Tokyo is massive - bigger and more populous than New York - and a trip here should be full of food. You've probably heard all about the multi-hundred dollar dinners and if you can, you should two one or two expensive sushi meals. But there's so much more that Tokyo has to offer from ramen to traditional izakayas to katsu and more. It’s why we’ve broken this guide down into different categories, so you can easily find the types of food you might be looking for, plus other Japanese staples you might not have known you needed to try.
A few tips:
Japanese people take immense pride in everything they do, including serving you food and drinks - without being tipped. What this means is that you can expect excellent service, and you can also expect that restaurants aren’t always going to bend over backwards to accommodate your picky eating. If you’re used to “no pickles, and is there a gluten-free option?” you’re likely to be (politely) refused.
Rules. Lots of them in Japan. Here’s our best piece of advice: just try to be polite as possible and behave like you’re actually a guest in a foreign country. For example, don’t cross the street unless there’s a walk signal - even if the crosswalk is barely big enough for a car and there’s nobody in sight.
If you need a snack or coffee, it’s acceptable, and even encouraged, to grab some packaged sushi and Japanese candies (and fried chicken) from a 7-11, Family Mart, or Lawson. How did Lawson, a convenience store that originally opened in Ohio, become a huge Japanese company? We have no idea, but either way, snacks at the “konbini” are made fresh daily. Just know, there are hardly any public trash cans around the city. So either dispose of your trash at the konbini or make sure you have deep pockets.
Taxi doors open for you, on the left side only.
Japan is still a cash-based economy, which means you should always carry some on you. If you’re going to check out a ramen shop or a local bar in Golden Gai, make sure you have yen. If you suddenly realized your wallet’s empty, 7-11’s international ATM is always there for you.
Izakayas are like Japanese gastropubs, and Uoshin is a traditional izakaya and a great introduction to Japanese cuisine. This place specializes in fresh seafood from all around Japan, so you’ll want to try different fresh, grilled and boiled fish dishes. The nitsuke boiled fish dishes are stewed in a hot pot of soy sauce, sake, sugar, and ginger. If you just landed in Tokyo and have no idea what you’re doing food-wise, this is a good way to ease yourself into things and get a feel for what you’ll eat on your trip.
Fusion food is common in Japan, and Ukyo is one of the best places for it in Tokyo. Ukyo combines Japanese flavors with French bistro cooking, but less rich and buttery than usual. Expect to eat things like crab-cream croquettes, uni shumai dumplings, and their specialty: egg rice (raw egg mixed with Japanese rice) with shaved truffles on top. Ukyo is upscale but still casual, which makes it a great spot for a nicer dinner during the week without having to get too dressed up. Regardless of when you go, be prepared to drink sake - Ukyo has more than 250 kinds.
In Tokyo, the typical 9-5 office worker has a name: the salaryman. But instead of 9-5, Japanese salarymen work 9am-9pm (at least), always wear black suits and white shirts, and when they’re finally done with the workday they drink the night away with co-workers and clients before waking up and doing the exact same thing the next day. One staple spot in the Salaryman-infested Shinbashi neighborhood is Torishige - a yakitori restaurant, a common type of restaurant where you eat grilled chicken skewers, but this one is a standout. Get the tsukune (ground chicken) or momo niku (chicken thigh) if you want to play it safe, or go for the raw chicken sashimi appetizer or hatsu (heart) skewers. Feel free to drink too much and take a nap on the streets for the real salaryman experience after your meal - we swear it’s more socially acceptable (and way safer) than doing the same thing in other large cities.
The modern twist that Ryugin puts on traditional Japanese kaiseki (multi-course) meals has made this a must-visit. Expect dinner to cost $400 or more per person for a meal with both seasonal meat and fish. So, what does $400 get you exactly? Things like “olive beef,” which is meat from cows that are fed only leaves from olive trees. The space matches the food: a modern spin on traditional Japanese style. The dining room is quiet and extremely formal (so formal they ask you not to wear strong fragrances that could get in the way of the food), so make sure you’re cool with that if the price tag alone hasn’t already made you squirm.
Yamachou is a great udon spot ideal for a casual afternoon meal. It’s a nice place to hang, with jazz playing almost constantly in the background. It’s known for tempura udon and a duck udon, which is our favorite thing here. Depending on the weather outside, get your noodles in a hot bowl of soup or cold served with dipping sauce.
Nodaiwa is an old-school, traditional Japanese spot known for their unagi (eel). It’s historical, elegant, and on the more expensive side (you’ll need a reservation), but not so extreme that you’ll need to empty your bank account for a meal here. It’s also located right near Tokyo Tower, so make it a point to catch a 360-degree view of the city before or after you eat.
Katsu is a breaded and fried pork or chicken cutlet, and it’s a traditional Japanese dish usually served with rice and shredded cabbage. Imakatsu is hands-down our favorite spot for it because they manage to keep things crispy without being dry or overly fried and greasy. It sounds simple, but finding the right balance can be tough, and Imakatsu has it down to a science. You want to focus on their chicken tenderloin, but if it’s your first time, consider getting a mixed platter so you can try both their menchi (minced) and rosu (loin) cuts of meat too.
Nurunji is a Korean barbecue spot that will make you feel like you’re in the middle of a K-Pop music video. The crowd is young, the servers look like they could be in a boy band, and there will be a big screen playing Gangnam Style-esque videos while you cook your meats. If you want to get a sense of what Korean pop culture is like and eat excellent fatty pork belly (samgyeopsal, our favorite) with loads of garlic, this is the spot. It feels like a party in here, and everyone around you will be drinking and having a night.
There are a ton of curry spots around town, so stick with us when we say CoCo Ichibanya, a chain, is really great. It’s good to know about when you’re wandering around and need a quick and convenient bite without trying to guess what’s good nearby, or make your meal a whole ordeal. Get the traditional katsu curry and add your own level of spice. Warning: a 10 on their spicy spectrum is a bad idea.
If you had a Japanese grandmother who wanted to make you a large bowl of chicken noodle soup, she’d (hopefully) make the equivalent of Afuri’s chicken and yuzu-based ramen. The place itself is only a counter (almost all ramen shops are) where you order classic ramen bowls from a ticketing machine in front and then basically surround the cooks. The broth here is light, but the grilled char-siu (pork) provides just enough substance and smokiness. Afuri is also in a cool neighborhood and is ideal for an on-the-go ramen stop when you still want to be able to move after you eat. Also, hangovers - it’s good for those.
Shinbusakiya is the spot for miso ramen, which is generally on the saltier side. But the noodles are why we come to Shinbusakiya - they’re more like Chinese egg noodles than traditional ramen noodles, and they’re very good. The Shibuya neighborhood, home to the famous Shibuya crossing, is normally packed during the day with shoppers, but is also a hotspot for bars and clubs, so there’s nothing wrong with finding your way here after a long night.
Funami Zaka isn’t your traditional ramen place, but that doesn’t mean it’s not great. We accidentally stumbled across this place a few years ago and have been going back ever since. And we go for one thing in particular - the clam ramen - which is not common in Tokyo and less heavy. The space feels like you’re sitting in a fisherman’s bar - there are nets and nautical trinkets - but it’s not kitschy at all.
This places serves tsukemen, which differs from ramen in that the noodles in tsukemen come separately from the soup to be dipped into the usually-thicker broth. This place is incredibly hard to find, but once you track it down near Yoyogi and Shinkiju Park, you’ll be rewarded with a shrimp-based tsukemen. This is a great spot to visit if you’re seeking out a truly excellent noodle adventure in Tokyo.
If you’re looking for a classic, heavy tonkotsu ramen, this is the spot. The famed Ippudo is only a couple minutes walk down the street, but if given a choice between the two, we choose Tsukumo Ramen every single time. Their noodles are heavier, their creamy tonkotsu soup comes in a variety of styles (like miso or soy sauce), and the place specializes in cheese ramen (to be clear, that means you can add a huge mound of freshly-grated gouda cheese to your bowl).
You came to Tokyo prepared to drop $300 per person on excellent sushi, but you forgot to make a necessary reservation. Thankfully, Sushi Tomita is here for your last-minute needs, it’s less well known, but as good as any of the classics. After walking in you’ll be escorted into a basement with a six-seat counter that’s cozy and cool. You could sit here, but if you have a party of four to six, try making a last-minute reservation in the private dining room. A secret door past the counter will lead you to a beautiful space with tatami (Japanese strawmat) floors. You can sit down at your own private countertop where the sushi chef will personally serve you all night. It’s the exact same food and price as the counter, but with a more intimate experience - and it’s great to be able to talk to you friends without having to worry about annoying locals trying to have a quiet meal.
Foreigners usually pay more attention to places like Sukibayashi Jiro or Sushi Saito, but the sushi chef at Umi makes you feel right at home, which goes a long way when you’re spending $300 or more on a meal. Your dinner at Umi will feel warm and welcoming - plus, the food is awesome too.
In terms of price, Anjo isn’t the lowest of lows nor is it the highest of highs. It’s a nice, modern place where you’ll spend $150 tops for a fantastic meal. The chef here is younger, but his skills are just as good as some of the veterans out there. Our move is to start off with a glass of champagne at the counter while the chef prepares the omakase, then work your way through the sushi alongside a sampler of a few of the chef’s recommended sakes.
This is great bang-for-your-buck sushi. This is the kind of place we could eat every day, thanks in part to an excellent lunch special that will leave you pretty full for $15. You can also get a full-blown sushi dinner and drinks for around $60, and you won’t find this kind of quality sushi in a casual setting for that price anywhere else in Tokyo.
Sushi Ishii is one of our favorites for a nicer meal that’s still reasonable. It’s a simple yet pretty space that’s on the smaller side, with only a couple of tables and a sushi counter. But between the sushi chef who is friendly and will talk your ear off whether or not you understand any Japanese and the flexible pricing (let him know how much you’d like to spend and he’ll tailor the omakase), it’s a great spot to know about.
You owe it to yourself to try a conveyor-belt sushi spot if you’ve never experienced it before. Unlike in the US, conveyer-belt sushi in Japan isn’t considered corny at all. It’s quick, convenient, affordable, and a great way to try a lot of different stuff. Magurodonya Miura Misakiko is far up north in Ueno, but it’s near Ueno Park and the National Museum, two big tourist attractions that you should visit while you’re here anyway. Hit this place for lunch in between sight seeing, or dinner once you finish at the museum and are tired of using your brain. Magurodonya Miura Misakiko is located in a row of other conveyor-belt spots near the train station, but it’s the best of the bunch. Eat here over anywhere nearby, and see how many mini sushi plates you can stack up.
Some conveyor-belt sushi spots can feel grungy, but Mawashi Zushi Katsu does not. While the conveyer-belt spot Miuramisa has a more convenient location, Mawashi wins for sushi quality. There’s usually a line here, but the wait is manageable and they have the seating process down to a science. The sushi chefs will also make some specialty items for you, and they’re willing to keep things basic with tempura or California roll if you need. Just don’t ask for a tempura-California roll - that’s crossing the line.
The Ginza neighborhood is famous for traditional cocktail bars where guys in fancy white shirts are excessively stirring martinis. And Bar Brick is our favorite of the bunch. Stick with classics like an Old Fashioned or Manhattan, or test out the large selection of Japanese whiskeys on hand. It has a classic 1920s speakeasy atmosphere, which is cool to see in a Tokyo setting.
Head to Bar Amber for the craziest fruit-based cocktails you’ve ever had. Whatever they have fresh on hand that day will be turned into a drink, whether it’s passionfruit or strawberries. It’s a great place to start your night or end with a casual nightcap.
You’ll find the cool Japanese crowd at Bar Tram. The cocktails here are mostly absinthe-based, and they’ll have you speaking incoherently after one or two. Start with a classic absinthe drip and see where the night takes you. And don’t feel bad if you start the night here and never make it anywhere else - it’s happened to us a few too many times.
Bar North Marine Drive
Bar North Marine Drive is a record bar in Shibuya that plays American music and takes their drinks and music very seriously. Think of the traits you’d associate with Samurai warriors, and apply those same principals to cocktails and records.
Gen is a tiny, eight-seat cocktail bar with just one guy making drinks. It’s a very personal experience - everyone drinks from a cocktail tasting menu made up of smaller, but very strong drinks.
Into craft beer? This is a great spot to hang and test out all the local Japanese craft options before a night out in Roppongi.
If you’re unfamiliar with Golden Gai, it’s a neighborhood of themed bars each with maybe eight seats at most, all stacked on top of each other in one giant fire hazard. Golden Gai has become very touristy in the last few years, but you’ll still want to check it out if you know where to go. One of our favorites is Bar Blue Dragon, an upper-level bar on one of the middle blocks. There’s no better way to tell you how to find it in Golden Gai, but if you manage to track it down, try the coffee-bean-infused shochu drink. And if you can’t find it, don’t worry - pick any tiny bar in the neighborhood and you’ll have a great time.
Goss is a self-serve wine bar where you pick wine out from different machines that serve you out of a spout. It sounds silly and touristy, but it’s actually not, and you’ll find mostly locals here. It’s a great place to pop in for a late afternoon drink after shopping, or a pre-dinner drink.
Stand T Bar
Stand T Bar is a very casual place where you can grab a beer and have some snacks. The main attraction here is the fact it looks right at the old Tokyo train station, which makes it a great place to hang and people watch outside any time of day.
Sasagin is technically an izakaya, but we treat it as a bar because it has one of the largest selections of Japanese sake we’ve ever seen, and you can try them all in the casual setting. They may ask you to order a small plate of food or two, but at some point you’ll want it anyway. The old guy with a mustache here is basically a sake sommelier, and he’s happy to give you suggestions of what to try. It’s in a random part of town, which makes it a great way to escape tourist life.