahead on the same day for seating, but whether I can literally just show up and for the most part (perhaps with some wait) be guaranteed a seating at all of the above?

If there are any that stand out as places which would require a reservation at least several days prior, please let me know so that I can make note of which restaurants to call ahead for reservations.

Thanks so much!!

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  1. Hatsune is in Kamata and only open for lunch on Saturdays. Makes walking in a bit unlikely.

    11 Replies
    1. re: Gargle

      Thanks for that!

      Is it a destination worthy Saturday commute for lunch, in that case? I had that down as our one and only daytime sushi spot for Tokyo. Is there anything better that's more central or convenient?

      1. re: OliverB

        You have to book for Hatsune. According to the chef, he prepares the shari in advance for the exact number of patrons he is planning to serve. And you don't really just step off the street into a $400 meal for two in Kamata anyway...Tonki doesn't serve lunch.

        1. re: Silverjay

          Thanks Silverjay,

          I'm glad I posted this thread as I was really keen on trying Tonki. That's a drag that they don't do lunch. Are reservations required for dinner?

          Here's our current plans for dinner in Tokyo; as we're still many months away, no reservations have been made as of yet:

          Night 1 - Nagazumi
          Night 2 - RyuGin
          Night 3 - Sushi Saito
          Night 4 - Ginza Okuda
          Night 5 - Tempura Kondo
          Night 6 - Ishikawa
          Night 7 - Sushi Yoshitake

          Later in trip (final night on return to Tokyo for int'l flight home the next day) - Arondia de Takazawa

          We were planning on doing all the "soulful" restaurants, ie. the 'old Tokyo' establishments, the izakayas, soba stands, etc. during the daytime.

          Which of the above restaurants would be just as good for daytime dining? Where should I fit Tonki in up top; should I knock Nagazumi off the list on our first night and do a more casual meal at Tonki instead?

          I was also thinking of swapping one of these restaurants out for an izakaya in the evening; probably Koyu, based on the photos I've seen on blogs and reviews I've read of both the atmosphere and food. I assume that reservations are not ever needed at izakaya bars, right?

          We obviously have a lot of 'modern kaiseki' fine-dining in Tokyo and I wonder if it's a bit overkill? As my wife and I are celebrating our honeymoon, we wanted to dine at places that felt really special in the evenings. We've reserved certain cities (namely Osaka) to mostly casual 'walk in off the street' type places, though we'll be eating a lot of kaiseki in Kyoto and as well at ryokans along the way - Gora Kadan, Kanbayashi Hotel Senjukaku, Myojinkan, Wanosanto, Kayoutei, Hiiragiya, Minamikan, Iwaso, Sakamotoya, etc. It's my understanding that many of these places offer much more traditional and often rustic and regional interpretations of the kaiseki experience, and I always enjoy trying very high end fusion with unusual ingredients that are new to my palette when travelling. That said, I'm disappointed to hear that Tonki doesn't do dinner and I wonder how to squeeze that in. I was already planning on shifting one of our meals (likely Nagazumi on night 1) for a more casual latenight izakaya bar. Now I'll have to further compromise with all of the restaurants I had hoped to dine at... could you please offer feedback and suggestions on what's essential and what's redundant in Tokyo, based on our eating plans throughout our entire trip? Again, we were reserving Osaka for the more down-to-earth "soul food" type places.


          1. re: OliverB

            Tonki is like a tonkatsu cafeteria open in the evenings. Just find another tonkatsu place that does lunch. Tonkatsu isn't really something you linger over for a couple of hours anyway so it's probably a better mid-day option.

            All your Tokyo evenings are set up as precious set meals where you will sit with your hands in your lap waiting to be served each item. So if you are into that, you are set up nicely. I don't personally enjoy that style myself other than small doses, but hey, it's not my honeymoon. But I'm going to assume you will meet or encounter plenty of other foreign travelers because you seem to be cherry picking the shortlist of what so many others on here are looking at. I'm guessing you are all competing for reservations with each other, as much as actual Tokyoites.

            I mean there are some izakaya that do lunch or lunch sets, but they are basically taverns for drinking and eating small plates. Most open from 5pm. Most "soulful" places are open from 5pm on because people don't really drink in the daytime. They are meant to be convivial free flowing experiences. And yes, you need reservations at the popular izakaya. Absolutely.

            Sorry, I don't know shit about Osaka.

            1. re: Silverjay

              ...although if you are in Osaka during baseball season, I recommend catching a game at Koshien Stadium if Tigers are in town. You can load up on food from depachika in Hankyu Department store. I don't think they changed policy about bringing in outside stuff.

              1. re: Silverjay

                Thanks Silverjay,

                Would Izakaya Koyu (2 Chome Nezu, 21-9, Bunkyō-ku) require advance reservations?

                Are there any selections from our evening dining list that seem less interesting or special than the rest? Anything that might feel redundant in terms of the type of food we'll be eating? I understand that you don't enjoy "fine dining" as much and we are the same way here in San Francisco. We typically reserve these experiences for special ocassion meals every few months, and much prefer to eat "locally" at small ethnic places, wine bars, taquerias, oyster & crudo bars, latenight Chinese hole-in-the-walls, homestyle Italian comfort food, tapas and cocktail lounges, meat and martini joints, etc. When travelling, we typically like to splurge on fancier meals, contrasted by more colorful local places during the daytime. I'm just curious if you (or anyone else) have specific thoughts or opinions on any of the above selected restaurants?

                Thanks again!

              2. re: OliverB

                Are any of these open on Sunday?

            2. re: OliverB

              Nakaji-san's policy might be different for lunch, but based on my dinner there I don't think he takes walk-ins. He has set seatings (temperature of the rice, as he'll explain...). You can call and ask, he and his wife both speak a little English. Or I can dig out his business card for you, and you can email him.

              As far as (very good) high-end goes, you can try walking into Daisan Harumi in Ginza. There were unreserved spaces at the counter the last time I went.

              1. re: stravaigint

                Thank you so stravaigint, that is very nice of you to offer to dig out his card for me... just to be certain, we are talking about Hatsune, right? Katsu Nakaji is the chef?

                Do you feel that a ~25 min. cab ride from central Tokyo would be worthwhile for a Saturday afternoon lunch? My only concern with booking specific reservations during mid-day, is that we have so much sightseeing to do and plan to explore different neighborhoods and districts each day. Approx. how long would one need to set aside for a lunch seat at Hatsune? Would it be considered amongst the best options for daytime sushi in Tokyo?

                PS - any idea what times the different lunch seatings are set for Saturday, or can you book a seat for anytime within hours of operation?

                1. re: OliverB

                  Policy is same at lunch. It's probably faster to get there by train and you are looking at minimum 2 hours for the meal, depending on how many other patrons are there. You should read the coverage that has already been posted on Hatsune because we've discussed the experience in detail and you can weigh the decision yourself.

                  1. re: OliverB

                    Silverjay has already given the best answers to your questions, but since I promised to post his card, here it is.

            3. Can anyone please tell me what times Hatsune's Saturday lunch seatings are scheduled for?


              1. Also, can someone please tell me more about Izakaya Koyu?

                Is it destination worthy and should I swap out Nagazumi on our first night for Koyu?

                If I were to only visit one local izakaya bar in Tokyo, would this rank up there both in terms of atmosphere, food and sake selection? Does the space get pretty full and would reservations be recommended?

                Thanks again!

                33 Replies
                1. re: OliverB

                  To specify what I'm looking for in izakaya - traditional ambiance- no big screen TVs with sports and game shows or loud music, prefer bar seating but tables are okay - just not in a sprawling space (prefer intimate and cozy), good/interesting selection of sake, well-rounded menu with classic dishes done exceptionally well or with innovative flair and sourcing choice ingredients, lively atmosphere frequented by locals (don't like empty places - unlikely an issue since we're focussing on smaller neighborhood spots) - lean more towards "old Tokyo" than ultra modern.

                  1. re: OliverB

                    Haha. Big screen TV's with sports and game shows. Wow. You are really going to be in for a WIDE awakening on a cultural level.....Did you do any research here or elsewhere? I mean there are probably a few thousand places that meet your requirements. And tons of places have been mentioned here on CH and has some pretty thorough listings as well.... I think your sense of scale and density aren't quite aligned with the reality of Tokyo. It will certainly be fun to read your follow-up impressions after your visit. ;)

                    1. re: Silverjay

                      I'm not really sure how to interpret your comments, Silverjay. I have done a bit of research and I've come up with a short list. I've asked about Koyu several times as for various reasons, it's come up above others as a personal interest. I understand that there are a vast number of izakayas, and that is specifically why I would appreciate some help in narrowing down the list. I'd like to find one or two stand-outs which meet my criteria. I've read a number of reviews of izakaya bars in Tokyo and a handfull did indeed have big screen televisions over the bar. I personally hate that and just thought I'd make mention of it in the interest of narrowing down suitable recommendations. For what it's worth, I love Sakagura in NYC. Yakitori Totto is not bad. Kazu in Montreal is excellent. Roku and Kappou Gomi in SF not bad; nothing really special in the Bay Area (I've tried them all). I'm looking for a place with great atmosphere first and foremost, a solid well-rounded sake list, and very good food with high-quality ingredients. Preferably of a variety not available Stateside (west coast) or of particularly proficient and masterful preparation. It could be simple classics or more modern interpretations of izakaya fare. Feel free to offer some of your favorites, since you seem to be discerning. I prefer a traditional setting to ultra modern. Small and intimate over sprawling open space. Local crowds. Busy and lively; reflective of local culture rather than gaijin-friendly, though not unwelcoming to foreigners. I suppose what you might consider a "hole in the wall". We'll go anywhere in town.

                      1. re: OliverB

                        I've eaten several thousand restaurant meals in Japan and can count on one hand...mmm, maybe two.... the number of places with a large tv- and those are basically Western style bars that showed soccer...I like Sakagura and Totto in NYC just fine, but they are kind of corporate for me.

                        Post your izakaya list again. I don't remember what you have. I've never heard of Koyu in Nezu...Things would probably go smoother if you post on the specific neighborhood you want to dine in. Not a list of a half dozen hoods with a combined population of several million people, but one or two areas you want to hang out in at night. Then search and aggregate places based on that list. Discussing casual places in Tokyo often happens on a local level because the city and options are so vast.

                        1. re: Silverjay

                          Belive it or not, one of my favorite izakayas is in my hometown of Montreal:

                          There are very few other things (food-related or otherwise) thatI can say that about!

                          As for my list of Tokyo places, I have not reviewed them in some time but here's a handfull that I pulled up several months ago, from other food related blogs:

                          • Koyu
                          • Ishii
                          • Ranman
                          • Honoka
                          • Wakamatsu
                          • Moromiya
                          • Sugamo

                          I'm sure there are endless options... the problem with chosing by neighborhood, is that we won't be planning that way. We're spending our days in differing neighborhoods, sightseeing, visiting museums, shops, restaurants, etc. by location. At night, we're literally all over the place. We'll likely catch a taxi from our hotel (The Peninsula) to dinner, then catch another cab (or bus/subway if it proves more convenient) to a bar in a completely separate part of town, and continue again, until we call it a night. We're going to be jumping from Point A, to Point B, to Point C every single night. We just aren't spending one evening in any specific district because there are so many bars, cocktail lounges and night spots that we want to visit. I suppose that anything central and near to our hotel would be convenient. Anything in the Ginza district could be nice, as there are a handful of bars I would like to explore in that area; though I doubt it will happen on our first night, which is when I'm planning for... within relative nearness to The Peninsula works well, if that makes things easier for you - so Minato, Shibuya, Chiyoda (*prob. most convenient). The truth is, that if there is a particular izakaya that stands out as a favorite for you, but is outside of these districts, we'd be happy to make our way there. Do you have any favorites in Chiyoda or nearby? Is there a top-twenty list of places that local generally consider to be above anything else? Again, emphasis on old school style izakaya and great food/sake next. Anything in a historic building or neighborhood is an added bonus for us.

                          Thanks for your help, Silverjay!

                          1. re: OliverB

                            Well, if you'd read the comments at the bottom of jem589's blog (Eating Out in Tokyo with Jon), and if you'd read all of the comments on this board, you surely wouldn't have Koyu at the top of your list. Here is a copy of my comment posted on the subject:

                            "@jem589 - Just like to add my two cents here about Koyu: perhaps one of the most disappointing izakaya experiences I've had in Tokyo. My initial phone reservation with the wife, which was conducted in Japanese, was pleasant enough. I asked about the need to pre-order sashimi (I was booking for a Sunday night) and told her I had read good things about their sake selection. Then, when I gave her my name (a foreign one), her mood completely changed. "No Engrishu desu!" she exclaimed. Given we had been chatting amicably in Japanese for 5 minutes, I found this rather odd, but I assured her that I could read kanji, so there would be no problem. "No set menu desu!" she squealed. Again, I told her that was no problem. She then, thankfully, returned to Japanese and complained that a lot of foreigners had been making reservations recently (perhaps due to the No #1 izakaya ranking on your blog), and that I should come with a Japanese speaker. Again, I assured her (in Japanese) that I understood her concerns, but if it made her feel better my dining companion was Japanese. That seemed to do the trick, and she accepted my reservation. #random
                            Upon arrival, I slid open the door to Koyu, only to have her bar my path and demand to know if I had a reservation. After confirming my name and reservation, she begrudgingly allowed us to enter.... the completely empty store. #WTF!
                            The atmosphere was generic and lacking any sort of character. Sterile is probably the best description. We took our seats and perused the menu: pretty standard, and nothing I would cross town for. There were no daily specials, just what was written on the set menu . At this stage alarm bells were ringing in my head, but I persevered - it did come highly rated after all. Our ootoshi was dumped in front of us without any pleasantries, and enquires about the menu by my companion (a middle aged women who spoke to the wife in keigo throughout), was meet with monosyllabic replies. Hmmm, so service isn't her forte, but at least the food and sake was suppose to be excellent, right? Errr, wrong!
                            They list a dozen or so sake from well regarded kura and at reasonable prices, but, again, nothing worth going out of your way for. We ordered a round of Tedorigawa, along with some sashimi and a couple of dishes to get us started. The food, prepared by the (long suffering) husband, was good and nicely presented... but nothing exceptional. I've had much better elsewhere.
                            The wife's attitude to us throughout our short stay bordered on being hostile, which, given that we were the only customers, seemed outrageously bad form. I had actually taken my companion there because she does tours for a national tour guide association, and was looking for a good place to take guests, but due to the appalling experience we had there that lucrative business went to Sake no Ana, instead.
                            We could'nt bring ourselves to order anything else, and quickly settled our bill. No farewells, no smiles (not even a fake one)... the feeling was very much 'don't let the door hit your arse on the way out'.
                            So in summary, food: good but not amazing; sake selection: fair, but nothing special; atmosphere and service... a big fat zero. Tabelog comments give high praise of the food, but the ranking is brought down by the patchy service. Our mutual (foreign) friend had similar feedback to mine, so I think we can safely assume that my experience wasn't a one-off.
                            If you are Japanese, take your chances. If you are a foreigner, go elsewhere."

                            1. re: wekabeka

                              Wow, that sounds absolutely awful!

                              Thank you so much for the warning; Koyu is now off the list and I'll have to re-evaluate all others that I'd considered along with it, because that sounds like a nightmare.

                              I will spend some time with the blog that you posted. In the meanwhile, if anyone has any favorite "old school" blue collar type izakayas (which are hopefully friendlier to foreigners... with adventurous palettes!) in or around Chiyuda/Minato/Shibuya, I would really love to hear about them!

                              Thanks again for letting me know to steer clear!!

                            2. re: OliverB

                              I've stated several times on this board, and on my blog, that Honoka is not to be attempted by non-Japanese speaking patrons. In fact, I'm considering taking my post down because people continue to ignore that disclaimer.

                              How is your Japanese? Not being able to speak or read Japanese will put you at a disadvantage at most 'old school' izakaya. From your list, Ishii would be your best bet as the owner speaks English. Sake no Ana and Sasahana, both in Ginza, would also suit your needs, thought the later is an upscale kappo shop rather than izakaya.


                              1. re: wekabeka

                                Thank you wekabeka,

                                My Japanese is non-existent!

                                Are you familiar with Shōchūya BETTAKO at all?

                                It looks wonderful... do you have any thoughts on it?


                                I wonder if it's at all comparable to Ishii, which is what I'm now leaning towards?

                                1. re: OliverB

                                  I don't drink shochu - so, no. It's also in Ikebukuro which is outside of the area you have asked for recs for. But if it looks wonderful to you, why don't you go?

                                2. re: wekabeka

                                  I just realized that Ishii is only a 15 minute walk from our hotel too... I think that seals the deal!! :)

                                3. re: OliverB

                                  Ok, I remember this list from sometime last year and basically remember having a pretty similar conversation. As 'Beka has stated, Honoka is right out. You need to both speak and read decent Japanese to go there. Koyu sounds like it won't work and I remember one of the other places was in Kita-Senju, which is probably an unnecessary schlep.

                                  You really need to recalibrate how you are looking at Tokyo and how to research. It's not a city that you hop into a cab and take long rides in. That's just ridiculously expensive, time consuming, and may not necessarily even get you to the precise place...Minato, Shibuya, and Chiyoda are wards. The combined population is probably, oh I'm guessing, greater than San Francisco and Montreal all together. Ask for specific neighborhoods. We get it. You love food you're open minded etc. That doesn't really change how people relate to Tokyo dining scene.

                                  1. re: Silverjay

                                    Okay, do you have any thoughts on izakaya Ishii?

                                    After travelling 15 hours (taxis, airports, flights, etc) and likely running on little to no sleep, I think it's a good idea to stick close to home. We'll want to try and stay out until at least 11pm on our first night, in order to properly acclimate to the time zone, but the more I think about it, venturing out for a big elaborate meal on our first night does not sound that enjoyable. I was initially planning for dinner at Nagazumi, but now I think I'll just make reservations at Ishii instead. We can walk to and from our hotel, which seems like a big plus.

                                    As for the rest of our trip planning... we will not ever be venturing out oo far in the evenings. I have yet to map out all of the bars that we plan to visit, but I imagine that they are generally concentrated within a few distrcits in neighboring wards.

                                    I have done some planning for our day time activities. For example, here is a list that I mapped out of Tokyo by District... I should organize a similar list for bars and restaurants soon:

                                    WALKING DISTANCE FROM HOTEL

                                    • Imperial Palace / Edo Castle
                                    • Tōkagakudō Music Hall
                                    • National Museum of Modern Art
                                    • Kitanomaru Kōen / Kitanomaru Park
                                    • Nippon Budokan
                                    • Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery

                                    • Tokyo Station
                                    • Batak House Cut
                                    • Takashimaya Nihonbashi Department Store

                                    • Hibiya Park
                                    • Sake Plaza
                                    • National Diet Building
                                    • Kabukiza Theater
                                    • Ginza District


                                    • Tsukiji Market / Tsukiji Shijō
                                    • Hamarikyu Gardens / Hama-rikyū Onshi Teien

                                    TAITO WALKING DISTANCE

                                    • Akihabara Electric Town
                                    • Ameyoko Arcade
                                    • Shitamachi Museum / Shitamachi Fuzoku Shiryokan
                                    • Ueno Park: Shinobazu Pond, Bentendo, Kiyomizu Kannon Temple, etc.
                                    • Tokyo Bunka Kaikan
                                    • National Museum of Western Art / Kokuritsu Seiyo Bijutsukan
                                    • National Museum of Nature and Science
                                    • Tokyo National Museum
                                    • Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum
                                    • Sōgakudō Concert Hall
                                    • Tōkyō Geijutsu Daigaku / Tokyo University of the Arts
                                    • Kaneiji Temple / Tōeizan Kan'ei-ji Endon-in
                                    • Ueno Zoo (?)
                                    • The Imperial Library / International Library of Children's Literature
                                    • Kappabashi-dori, Asakusa (?)


                                    • Van Jac Shop - (Bus/Taxi from Taito District)

                                    YANESEN DISTRICT

                                    • Yanaka, Nezu, Sendagi

                                    SUMIDA WALKING DISTANCE

                                    • Ryōgoku Kokugikan
                                    • Edo-Tokyo Museum


                                    • St. Mary's Cathedral


                                    • Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden
                                    • Kabukichō
                                    • Golden Gai

                                    SHIBUYA WALKING DISTANCE

                                    • Meiji Jingū Shrine
                                    • Homotsuden Honkan and Homotsu-Tenjishitsu
                                    • Harajuku
                                    • Yoyogi Park
                                    • Yoyogi National Gymnasium
                                    • Tailor Caid
                                    • Boston Tailor

                                    SHIBUYA - MINATO

                                    • Ebisu District
                                    • Kent Shop
                                    • Roppongi District
                                    • Roppongi Hills Mori Tower Observation Deck & Mori Museum
                                    • Hotel Okura
                                    • Akasaka + Hie Shrine (?)
                                    • Shiba District


                                    • Komazawa Gymnasium

                                    1. re: OliverB

                                      Is it me, or is the Chowhound Japan board starting to look like a hotel concierge's inbox?

                                        1. re: OliverB

                                          Phew! Variations on the same cluster of restaurants had me thinking otherwise. Glad I was so obviously mistaken. (^_−)−☆

                                          Ishii is perfectly fine. It's a small, cheerful place that caters to a middle management crowd. The owner is a sake enthusiast, so has a nice selection, and can pair his recommendations with your meal. Food is okay, a little more refined than your standard izakaya. It might be easier to request he make you a course (¥5,000), rather than order a la carte. Is it an izakaya ranked in the top twenty by locals (as per your request)? No, not by a long shot. But who cares? It's good. And given your particular circumstances, I'm sure you will have a pleasant experience.


                                          1. re: wekabeka

                                            Worth noting that Ishii is closed on Sat and Sun, in case they are arriving one of those days.

                                            1. re: Silverjay

                                              Oh yes! I only ever dine in Shinbashi Mon-Fri - like pretty much everyone else in Tokyo, so I forgot to mention that.

                                              OliverB, if you are arriving on the weekend then I'd go with Sake no Ana or Sasahana. Shinsuke (14 minutes north of your hotel by train/10 mins by taxi) might also satisfy your old school izakaya cravings. (Closed on Sunday).


                                              1. re: wekabeka

                                                Oh wowzers, I just came across your blog page for Sake no Ana and saw that you highlighted Kameizumi. I was entranced by that one as well last year, having put a few glasses away with Tripeler at Sasagin. I spent the whole rest of my trip asking around for it- including the Kochi antenna shop. I hope it pokes its head out of its shell again this year. That is a gem and I love the brilliant "mujirushi" style label.

                                                1. re: Silverjay

                                                  I love watching the reaction of friends when they taste Kameizumi CEL-19 & 24 for the first time. Asomaniac was immediately smitten, and cleaned my local saketen out of stock not long after. The secret to these 'flower-bombs' is the yeast: the CEL strains were developed by the Kochi Prefecture Industrial Centre for their fragrance low nihonshu-do and high acidity. Lots of fun to drink! You won't find them at an antenna shop. DM me and I'll hook you up.

                                                  1. re: wekabeka

                                                    Forgive me if this sounds like a silly question, but is it generally frowned upon to visit an izakaya strictly for drinks (to sample different sakes) without ordering an accompanying meal or food? Would that be culturally acceptable, or would it potentially be looked upon as insulting to the proprietors running the kitchen?

                                                    1. re: OliverB

                                                      It would be odd and not appreciated at popular places, especially those with limited seating. Some larger places might not care. People in Japan almost always eat something when they drink alcohol. The idea of going to bars just for drinks before or after dinner, as we would in our home countries, is not popular. Bars are usually late night type of affairs and connote more of a Western style.

                                                      1. re: Silverjay

                                                        Thank you for affirming what I'd assumed. I doubt we would have the energy on our first night, but I otherwise might have entertained the possibility of eating at Ishii in Shinbashi, and then forging on to another izakaya to sample more sakes with a small side of edamame or mochi or something to soak up the alcohol; mostly for the drink and atmosphere. We'll likely just stick to Ishii though. I'm curious to hear how the two places that wekabeka suggested would compare food-wise and in their selection of sake though; especially Shinsuke.

                                                        1. re: OliverB

                                                          Yes! That sounds like a great plan. If you're not up for it the first night try to do it some other nights.

                                                    2. re: wekabeka

                                                      Actually, Kochi shop said they carried it but they were sold out when I went. I showed the guy a pic of it just to confirm and he told me they don't get many....Other shops didn't have a clue. Will def contact you later in the year. Thanks!

                                                      1. re: Silverjay

                                                        I know a place where they have the full range of Kameizumi (unless Asomaniac has been in). But that said, now that the sake boom has finally hit Japan, I've noticed that all of my favourite jizake labels are selling out really quickly. I've had to resort to getting my fix direct from the brewers - a pain when you want to grab something out of the fridge.

                                                        Look forward to hearing from you.

                                                  2. re: wekabeka

                                                    Thanks wekabeka,

                                                    We're scheduled to arrive in Narita on a Wednesday, at 3:25 pm for what it's worth. Accounting for air traffic delays and rush hour, I'm expecting to check-in to our hotel between 6-7 pm at the latest. Does that sound realistic for Tokyo?

                                                    Why do you suggest Sake no Ana or Shinsuke only for weekends? Is this the same Shinsuke we're discussing:

                                                    If so, that looks especially great. Is it at all comparable food-wise or drink-wise to Ishii? I should note that I'm more interested in sake selection than beer.

                                                    Thanks for the recommendations!

                                                    1. re: OliverB

                                                      Oh, I didn't suggest them only for the weekend, but as options in lieu of Ishii (esp. if you are arriving on a Sat or Sun). I recommended Ishii, Sake no Ana and Sasahana purely because of their proximity to your hotel, and English-friendly service. All are good choices for a casual meal. The food is decent. The sake lists at all are extensive and thoughtfully selected - Sasahana leans more towards Daiginjōs and Ginjōs than Junmai styles. Ishii stocks mostly Junmai jizake (small kura produced sake). Sake no Ana has the broadest selection of both Ginjō, Junmai, famous brands and jizake labels.

                                                      Shinsuke fits with your 'old izakaya' request. The food and ambience is great. However, they only stock one brand: Ryozeki (Junmai or Honjozō), served hot, warm or cold - old school style sake. If you're wanting to try a range of premium sake, you'd be better off elsewhere.

                                                      Hope that helps.

                                                      1. re: wekabeka

                                                        That's great, thanks so much for all of this info!! It's really helpful!

                                        2. re: Silverjay

                                          You can pretty much fit all of the Bay Area's culinary scene into Ginza 8-Chome. :)

                                          1. re: Gargle

                                            That's a bit unfair, Gargle. It is certainly more spread out, with far less density than Tokyo, but there are quite a number of truly great places.

                                            1. re: Tripeler

                                              I was joking, a little.

                                              If you believe michelin (which seems to cover about 25% of Tokyo restaurants at all levels), there are about 10 times as many notable restaurants in Tokyo as there are in the SF bay area. But that just doesn't sound as funny.

                                              1. re: Gargle

                                                Chalk it up to the imperfections inherent in text-only communication.

                                                The real joke is that Michelin's huge attention to Tokyo restaurants corresponds well to their book sales in Tokyo. To me, Michelin should stick solely to tires because I am quite tired of their restaurant ratings as a means of creating publishing profit.

                            3. With respect to the Izakaya discussion below:

                              1. The need to focus on particular neighborhoods is unnecessary as it's easy to get anywhere in tokyo within 30 min on the train. Taxis are expensive and usually not faster. However, just asking for the "top 10" izakay recs in Tokyo from posters is a difficult exercise and so stating which neighborhoods you are interested in is a good way to go about it. General searches across the entire city can be done using tabelog (see below).

                              2. As a non-Japanese speaker, you will have a very hard time unless you find a place that either speaks English or has a course menu. I would the former more limiting than the latter and the latter to likely have better food on average. There are many izakaya which have course menus and you can get your concierge to arrange it with a set price. Tabelog with google translate using the "tavern" food category is the place to start. You can even have the concierge arrange your sake selection if you know something about different varieties and want to try certain types/brands etc.

                              3. If you see recs which state clearly you must have a Japanese speaker with you, don't book it unless you can fulfill that criteria. However, assuming you have a course menu booked at places which don't state they require a japanese speaker, you likely won't have any problems aside from not knowing everything you are being served.

                              With respect to reservations, I find it is always better to make them a day ahead unless the restaurant doesn't accept reservations.

                              13 Replies
                              1. re: tigerjohn

                                Well experience often comes down to sample size and I would supplement your comments with the following based on my abundance of sampling:

                                1. 30 minutes of train travel time is often the case in central Tokyo, but navigating to end destinations for a first time is another story. So making blanket requests for the whole 80 square mile dense city with an arcane address system, crowds, multiple station exits, etc. is a level of complexity that should be taken into account. Not to mention that some folks on a short visit to the city should probably be spared detours to rather unexciting destinations as Kita-Senju, and the like.

                                As you stated, and what we replied to in this OP's requests last year, the common vernacular of discussing dining in Tokyo is usually done on a neighborhood (not ward) basis. Also with regards to taxis, while most today will plug in the restaurant address or phone number in to the car navigation, there might still be navigation problems. Further, the dense neighborhoods that cabs might have to negotiate can suck up a lot of time and money. Besides almost surely not knowing the restaurant you are going to, the ultra-polite service minded cab driver assumes you want door to door service and will not suggest, for example, to let you off on the main road a half a block from the restaurant but will spend the extra 15 minutes to dive into a labyrinth of side streets to drop you at the front door.

                                I think people are bringing their experiences visiting smaller eating cities like San Francisco, NYC, even Paris, where blanket recs or broad categorical recs are easier to provide given the (relative to Tokyo) limited options, smaller physical scale, and easy to conjure mental map of those cities.

                                2. Course dining at izakaya is usually offered for the purpose of enkai/nomikai functions to make booking, planning, and ordering easier. This is more or less why it is listed on Tabelog. However, individuals can order it. But if you don't speak Japanese and you are willing to try and speak in person or have your hotel/concierge/Japanese friend call ahead, you can pretty much ask any establishment to provide you with an omakase type of meal. It might be more culturally rewarding to try and express this in Japanese on the spot.?.?.

                                3. I think for foreign visitors it is better to book a place several days in advance if you are planning to dine at a popular spot on a Friday.

                                1. re: Silverjay

                                  It would be more culturally rewarding to ask for an omakase on the spot but it up the risk in terms of misunderstanding and expectations, particularly for those with no experience in the country. However, perhaps someone could post the right language/approach to use.

                                  Taking taxis might be more problematic but I've never had a problem finding any destination in Tokyo with a modicum of pre trip planning (primarily a google map on my phone), trains and walking. Train times and walk times from stations are quite accurate and it's rarely more than 15 minutes from the nearest station. The one time we took a wrong turn we were helped by a local shopkeeper and the local police and were back on our way in the right direction a few minutes. Maybe we are the exception but when determining where to eat we've never thought to ourselves to focus on a particular neighborhood, preferring instead to go to the restaurant that is the most appealing, as long as we can get there in a reasonable amount of time.

                                  1. re: tigerjohn

                                    "Maybe we are the exception but when determining where to eat we've never thought to ourselves to focus on a particular neighborhood, preferring instead to go to the restaurant that is the most appealing..."

                                    Yes, nearly EVERY foodie tourist says this- "I'm willing to travel anywhere..etc etc.." Everyone wants to have the BEST possibly experience they can possibly muster.

                                    However, the point myself and other regulars emphasize is that people experienced with Tokyo rarely discuss dining options on such a broad citywide level. Therefore if you want sound, original, personal advice, it is better to adhere to requests for some level of specificity- geographic or otherwise.

                                    1. re: Silverjay

                                      I'd clarify that the fact that we don't consider neighborhood much of a factor in selecting restaurants applies to Tokyo precisely because it is so easy to navigate and reach places by public transport. It's not about "willing to travel anywhere for the best." It just isn't a hassle for us, in fact it's a plus compared to other cities. It was in that vein that I said we might be the exception. I would not make the same statement about all cities. Los Angeles, for example.

                                      I agree to some extent which is why I recommend a general approach to research and a more specific approach to requests. However, I don't understand why "the point myself and other regulars emphasize is that people experienced with Tokyo rarely discuss dining options on such a broad citywide level."

                                      If you are specific enough in your request for the type of restaurant and experience you want, posters who have such advice, however local can volunteer that place in that neighborhood, while others can recommend appropriate places in other neighborhoods, with the OP then deciding what is feasible given his or her interests or constraints. the fact that "people experienced with Tokyo rarely discuss dining options on such a broad citywide level" shouldn't deter someone with sound advice from offering options as long as the set of restaurants one is considering is not too large. Certainly, some level of specificity is needed but it needn't always be neighborhood based. For example, I requested a lunch option with a private room and view of a garden within 60 minutes by train from the center of tokyo. It never occurred to me that I should ask for this in Arachiko or Yanaka specifically as that wasn't essential to what I was looking for.

                                      1. re: tigerjohn

                                        Well in your example, you did provide at least some geographic guidance, besides some other specificity and that yielded some specific suggestions. Many people do not consider or provide any of that. And that's who I'm offering advice to on how to best get advice. In the end, it's not really about what you are looking for, but how you can express what you are looking for in a manner that will get fulfilling responses.

                                        1. re: Silverjay

                                          You are correct that that can be frustrating. It's also frustrating when someone asks a general question that could be answered by doing some initial background research. However, I don't think the specificity needs to be neighborhood level geography, even if locals tend to think that way. It's more the extent to which the vastness can be defined in a way that makes recommendations easier and which doesn't cover ground that's available via search. I imagine it is equally frustrating to those who have done the research and attempt to be specific to receive no suggestions.

                                          But perhaps I am being too optimistic and a little pedantic as I am also frustrated by the constant discussion and seeking of affirmation for of a very small number of supposed "go to" places which have gained notoriety and how they are not that well representative of the overall picture.

                                          1. re: tigerjohn

                                            If you want recs from locals, it's advised to try to drill down to the neighborhood(s) level. I mean, even a "neighborhood" like Shinjuku is really a small city. Anyway, this might not be the best way to do research in a vacuum in a laboratory, it's just the way it often is in practice here. And yeah, sometimes you are going to shoot an airball- even if you do this.

                                            Agree with your second paragraph. The idiocy of FOMO behavior, combined with lazy research, combined with a vicious cycle of tourists feeding other tourists a very limited amount of information, has spawned a rather cookie cutter take on the Tokyo dining culture.

                                              1. re: Silverjay

                                                Neighborhood based requests are helpful, if only because of the sheer number of options, I agree.

                                                I think the best you can do in a CH like environment (which offers more flexibility than if you're writing a guidebook or newspaper article, knowing nothing about your audience) is try to offer someone suggestions based on both the content and tone of the requests (how high of a priority is food for them? does it seem likely they'll manage to get fed at a no-English, no course Izakaya without making a scene? or even in any serious Japanese restaurant? have they done no research, a little, or a lot? (but maybe with incorrect conclusions)), while trying to (gently, or not, depending) undo some of the misconceptions.

                                                Sometimes people (not excluding myself here, not by a long shot) have very strong positions on a right way to do things (like they'll be convinced that high end dining is for suckers, or that ramen is junk food that shouldn't really be consumed after age 20 unless you're a taxi driver, or that the street atlas is much better than google maps, or that if you don't speak fluent Japanese you can't manage at Honoka, orwhatever) and they'll offer those opinions regardless of the posted questions. Some posters just can't be helped, but most can, but only by providing answers that are likely to be useful to them. I think.

                                                Regarding the last paragraph - not to worry, I hear Steve Plotnicki is coming to town and he'll tell everyone where to eat and more importantly - where not to eat!

                                                1. re: Gargle

                                                  Yeah go figure, people have strong opinions on a public forum. Don't really understand why you felt moved to insert a paragraph with a litany of your various impressions on what you entertain are people's ideas of "the right way to do things".

                                                  1. re: Silverjay

                                                    The point is that these strong opinions are usually detrimental to providing contextually-useful advice. They're obviously always right and very important but perhaps modulating them a bit is helpful.

                                                    I don't know that four examples of opinions recently expressed here constitute a litany, but ymmv.

                                                    1. re: Gargle

                                                      Strong opinions give the site perspective, vitality, and deeper insight into both the dining culture and the person posting and they are usually spot-on for the context of the discussion. Certainly ymmv on how much actual helpfulness you take away. Welcome to the internet. Ymmv on how much influence complaining about this will actually have.

                                                      1. re: Silverjay

                                                        This tangent has gotten well away from actually discussing where to eat in Tokyo and deeply into discussing the discussion, and we'd ask that you let it go at this point. Thanks.