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In Desperate Need of Tokyo Guidance, i.e. Eating in Tokyo Without a Concierge

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Hello fellow Chowhounders!

I am set to visit Tokyo for the first time in late October with the formidable goal of eating all the things. Unfortunately, in an effort to fund said goal, I'm planning to stay in (some of you will blanch) a hostel. As such, I won't have any help in formulating dining plans or securing reservations. Given the dizzying number of options in Tokyo and the difficulty of experiencing some of those options as a clueless, concierge-less American, I hoped some of you might have some tips to make the most of my time in the city.

1) Where do I go!? I'd like to sample as broad an array of Japanese cuisine possible in my four days. I'm early on in my research (so please excuse any too-obvious choices), but am zeroing in on restaurants like Bird Land for yakitori, Rokirinsha for ramen, Butagumi or Maisen for tonkatsu, and Kondo or Mikawa Zezankyo or Tsunahachi for tempura. I'm still looking into izakayas (maybe Tachimichiya?), sukiyaki (Kitamura?), and soba (Muto?). As for sushi, oh jeez, Sushi Mizutani or Sushi Saito would be a dream. I was investigating Kyubey, but sensed a simmering animosity toward it on this board, and also learned about Hatsunezushi here. I've also read good things about Sushi Iwa. I'm less interested in Ryugin (I know, I'm a heathen). Any advice? Anything I could cut, should add? Different options?

2) How in tarnation do I eat in any of these places? For the more obvious barriers - getting into Sushi Mizutani or Sushi Saito - should I just give up the dream, or is there a way I could get in? I'm happy to put down a deposit, but how should I go about even doing that? For others, will I need reservations or are they amenable to walk-ins? I know I'll just queue at places like Rokirinsha, but do I need a slot for Bird Land, etc?

3) Finally, I love trains and plan to love temples. Day trip to Kyoto worth it? And where would you eat?

4) Oh - finally, finally - when should I expect to attempt reservations? I'm guessing September 1, but hoped to make up for my lack of assistance with a lot of lead time.

Thanks, truly, for any advice. It's been stunningly difficult to suss out information on the web, and this board had never led me wrong in the past.

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  1. Lots of things to discuss here. First things first, you need to learn about a dozen basic Japanese phrases that will allow you to order and eat in these restaurants. Usually, the more expensive the restaurant the higher the likelihood is that the host or servers speak English and can take your reservation over the phone. That also means they will probably have an English menu as well.

    Kyoto is 3 hours by Shinkansen so not worth it in my opinion. Maybe consider Nikko if you want your temple fix or take a hike up Mt Takao for small shrines and beautiful views. Both are much more realistic uses of your time than Kyoto. To put it in US terms, it's the equivalent of being in San Francisco and going to Los Angeles to look at the Hollywood sign for a day. The geographic distance is similar, I think. More later...

    1 Reply
    1. re: Sushi Otaku

      Good advice from Sushi about Kyoto. That would be an extremely long, tiring day, and I say this as someone who loves Kyoto. Nikko or even Hakone would be a better option, but one can easily spend 4 days in Tokyo and barely scratch the surface both sightseeing and food wise.

    2. For me, the true experience of Tokyo comes from eating with the locals at yatais, stand bars, and neighborhood izakayas. Michelin star restaurants are fine but jump in the deep end of the pool with the residents.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Sushi Otaku

        This is great advice on Kyoto and much appreciated - it would be a shame to spend so much time on the train (a fear I had and needed confirmed). As for Tokyo, I think you're absolutely right, and it's good to keep that in mind. That said, are there any particularly tasty or interesting local spots you'd recommend? I'll be staying around Asakusa, though wandering far and wide, and would appreciate a nudge in the right direction. While most of my memorable travel experiences have come from the people and my surroundings, I always enjoy including some tasty finds as well.

        1. re: izzie1183

          Asakusa (along with Ueno) is a great place to try the food of "Old Tokyo". Go to TimeOut Tokyo and you'll find a lot of referrals that might fit your criteria. I know there is a 300+ year old Unagi restaurant in Asakusa that I wanted to try. You're in a good spot for traditional food