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Ramen, Yakitori, and all things Non-Sushi in Tokyo?

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My wife and I will be doing 1 high-end sushi dinner in Tokyo, as this is all our budget (and her palette) can handle.

Thus, I was hoping to get your advice (or that you can direct me to such advice) regarding cheap/moderate, great non-sushi destinations.

My wife likes everything else for the most part. Where do you guys recommend for great ramen, yakitori (non-gizzard at least, hopefully chicken thigh, breast) etc. where we can get by not speaking English and could find ourselves armed with Japan Pocket Mifi + iphone + guidebook. Furthermore, dependent on sightseeing, timing, etc., are there particular areas of Tokyo where one could walk into any quick eatery, yakitori, ramen place etc. and it would be very good? My wife is not a foodie ha, so I can drag her along on my food excursions only to a point--outside of the 1 high-end sushi dinner, she would be interested in maybe traveling for the best tonkotsu ramen and udon noodle soup only. Thus most other lunches, meals will be a function of where we are sightseeing.

I have read about some great izakayas with solid food quality and drink value. But are these places not feasible if one does not speak Japanese? There is no English menu either right, so outside of alcohol, I highly doubt I could articulate an order for food? Thanks for any help.

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  1. Sasaya is a yakitori shop in Meguro with an English menu, although it is not a translation of the full menu. We talked about it in a thread previously. But in general I don't really know much about where in Tokyo to point to people for English speaking and reading. Personally I would suggest that if you are into food and want to experience Tokyo, to drop that requirement and persevere with advanced menu research, basic Japanese phrases, and just winging it. Regarding recommendations, we've talked about many ramen and yakitori shops here before. Suggest plumbing the archives...Also, udon is really a noodle dish and not so much regarded for the soup.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Silverjay

      Thanks Silverjay. I do agree with you on the recommendation of going to places with no English.

      Ultimately the food quality matters. My wife also feels the same, but she is more picky in her eating; for example, she does not eat beef, nor any chicken gizzards, etc.

      Thus, I have tried looking up the words for vegetables we like (e.g., scallions, mushrooms) as well as chicken breast, chicken thigh, etc.

      My hope is to go into a non-English speaking place, and simply just order beer and these items mentioned above in Japanese. My fear is that I say these things and the person either doesn't understand me, or tries to articulate that they do not have those items. At that point, it would be difficult to navigate the ordering, although these items seem common enough in most yakitori-ya. Also depending on proximity of others, prob. could try the pointing-to-food method, although imperfect.

      However, many items which I would like to try may not be revealed if we walk into a place with no English at all.

      1. re: Silverjay

        Regarding English speaking:

        There is so much detailed restaurant info info via tabelog.com, I think a Chowhound could make their way through almost any situation. With a bit of effort, it's a pretty easy system to figure out (despite the fact that it is in Japanese only), and one can find extensive photos linked to item name, maps, hours, photos of the exterior, nothing that a little bit of online sleuthing couldn't uncover.

        1. re: Steve

          Thanks to both. I will take a look at Tabelog more extensively for the non-sushi destinations now, as we secured our 1 high-end Sushi dinner (as I have only utilized it for that over the past 2 weeks). Also, as Silverjay suggested, I researched the previous threads on here, and found some good stuff regarding Fuku--they even have partial English menu and seemed to be revered on Chowhound, so may well be worth it considering the price point (and location too since we were hoping to explore the west-side night destinations of Tokyo including Shibuya, Shinjuku, etc. for a night).

      2. Any yakitori-ya is a worthwhile stop if you just learn a couple of key phrases in Japanese:

        "Do you have ___?"

        "Ok, I'll have ___ please"

        I would take a look at this link, copy, paste, and print, and you'll at least be armed to have a fun experience. I had to do this my first time too and I was highly rewarded with a great dining experience. With a yakitori-ya, the atmosphere is usually fun and lively so the wait staff is pretty patient when tourist come in to try their food. Have fun!

        http://www.bento.com/rf_yaki.html