Updated on May 1, 2021 by Julia
Strangely, I never had any desire to visit Japan even though I have close relatives there, but I suddenly had an urge in June to book a trip. Maybe it was a new found interest in their cuisine or culture…who knows. The booking happened and I have zero regrets– only happy memories and a very very satiated stomach. Although I had originally planned for this post to talk through the different parts of Tokyo, I realize that would ultimately be MUCH too long.
So for now, here’s a comprehensive list of every where we ate, what we ate, and recommendations in the capital of Japan, Tokyo! I’ve decided not to make it as photo heavy since I plan to write individual recommendations for a couple of these restaurants!
I arrived in Tokyo at around noon, and took the train from Narita to Shinjuku. It’s crazy how timely all the transportation is here (and clean!). There are a couple ways to get from Narita Airport into the city, but I’d say the cheapest one is to take the JR train (which costs about 2900~ yen) into the city, and then use the subways from there. I believe mine stopped at Tokyo Station, and I got off there to switch to my subway line.
Note that Japanese subway stops are not exactly complicated, but, to put it nicely, “diverse.” Especially with Shibuya and Tokyo Station, there are multiple lines, but it’s not hard to navigate once you get the hang of it. However, I would consider Tokyo a walking city (or maybe I just really like walking to get every where) so I rarely used the subway unless I was traveling across the city.
By the time I arrived in the city, it was essentially dinner time. To be honest, I had gotten about two hours of sleep in the past 24 hours, so I was down to eat anything. We ended up choosing an izakaya, Hinadori, right in the heart of Kabukicho (Tokyo’s “red-light” district).
Yakitori is just chicken pieces grilled on a skewer, which I’ve never given much thought to (I think I’ve over-grilled too many of my own chickens, and I can only remember the memory of eating gross, dried chicken breasts for lunch). But the Japanese take it to another level, they’ll take any part and grill it. Also, Japan is known for raising their chickens in such a manner that they can serve it sashimi-style– essentially the outside is slightly cooked while the inner parts remain relatively raw.
Although the meal wasn’t anything impressive, I did get to try chicken butt, bonchiri, which is the fattiest area on a chicken right above the tail. The meat was so soft and fatty to the point where it just melted in my mouth. I’ve never had bonchiri before, and I would 100% order it again.
I went to bed relatively early the night before, and I knew the moment I woke up I was going to rush to get SOME type of noodles. Knowing Japan, popular places open up at 11, and some of these lines are ridiculous, especially because ramen is cheap and quick– which is perfect for the working population.
To be honest, I’ve had my fair share of ramen, but nothing that has ever stuck with me, but I’d seen a crazy number of recommendations for Fuunji, which specializes in tsukemen ramen (dipping noodles). So instead of the traditional bowl that comes in piping hot broth, you get the noodles separately (and usually a bit cold) accompanied with a hot bowl of flavorful thick sauce. You take the noodles, swirl it in the sauce, and slurp it up.
The tsukemen came with an egg, chunks of literal melt-in-your-mouth chashu, and seaweed. Fuunji is known for their rich, umami flavor, which is evident by the dollop of fish powder they place onto your broth. If heavy flavors aren’t your thing, I’d skip this, but heavy flavors are 110% MY THING. I pretty much died and went to heaven after this meal, and wish I had gotten the large portion instead. But I knew I had to save my stomach for another meal later on in the day.
I ended up exploring Shinjuku Gyeon for about an hour. If you saw me you would’ve thoughts parks were a new concept. With the amount of pollution in China, and the smells I’ve experienced in parks in China, I never go.
For some reason, I’ve realized, I’m a huge walker when I travel to new countries. There’s a three fold advantage.
- Explore/see the city in its natural state
- Get some low-impact exercise
- Get to eat more food because of extra low-impact exercise! (This one is my favorite advantage)
After essentially an entire’s afternoon photowalk from Shinjuku through Harajuku to Shibuya, one of my friend’s who studied abroad in Japan recommended I try abura soba.
Noodles twice in a day? 250% down, no regrets (okay, maybe a little regrets since my stomach doesn’t necessarily digest wheat flour or most oils too well…).
Apparently, abura soba, itself, isn’t as popular, especially with ramen taking every one’s hearts. Essentially, I’d explain it as a broth-less “oil noodles”
It looks simple from the top, with some dried seaweed, scallion, bamboo shoots, and chashu, but there’s a delicious pool of shoyu sauce and pork grease at the bottom of your bowl. You mix it up, and then add the chili oil and vinegar (which are placed on the counter) to your liking. Additionally, they have a pot of fresh onion topping. I actually had no idea what it was, but when the man next to me literally COVERED his noodles in a mountain of onion topping, I was like: “Yo, it’s gotta be good.” And, yo, it was good.
The dish looks simple, but the oils can get heavy, so maybe I wouldn’t recommend this for dinner, but it’s always an interesting experience learning about new cuisines!
Of course, with some pretty heavy spices and oils sitting in my stomach, you have to end the day with some ice cream.
I ended up at Pariya because of some of the dank reviews I saw online. Unfortunately, they ran out of the hojicha flavor that I was hankering to try, and ended up getting the rose and pumpkin cheesecake. I’d definitely say floral flavors aren’t my thing, but the pumpkin cheesecake had chunks of cheesecake, and if that’s not the bomb dot com, then I don’t know what is.
Since I felt like I had pretty much walked the length of my side of Tokyo, I decided to make my way to the opposite end to Asakusa. I wanted to make the most of my time since my boyfriend was arriving to Tokyo that night and I wanted to get back to Shinjuku in time for his arrival.
I arrived at Senso-ji with zero expectations. I expected to explore the ancient temple, walk around the area, and head to a different neighborhood. But what I ended up experiencing was another level of immersion.
The path leading towards the temple is filled with tiny stores and food stalls, many serving traditional treats, selling trinkets, souvenirs. I could’ve explored for hours, and it was just a complete hit on the senses.
To be honest, I had no idea where I was going to eat, but coincidentally I had walked past Gyukatsu Motomura the night before when I was making my way to abura soba. All I saw was a massive line coming out of a tiny staircase and I had made a mental note to try it. Lo and behold, there’s a branch called Asakusa Gyukatsu right across from the temple. Coincidence? I think not.
I figured since I had seen such a long line during dinner time, there had to be a long line during lunch, so I wandered around until 2 PM. I still ended up waiting 40 minutes.
Was it worth it? Hell yeah.
I’d actually only heard of donkatsu, the pork cutlet, and had no idea they made a beef cutlet. The beef is fried delicately, just like donkatsu, but typically left medium rare. They give you 3 options for sizes, and I chose the 130 gram portion with extra yam (because it was recommended online). I had no idea what the yam was for, but the set cost 1400 yen– lunch sets are super worth it in Tokyo!
You’re given your own stone grill to continue cooking the beef to your liking. The inside is ridiculously tender, and as someone who is more tentative about eating medium-rare meats (due to countless amount of extreme food poisoning that have occurred in China), even I would suggest not over grilling! They have several ways of eating the gyukatsu, you can either dip it in the sauce, or do it as I preferred which was to grate rock salt over it and place a dollop of wasabi. To be honest, your food so eat it as you wish.
Also, turns out, the grated Chinese yam (called torero) is actually to pour onto your rice! I have no idea how they make it, but the consistently looks like it should be mashed potatoes, but it’s much more viscous. It’s only 100 yen to add to the set and it completely changes the taste of the rice. You pour it over your rice, add in a little bit of soy sauce and mix it up. I never finish my bowls of rice, but this time I wished I had more stomach space for another bowl!
Because I knew Bernie was coming in for the night, I didn’t want to overeat, but I knew there was a Saryo Tsujiri (a popular matcha establishment, and any one who knows me well knows I’m obsessed with anything matcha flavored) at Tokyo Skytree. Unfortunately, I was so stuffed I couldn’t get myself to try their well-known waffle ice cream that comes with mocha and red bean (ugh, so much regret), but I ended up with a seasonal matcha yogurt that had a tang of lime. It was super refreshing, but nothing to write home about. If only I had that second stomach.
Since Bernie arrived pretty late, we ended up going to Piss Alley (which, in theory, sounds like a place you wouldn’t want to go for dinner), but it’s just a tiny path of mainly izakayas. We chose a random one and ordered a meat and veggie set. Nothing too memorable, unfortunately.
Since it was the first day with Bernie here, we wanted to get a top notch meal for lunch. My aunt recommended Sushi No Midori, and as a local, I had to trust her. We went to the Shibuya location, and although I had planned to get there at around 10:30 to start lining up, sadly, if my body doesn’t want to get up, it doesn’t want to get up. Fortunately, when we got there at 10:50, we were still 27th in line and waited about 30-40 minutes for a counter seat (always get the counter seat! It’s 100% worth watching all the chefs at work).
If any one knows me, they know I hate waiting in line. In college, I used to eat lunch at 2 to 3 PM just to avoid the lines in the cafeteria. But the thing is in Japan– the food is 100% worth sometimes standing in the freezing cold for.
We both got the Ultimate Sushi-Assortment, and the only word I can use the describe this meal is dank. I completely and irrevocably understand why people are willing to wait 2.5 hours for a meal here. We got a counter seat and watched as our chef sliced and laid out our pieces of fish.
There was extra fatty tuna, medium fatty tuna, sea bream, scallop, salmon roe, shrimp argentina with a dollop of caviar (my first time having caviar!), tamale, conger eel, a hand roll, and uni. For only 2000 yen. This is the ultimate definition of a value meal.
Before I came to Japan, I must’ve eaten some nasty uni because I remember taking a bite and thinking “How could someone want to eat something so disgusting?” I think whatever I had eaten had gone bad because it tasted like the sea (and not in a good way) and did not go down well.
This uni. Was magic. It was so soft and buttery and left such an amazing impression that I ended up ordering another individual serving even though I was pretty much stuffed.
Even though we were ridiculously full, Bernie only had one more full day in Tokyo, so we had to hit up one of the most popular ramen joints in Tokyo– Mutekiya. Just to preface, for the longest time on this trip, Bernie ranked this as his #1 meal (and it was only the 2nd real meal he had had!). Eventually, we hit up Kyoto and Osaka, and this place might be #3 now, but he said the broth surprised him so much, it left an extremely memorable impression.
We both ordered the most popular menu item– the Mutekiya Ramen Nikutama. I think what surprised Bernie the most was how flavorful the broth was. Apparently they make the broth three times a day, creating a savory but very subtle pork broth– it wasn’t overly heavy, creamy or salty as I find some ramen broths, but definitely did not lack any depth of flavor.
The chashu was hearty, but so delicate that when you picked it up with your chopsticks, it was sure to fall apart. Even though in theory, three slices of chashu sound quite small, they were so thick that even near the end of my bowl, I still had some left over. The eggs were cooked to perfection– I mean just look at these pictures. That orange is exactly what I’m looking for when I receive my bowl of ramen! The bamboo shoots and greens perfectly complemented the dish, and the noodles are more of medium width (my favorite! I love noodles, but thinner ones rank lower on my list), and are very bouncy.
Recommend? 110%. Just be prepared to wait outside for an hour like we did!
On our last full day in Tokyo and we couldn’t NOT hit up Tsukiji Fish Market. Although I had originally planned for us to wake up at around 2-3 AM to hit up the auctions, I knew the minute I saw Bernie snoring away that it was not going to happen.
Tsukiji Fish Market is a must-see place in Tokyo where they bring in the freshest catches of the day. There’s the Inner Market, and then my favorite, the Outer Market where all the restaurants and food stalls are. Because these restaurants and food stalls were located at the heart of some of the freshest seafood in the world, they get these ingredients and make it into some of the most delicious food you’ve ever had. When we first arrived, it seemed relatively empty, and we had no idea where we were going, so we ended up a small kaiser don place. I ordered the uni inure don (sea urchin and salmon roe rice). As you can see, I’m obsessed with uni, and it was downright delicious.
Luckily, I hadn’t filled myself up too much because we ended up discovering the marketplace right after, and that’s where the real eating began. From fresh oyster, blowtorched scallop sea food, tamago (sweet egg omelette), and daifuku. We were so stuffed that we ended up walking to a park and giving ourselves an hour to simply digest.
Later in the day, we ended up in Akihabara, famous for its abundance of electric stores and maiden cafes. However, we opted to go to a cat cafe instead of the maiden cafes. Understandably, the maiden cafes are a part of the culture there, but we decided cats>maids. We ended up at Mocha Cat Cafe which has several branches across Tokyo. They charge a set price for every 10 minutes, so we stayed for 20 minutes (and I wouldn’t really stay in any longer, to be honest, 10 minutes would’ve been enough) just to pet some of the kittens. Cats have never seemed so endearing to me. (Is it just me but is every one, person or animal, just extremely polite and friendly?)
To be honest, on our last night, we had run out of ideas of what to eat. There was a lot we wanted to save for Kyoto and Osaka, and I had, at this point, out-carbed myself (who knew this was possible). Eating out in Japan means very little vegetables, and very little fiber…if you get my gist.
And since it was raining, we decided to spend our last night in Shinjuku. Fortunately, we had an extremely famous historical tempura restaurant right around the corner, called Tsunahachi, which is popular with both local and tourists. Unfortunately, I’m terrible at reading directions, so we ended up at the other famous tempura restaurant right across from it, Funabashiya Honten. Whoops.
You purchase a set meal, which typically includes a variety of seafoods and veggies, and the chef fries the individual pieces in front of you. Supposedly, they time to the pace of your meal.
Each customer is given their own set tray with some miso soup. You can either dip the tempura in the sauce or in the pink salt. But not in both, as I was kindly reminded by the chef when I tried to (woops!). But hey, again, if you want to do some hardcore double-dipping, it’s your food.
Apparently, all their tempura is fried in sesame oil. The batter is quite thin so it’s not overwhelming, and I would say the seafood pieces didn’t feel greasy. However, when it came to the vegetables such as the pepper, the batter fell off, and you could definitely see/taste the more overwhelming oil flavor. It may be because there were so many other great restaurants that we had experienced before, but I wasn’t completely taken with the reputation of the restaurant.
I think the most unique piece was this one near the end which was a mix of shrimp and vegetables.
And that, unfortunately, wraps up our “mini” 4-day food exploration of Tokyo.
And in terms of ranking of everything we ate in Tokyo (links provided to their websites if available, however, some might be completely in Japanese):
- Fu-unji: I’ll never ever forget the flavor of the thick broth. I am now desperately searching for places that serve authentic tsukemen in Shanghai
- Sushi No Midori: AKA where I fell in love with uni
- Tsukiji Fish Market: Cause fresh seafood, abundance of food, lively markets. This is a must-visit
- Asakusa Gyukatsu: I think what sold me was the grated yam mixed in with the rice/barley. Definitely something very unique and extremely memorable. Also, just having your own stone grill is just kind of cool in general
- Mutekiya: Again, the broth is an amazing hit on the senses. Also, the chashu is out of this world
- Abura Soba: An interesting experience, but I wouldn’t be hankering to return
- Funabashiya Honten: Okay tempura, but don’t have much of a desire to return, unfortunately.
- Hinadori: It was great that I got to try chicken butt, but otherwise, it was more of a social meal than me really enjoying the food
- The random izakaya we went to when Bernie first arrived (as you can tell, I’m just not a huge fan of grilled meats? Or maybe I’m doing it wrong?)