In a city with so many great restaurants, it would be easier to choose the worst ones. From cheap ramen joints to Michelin-starred dining rooms, attention to detail and obsession with quality keeps standards high and diners happy.
Chef Thomas Frebel fell in love with Tokyo in 2015, when he spent five weeks in the city as part of the sell-out Noma residency. He opened Inua last summer, combining Japanese ingredients and techniques with a Scandinavian sensibility. With ingredients sourced from all over Japan, the exquisite dishes constantly surprise.
Kadokawa Fujimi Bldg. 9F, Fujimi 2-13-12, Chiyoda, Tokyo; + 81 3 6683 7570
This popular restaurant has been serving up classic Edomae-style sushi since 1935 and many of Tokyo’s renowned sushi chefs got their start here. The combination of skilled hands and friendly service keeps patrons coming back. You can opt for omakase, letting the chef decide the sushi or order a set including kaiseki dishes. The chefs are very accommodating for food allergies and preferences.
7-6-8 Ginza, Chuo, Tokyo; + 81 3 3571 6523
Helmed by the jovial Takashi Saito, who got his start at Ginza Kyubey, Sushi Saito has been awarded three Michelin stars every year since 2010. The dining experience is quite relaxing compared to some other “legendary” sushi restaurants and Saito’s English is excellent. With only eight seats at the smooth cypress counter, it’s very difficult to get a reservation. There are several price options at lunch but dinner is one set course.
Ark Hills South Tower 1F, 1-4-5 Roppongi, Minato, Tokyo; +81 3 3589 4412
The Shimura family has been making tempura in Shinjuku since 1924. Choose your course and admire the seasonal flower arrangements as kimono-clad waitresses bring dish after dish of the lightest, crispest tempura. Don’t miss the delicately fried prawn heads and the crisp eel bones, which are perfect with a beer.
3-31-8 Shinjuku, Tokyo; + 81 03 3352 1012
Head to Mount Takao in Western Tokyo for an unforgettable experience at Ukai Toriyama. As you enter the traditional Japanese garden, you’ll be guided to your own private tearoom where you cook organic chicken, Wagyu beef and vegetables on a charcoal grill – with a little guidance. On summer evenings, watch fireflies drift lazily around the burbling creek.
3426 Minami-asakawa-cho Hachioji City, Tokyo; +81 42 661 0739
Settle into a private tatami room at Ningyocho Imahan and enjoy the star attraction: Kuroge Wagyu beef, which you can also buy at the Imahan butchery around the corner. The staff move elegantly, anticipating your every need, as they prepare your sukiyaki hotpot at the table, with seemingly endless top-ups of beef and vegetables. By the time you finish, you’ll feel like one of those famous Wagyu cows, yourself: pampered and full.
2-9-12 Nihonbashi Ningyocho, Chuo, Tokyo +81 3 3666 7006
Since the Edo period, Izuei has been a specialist in unagi (grilled eel). Starting as a roadside stall next to Shinobazu pond almost 300 years ago, it’s now a multi-storey institution, attracting long lines on weekends. The eel fillets at Izuei are delicious: slowly barbecued over charcoal and basted with a sweet soy sauce until they are lightly crisp on the outside and fluffy inside.
2-12-22 Ueno, Taito, Tokyo; + 81 3 3831 0954
An innovative fusion of French and Japanese cuisine, chef Yoshihiro Narisawa wears his restaurant’s Michelin stars and his classic education – he trained under Bocuse, Robuchon and Giradet – lightly. Dishes are imaginative and playful, with ingredients from local, sustainable sources. Depending on the season, you might enjoy Okinawa sea snake soup or a culinary recreation of a forest floor.
2-6-15 Minami Aoyama, Minato, Tokyo; + 81 3 5785 0799
If you were a fan of TV show Iron Chef on SBS all those years ago, you’ll want to experience the sophisticated fusion cuisine of former Iron Chef Rokusaburo Michiba. Seasonally inspired kaiseki dishes might include grilled blowfish fins, Wagyu beef cooked on a hot stone and delicate tempura of mountain vegetables.
Kanematsu Building 8F, 6-9-9 Ginza, Chuo, Tokyo; +81 3 5537 6300
Chef Shinobu Namae worked with Heston Blumenthal and Michel Bras and both have influenced his playful approach to cuisine at L’effervescence. The freshest local ingredients are used to create dishes like “Blurry lights” – that’s poached monkfish to you and me – and “Heritage” – an ode to the traditional Japanese chawanmushi savory custard.
2-26-4 Nishi-azabu, Minato, Tokyo; +81 3 5766 9500
Kanda Yabu Soba
Line up with the locals and prepare for some of the best soba you’ll ever taste at Kanda Yabu Soba. Don’t miss the light, seasonal tempura and the warm soba in duck broth. The waitresses have been singing the orders to the kitchen since the restaurant opened in 1880, though the space was rebuilt a few years ago following a fire in the original structure.
2-10 Kanda-Awajicho, Chiyoda, Tokyo; +81 3 3251 0287
Chef Zaiyu Hasegawa’s innovative dishes at Den all come with a humorous touch – you might find “ants” and emoji icons made from carrot in your salad. Seasonal kaiseki courses are designed to surprise; don’t miss the “Dentucky Fried Chicken”, which comes boxed up like fast food but stuffed with hazelnuts and mushrooms. It’s food as delicious entertainment.
2-3-18 Jingumae, Shibuya, Tokyo; +81 3 6455 5433
This sleek, shiny kitchen surrounded by counter seat is miles away from the traditional smoky yakitori joints hit up by hungry office workers. The menu goes beyond the traditional sticks of grilled chicken, with juicy, organic jidori chicken wrapped in nori, grilled pigeon, rich pork belly and delicate house-made pate all on offer.
3-42-11 Jingumae, Shibuya, Tokyo; +81 3 6447 1710
A renovated bathhouse is the surprising setting for some of Tokyo’s crispest pork cutlet. Simple sets of breaded kurobuta pork from Kagoshima are paired with tangy sauce, shredded cabbage, rice and pickles and draw in everyone from celebrities to construction workers. Just choose “hire” (fillet) or rosu (loin). Service is brisk; this is not a place to linger but rather to inhale the delicious food.
4-8-5 Jingumae, Shibuya, Tokyo; +81 3 3470 0071
Traditional shojin ryori, or Buddhist temple food, elevates humble vegetables to haute cuisine. The food at Daigo is exquisite – so much so that it has earned two Michelin stars. Enjoy course after course of carefully prepared vegetarian dishes, finished off with fresh seasonal fruit. But it’s the warmth of the family who run Daigo that makes the experience unforgettable.
2F, Forest Tower, 2-3-1 Atago, Minato, Tokyo; + 81 3 3431 0811
This article was originally published in 2019 and has been updated.
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