I recently got back from a 2 week trip to Tokyo and Kyoto and can say I’ve eaten some of the best meals of my life in Japan. This country has safely secured a spot in my heart as I’ve fallen in love with it for the second time. It’s such an incredible place, combining the ultramodern with the traditional. While I don’t speak Japanese, there’s something about Japan that just makes sense. The trains run like clockwork, it’s easy to get around, the people are friendly and helpful and the food is to die for. I highly recommend everyone visit Japan at least once in their life, and if you’ve already planned a trip and are looking for some amazing meals to tantalize your tastebuds, keep reading.
Restaurants I recommend eating at in Tokyo:
We enjoyed the food and atmosphere at this popular Izakaya (Japanese version of a pub where you snack on food,) so much that we went there for dinner twice. There’s an english menu, staff are friendly, and the chef was not only happy to pose for a photo after our meal he even got out his iPhone so he could capture the moment too. Try to get a seat at the counter so you can watch the chefs prepare the food, however, if you are a non-smoker you may prefer a tatami table or private room.
The great thing about this place is trying a few dishes, deciding what you like and then ordering more as servings are small and staggered (think of it as Japanese tapas). The fried chicken (Karage) was full of flavour, but I recommend making use of the condiments on the table and add some sauce and chilli for an extra kick. The cold soba (Zaru Soba) with dipping sauce is a nice addition to mix things up. Served on a bamboo box, covered in ice, make sure to lift up the top box as there is a second serving hidden underneath. We also tried a variety of skewers (Yakitori) including roasted green peppers, tomatoes wrapped in meat, chicken with leek skewers (my favourite), chicken with plum sauce skewers (hubby’s favourite), beef skewers and rice. For an all round great Izakaya experience, I highly recommend Torigen Shinjuku Nishiguchi.
Address: 1-12-7 Nishishinjuku | 1F-2F 2nd Shinsei Bldg., Shinjuku 160-0023, Tokyo Prefecture
Access: JR Shinjuku Station West Exit 3-minute walk, Subway Shinjuku Station 2-minute walk
Hours: Lunch Monday – Friday 11:30 – 14:00 Saturday & Sunday 11:30 – 16:30 / Dinner: 16:30 – 23:30
On our previous visit to Tokyo we walked up and down the street struggling to find this restaurant. Persistence paid off and we couldn’t wait to go again this trip. (*Tip, walk from Shibuya train station up the hill along Dogenzaka Street, the restaurant is a few blocks up on your left. There’s a black and white sign with kanji script out front, the restaurant is down some stairs.) The menu has a lot of variety and is in English with pictures. The salt chicken skewers were perfectly charred. The fried chicken was crisp and coated in delicious spices. I loved the Agedashi tofu but hubby wasn’t a fan, maybe because it had a creamy smooth texture he wasn’t used to. Like many Japanese restaurants, the best seats in the house are at the counter, so you can watch the chefs, as their skills are often quite an art form.
Address: 2-10-10 Dogenzaka | B1F Sekaido Bldg., Shibuya 150-0043, Tokyo Prefecture
Access: 3 minute walk from Shibuya station
Hours: 4pm- 4am
We stumbled upon Saizeriya on our previous visit to Japan and thought we had found a hidden gem. We didn’t realise it’s actually a franchise with restaurants all over the place, easy to spot once you recognise the sign. There’s an English menu, serving mostly Italian food. When you’re ready to order just hit the green button on your table to summons a waiter. The meat doria dish is our favourite; it’s kind of like a lasagna (mince meat, bechamel sauce over rice). Portions are small (and cheap) so we like to share a pizza and pasta or two. Don’t go out of your way to find this restaurant as it’s pretty basic but keep it in mind as a great safe option for a cheap, cheerful meal if you’re craving variety and need a break from Japanese food.
Address: Check their website for locations as there are way too many to list
Hours: Each stores hours vary but generally it’s open from 11am-11pm
Afuri Ramen $-$$
One thing I love about Japan is the ease at which you can get a bottle of water. I like my water and it was VERY humid, so I frequently suffered desert mouth. There are vending machines all over the place, making it easy to stay hydrated. The idea of ordering my food through a vending machine however was quite daunting.
When you walk into Afuri you will see a vending machine with pictures of different types of ramen. Fortunately there are English instructions next to the machine. Insert your money, select your ramen, hand your ticket to a staff member and take a seat at the counter. Things run pretty smoothly at Afuri and before you know it your bowl of ramen will be sitting in front of you. It’s that simple.
The Yuzu ramen is their signature dish but we couldn’t go past the Kara-tsuyu Tsukeman with chilli powder and delicious dipping sauce you dunk your noodles into. It’s rare for hubby not to share his food with me, but when I finished my small bowl of noodles, no amount of puppy dog eyes and pouting was going to work. He flat out refused to share his large bowl. It was THAT good we ate at both the Nakameguro and Ebisu store.
Address: Nakameguro store – 1F Nakameguro Arena, 1-23-1 Kamimeguro, Meguro-ku, Tokyo OR
Ebisu store – 1F 117 Bld., 1-1-7 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
(Check the website for more locations)
Hours: 11:00am – 5:00am
The Great Burger $$-$$$
The name says it all. These burgers are big, juicy and full of flavour. All burgers come with a side of fries but don’t get too excited. While the chips are crunchy and tasty, it’s a VERY small serve. Located between Omotesando and “Cat Street” in Harajuku, this cool joint pays homage to America, decked out with 60’s/70’s memorabilia. Try to get there early or be prepared to wait in line as this place is very popular.
Address: Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 1F 6-12-5
Hours: Mon – Fri 11:30 – 23:00 / Sat & Sun 9:00 – 23:00
Shake Shack $$-$$$
While it isn’t exactly authentic to Japan, Shake Shack is still a novelty for us Aussies, so we had to pay it a visit at least once… okay maybe twice. It’s been four years but the shack burger, cheese fries and chocolate shake were just as a good as I remember. The first location in Meiji-jingu Gaien is pretty much a replica of the original one in NYC, located in a park setting, however it was a little bit out of the way for us so I would recommend going to the Ebisu location as it’s right near the train station.
Address: 1-6 Ebisu Minami, Shibuya, Tokyo Prefecture
Henry’s burgers $-$$
What these burgers lack in size, they make up for in taste. Two soft buns hold a juicy little meat pattie, melted cheese, lettuce, tomato and a tangy secret sauce . The beef is 100% wagyu but instead of mincing the meat, Henry’s chops it coarsely, forms a meatball that goes on the grill and is then ‘smashed’ flat in order to sear the meat faster and lock in the juices.
The menu is limited to two types of burgers, Menu A for a single pattie or Menu B for a double pattie. While it isn’t exactly filling, it makes for a perfect snack on the go, especially as seating is limited to about four stools.
Address: 1-36-6 Ebisunishi, Shibuya 150-0021, Tokyo Prefecture
Hours: 11:00 to 20:00
Satou Steakhouse $$$
I’d read that Satou Steakhouse is the third best Teppenyaki in the world and after eating there I believe it. Let me start by saying I’m not that big on meat but I’ve never had anything like this before. Satou uses Matsusaka beef, black-haired Wagyu which has a high fat-to-meat ratio. After placing our order, the chef presented us with a huge piece of beautifully marbled raw meat before grilling it to perfection. The beef literally melted in my mouth. It was incredible! While it is on the pricier side, it’s definitely worth it. I recommend going for lunch and choosing one high grade beef and the special, then sharing as the higher fat content might make you feel full quickly. Don’t be put off by the massive line out front, it’s for the butcher next door. You’ll find the restaurant right next to it, up a step staircase.
Address: Musashino-shi, Tokyo Kichijojihon cho 1-1-8
Access: JR Chuo Line Kichijoji Station north exit 1-minute walk
Hours: Mon-Fri 11: 00 – 14: 30 / 17: 00～20: 00 Saturday & Sunday 11: 00 – 14: 30 /16: 30 – 20: 30
Priya Indian $$-$$$
If a restaurant is full of Japanese locals it’s safe to say it’s a good restaurant, not a tourist trap. The same goes for international cuisines. We knew we were on to a good thing when the Indian owner greeted us and we noticed a lot of Indian families eating. This restaurant not only boasts excellent service with very attentive staff, but the chicken in the curries was so tender and full of flavour we rapidly descended in to a full blown food coma. We ordered samosas, the mild butter chicken and the spicy chicken vindaloo. The roti was good but I definitely recommend you order the naan as it was so soft and fluffy I didn’t want to stop eating it.
Address: Hongoku Bldg. 3F, 5-2-25, Hiroo, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo, Japan 150-0012
Access: less than 2 minutes walk from the Hiroo station (Exit 2) in the Hibiya line.
Hours: Lunch 11am – 4pm/Dinner 4pm – 11pm
This place was such a pleasant surprise. Not only is it a bit of fun, but the food is delicious! It was towards the end of our trip and we were in need of a change in cuisine. As fantastic as all of our meals had been, every one needs a bit of variety and I was craving some veggies. Sometaro is very popular with both locals and tourists alike, specialising in Okonomiyaki (savoury Japanese style pancake) that you cook at your table.The restaurant is tatami style so take your shoes off as you enter and put them in the plastic bag provided. Each table has it’s own teppanyaki hotplate so it tends to get very hot, and while there are fans scattered around the restaurant as well as hand held fans on offer, it might be best to avoid going here in the peak of summer.
Now for the fun part. There’s an English menu with clear, easy to follow instructions on how to cook your Okonomiyaki but if you’re unsure, the staff are happy to help. It’s a short walk from Senso-ji and a great place to stop for lunch after seeing the temple.
Address: 2-2-2 Nishi-Asakusa, Taito-ku
Hours: 12noon-10.30pm daily
Restaurants I recommend eating at in Kyoto:
This Yakiniku (Japanese BBQ) not only serves great quality meat, but you also get to grill your meat to your liking at your table. The meat is cut to order, thinly sliced with perfect marbling so it just melts in your mouth. For the more adventurous, you can try mixed hormones, hearts or diaphragm. We took the safe route ordering assorted vegetables, Grilled shabu-shabu, Tontoro (fatty pork). Located inside the popular Teramachi shopping mall, it’s reasonably priced so you won’t have to break the bank in order to try some good quality beef.
Address: 543-2 Nakanocho, Teramachi Dori 4jo Agaru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture
Hours: Lunch Tues – Sun 11:30-2:00pm / Dinner Tues – Sat 17:00-1:00am, Sun – 11:00pm (Closed Monday)
Hafuu Honten $$$
Walking into this small restaurant gives a sense of being in a fancy restaurant while sitting in someone’s home kitchen. Sitting at the long counter gives you a front row view of all the action, as the chefs prepare your meal. I recommend the set menu for the full experience, however we didn’t have a huge appetite so opted for À la carte, ordering the Wagyu filet steak and the Wagyu filet steak with Teriyaki sauce. My mouth waters just thinking about them. While the price tag is high, it is worth every penny. Paired with beautiful wine and finishing off with a tasty dessert of blood orange sorbet and crème brûlée, Hafuu Honten served the perfect dinner. I recommend making a reservation as it’s very popular and quite small with only 16 seats at the bar, and 20 seats at tables out the back.
Address: 471-1 Sasaya-cho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto-city
Hinode Udon $-$$
Address: 36 Nanzenji Kitanobocho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto 606-8446, Kyoto Prefecture
Hours: 11am-6pm (Closed Sunday)
Most noteworthy outside of Tokyo:
Just a short train ride from Tokyo is the quaint little village Kamakura, perfect for a day trip. After visiting the Great Buddha and Hase temple, we spotted a hole in the wall kebab shop and thought we’d drop in for lunch. The owner was so friendly, telling us all about his travels around Australia 40 years ago. We got the chicken in pita with chilli and garlic sauce. The owner informed us this was the best choice. When the kebab arrived I was a bit disappointed from the lack of visual appeal but boy was it flavoursome! Perhaps a bit too overloaded with chicken for my liking as I like an even ratio of lettuce to chicken, but my husband wasn’t complaining and this certainly didn’t take away from the flavour. I highly recommend ordering the garlic and chilli sauce, it’s not really spicy, just full of tasty goodness.
Address: 1-16-27 Hase, Kamakura 248-0016, Kanagawa Prefecture
Hours: 12:00 – 10:00pm