Tokyo just punched us right in the face. The sights, the sounds, the J-Pop listening stations at Tower Records - it all makes for some serious sensory overload. And that's to say nothing of the food.
But my god, the food. The good people at Sony invited us to Tokyo with them for the first ever #SonyInTokyo, a trip to their motherland where we spent a week dominating an eating competition (wait, it wasn't an eating contest?). Wesampled as much as possible, and stuffed our suitcases with whatever wecouldn't make time for. It was a once in a lifetime experience. A rundown of some of our top #EEEEEATS, which will come in handy next time you find yourself in Tokyo.
Onigiri at 7-11 (Multiple locations)
Americans only eat sushi from7-11 if they've lost a dare and opted for the physical challenge. But in Tokyo, convenience store sushi is a thing, and popular to the point that the good stuff usually sells out after lunch. The sushi is solid, and the inari is great, but the "surprise" onigiri takes the cake. Pick whichever one speaks to you (unless you read Japanese, you won't know what you're getting, but each isfilled with something different - surprise!) and get after it. Handheld, crunchy, cheap, delicious. Those are four big boxes to check off.
Wagyu Beef at Kisoji Shinjuku (3-17-5 Shinjuku, Shinjuku) There is a lot of serious meat to be had in Tokyo and the wagyu here is ahelluva way to start your tour. Upstairs in a random, nondescript shopping center, Kisoji falls on the classy end of the shabu spectrum, but isn't stuffy by any means. Thin slices of wagyu beef, shabu-shabu'd in your piping hot bath of water and vegetables, and dunked in either the ponzu or the house specialty sesame sauce. You have to repeat the magic words, "shabu shabu," as you cook your meat or you'll be asked to leave. Both the restaurant and country. That might not true but are you brave enough to take the chance? Didn’t think so.
Tonkotsu Ramen at Ichiran 1 Chome-22-7 Jinnan, Shibuya
With so many spots to choose from, finding theperfect bowl of ramen in Tokyo can seem daunting. Ichiran aims to solve that problem by allowing you to customize your bowl as you see fit. (That they alsocook up one of the best tonkotsu broths you've ever had doesn't hurt.) After placing your order on the vending machine at the bottom of the stairs, you'll be handed a form that asks life's most important questions: how firm do you want your noodles? How spicy and rich do you want your broth? How much garlic do you want in your bowl? Fill out, hand over, and wait to be led into your private booth, where you can avoid distraction and focus on the only thing that matters - lunch.
Uni at Kyubey (8-7-6 Ginza, Chuo) One of the finest (and more expensive) sushi dens in town,Kyubey comes correct in so many ways. A single building houses five floors ofsushi bars, all owned and operated by the same 69-year-old who walks around making sure everybody is enjoying and smiling for pictures. And there's some fish involved too. The eel is perfect, the toro is butter, and the shrimp is served raw and fully twitching. But for our yen, the uni reigns supreme, sitting above the rest on a throne of...uni. If you usually don't like the stuff, you'll be converted quick. If you do, welcome to heaven - it's delicious inside.
Japanese Breakfast at Girandole in the Park Hyatt Hotel (3-7-1-2 Nishi Shinjuku, Shinjuku-Ku) Breakfast in Japan can take many forms, but for a taste of tradition, hit up Girandole at the Park Hyatt. You'll get a container of fresh and fried tofu, plates of cooked and raw fish, and bites of tamago and miso soup. It's a serious spread, so don't fill up on rice. Then again, the rice might be the best thing on the table, so do whatever you want. Regardless, you'll get to enjoy it all with one of the city's sexiest views as your backdrop. A very happy way to start your day.
Tea Ceremony at Hamarikyu Gardens (1-1 Hamarikyuteien, Chuo) You can have green tea with nearly every meal in Tokyo, but a cup of matcha at the tea house in the Hamarikyu gardens is still special. As a sightseer you'll likely stroll these grounds, in which case a pitstop here is a must. Shoes off, sandals on, and a great view from the deck. As the famous saying goes, everybody should sit cross-legged on mats cupping bowls of tea in Japan at least once.
Taiyaki at Taiyaki Hiiragi (1-4-1 Ebisu, Shibuya 150-0013) Tokyo loves itself some #SWEEEEETS, and no dessert is more fun to eat thantaiyaki. Fish-shaped waffles with sweet red bean paste inside, this small Ebisu storefront knows what it's doing. And taiyaki is all it's doing. The outer layer is crisped up to perfection, but the middle waffle and paste remain soft and gooey. A solid breakfast bite, afternoon snack, or dessert from dinner. This is pretty much what you need anytime you can't put your finger on exactly what you need.
Cocktails at Gen Yamamoto (1-6-4 Azabu-Juban, Minato-ku) You can booze on the street in Tokyo and convenience stores sell whiskey highballs in a can, so finding a drink isn't terribly difficult. But nothing from a 24-hour mart --or any other bar in the city, we're guessing - is as special as the cocktails at Gen Yamamoto. A small tucked away spot, the entire space consists of seven seats situated around a beautiful wooden slab bar, with Gen, the owner and bartender, busting out special, seasonal cocktails on the other side. We're talking muddled fava beans and shochu, daikon radish and sparkling sake, and the best Bloody Mary you've ever tasted. Ordering a la carte works, but the four or six round tasting flights are what you want.
Tsukemen at Fu-unji (2-14-3, Yoyogi, Shibuya-ku) Hole-in-the-wall ramen restaurants are all over Tokyo's streets, and Fu-unjiis a great example. It lives a few steps below the street, requires you to place your order on a machine, and has a line out the door for one of fifteen counter seats. Only difference is you're not coming here for ramen. Instead, we're having tsukemen, a bowl of chicken and fish broth, bamboo shoots, pork, and egg, with a plate of thick, springy noodles on the side. The game you play here is Dip the Noodle, Eat the Noodle. If you've never played before, no sweat, the rules are simple - dip some noodles in the broth, let them soak up as much flavor as they can, then slurp 'em up nice and loud. (Spoiler alert: everybody wins.)
Breakfast at Sushi Zanmai (Tsukiji Market, 4-4-3 Tsukiji, Chuo) If you want to wake up at 3am and reserve a spot at Tsukiji's morning tuna auction, by all means. If not, we won't hate. But we will hate if you don't get over to the market for breakfast at least once during your trip. 8am sushi awaits and good lord does it deliver. There are a couple famous spots, and they will be obvious from their crazy long lines, but we refuse to believe they are actually better than Zanmai, which shouldn't have any wait at all. Sit at the bar and order piece by piece (by piece by piece) and watch the chefs do their thing. Thespecial eel is massive, the crab is aces, and the ikura is ikura so naturallyit's a must. "But I don't want fish that early in the morning" isn't an excuse, so don't even try it.
Gyoza at Harajuku Gyoza Lou (6-2-4 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku)
Gyoza aren't asprevalent in Tokyo as one might expect, but Harajuku Gyoza Lou fills the void rather well. Like most spots around, the menu here is simple (fried, steamed,couple sides), focusing on what it does and on doing it well. We're partial to the fried guys but from the looks of it you can't go wrong with either. Both versions start off steamed, and the fried get a little extra cookin' with oil to crisp up one side. Located on a side street off the main drag between Harajuku and Omotesando, this is a solid snack for a day walking around and shopping in this part of town. Six gyoza to an order means you probably want at least two (five) batches. * * *Doppio at Omotesando Koffee (4-15-3 Jingumae, Shibuya) There are cafés in Tokyo, but a huge amount of coffee consumption comes from vending machine cans. So Omotesando is a welcome sight for tourists and locals who want something fresh to sip on. A one man operation, the guy behind the counter takes serious pride in packing and pulling espresso. A clean, double shot is pure bliss, but the milk is incredibly sweet and tasty as well, so a cappuccino or latte works too. Make sure you get one of the dessert bites from the counter with your coffee. Whatever it is, it's an absolute must.
Yakiniku at Banya (2-2-15 Konan, Minato) You're excused for not thinking of Korean barbecue when you think of Tokyo. But yakiniku, the Japanese version of the grill-your-own-meat-plus-kimchi meal, is commonplace on these streets and shouldn't be ignored. Banya is a great example and is conveniently located right near the Shinagawa train station. Slide into the small alleyway entrance and find yourself a booth. The room will probably be filled with salary men (see: suit, tie) enjoying their lunch break. Order someshort rib, some kimchi, and get to grillin'. The fatty pieces will melt andthe meaty pieces will, well, melt. At around $10-12 a head, there's nothing wrong with ordering seconds.