From traditional diners specialising in just one type of food, to casual izakayas and stores that provide plenty of ’grammable opportunities, it’s no secret that Tokyo is home to an exceptional range of gastronomic delights.
Sorting through the endless options when deciding what to eat in Tokyo is no easy feat — so we’ve gone ahead and done that for you. Tucked away from the tourist eye, these eateries are certainly gems worth sampling the next time you’re in Tokyo.
Check out our list of seven places to eat in Tokyo that are not to be missed.
What to eat in Tokyo: 7 foodie gems to discover
1. Yakiago Ramen Takahashi
1-chōme-19-3 Kabukichō, Shinjuku City, Tokyo 160-0021, Japan
Open: Monday to Sunday (11am to 9pm)
Be sure to try its signature Yakiago shio ramen & rice (1,000 yen or S$10), as well as the seabura shoyu ramen & rice (1,020 yen). Both dishes offer very different bursts of intense flavours, each delightful in their own right.
The Yakiago shio ramen (ramen in broth made from grilled flying fish) brings a combination of charred sweetness from the grill and umami from the flying fish.
The seabura ramen (ramen in broth made from pork back fat), on the other hand, comes with creamy fat bits that add depth to the already tasty bone broth. The addition of onions brighten up the profound richness of the dish.
Once you’re done with the hand-kneaded noodles, add rice to the remaining broth, sprinkle with the crackers provided, and top it all off with wasabi for a comforting end to the meal.
What to order: Yakiago shio ramen & rice (1,000 yen), seabura shoyu ramen & rice (1,020 yen), grilled pork rice bowl (400 yen), and original yakiago shirodashi bottle (980 yen).
2. Kushiroko Shinjuku
3-chōme-28-15 Shinjuku, Shinjuku City, Tokyo 160-0022, Japan
Open: Monday to Friday (11.30am to 11.30pm), Saturday (11.30am to 11pm), Sunday (11.30am to 10pm)
If you enjoy your alcohol, no trip to Tokyo is complete without an izakaya experience. An izakaya is a type of bar that serves small dishes and savoury snacks.
When my travel companions and I headed over to Kushiroko Shinjuku, we found the toasty basement izakaya alive with conversation and laughter from a handful of locals unwinding after a long day.
Many customers were there for the bar’s highly rated ikura (salmon roe) and seafood options, brought in directly from Hokkaido.
While the ikura rice bowl set (from 2,200 yen) and grilled shishamo (1,080 yen) proved delectable, a surprise winner was the humble gyoza (850 yen) dish. The dumplings arrived sizzling on a hotplate, crisped to golden perfection. They were plump and juicy, too, bursting with meat, garlic, ginger, and chives.
What to order: Ikura rice bowl set (2200 to 2420 yen, depending on size), gyoza (850 yen), grilled shishamo (1080 yen), and free-flow alcohol for 90 min (1800 yen).
3. Kanda Matsuya
1-chōme-1-13, Kanda Sudacho, Chiyoda City, Tokyo 101-0041, Japan
Open: Monday to Friday (11am to 8.30pm), Saturday (11am to 7.30pm)
Slurping up a steaming bowl of soba (buckwheat noodles) at the homely Kanda Matsuya following a long day of shopping provides a certain comfort that’s pretty much unparalleled.
Founded in 1884, this charming restaurant is currently run by a sixth-generation owner, and retains its traditional wooden building structure. Its extensive menu comprises primarily just soba (both chilled and hot), as well as a few sides to complement.
The classics, tsukimi soba (1,100 yen) and tennanban soba (1,375 yen), proved gratifying despite the light soup base and simple ingredients — raw egg, fish cake, and spinach in the former, and tempura prawns in the latter.
Both bowls offered unique taste and textural experiences, accentuated by the three different kinds of peppers provided at the table — chilli pepper, yuzu chilli pepper, and sansho pepper.
What to order: Tsukimi soba (1,100 yen), tennanban soba (1,375 yen), yakitori with salt (990 yen), and yuba (825 yen).
2-chōme-28-7, Dogenzaka, Shibuya City, Tokyo 150-0043, Japan
Open: Monday to Sunday (11am to 3pm, 4pm to 9pm)
When looking for places to eat in Shibuya, you mustn’t miss this cosy shop on the second floor of a small building. Nikudoresukaisendon features an iconic dish that is literally what the store name means: “Meat dress seafood bowl”.
Each signature bowl (1,600 yen) comes chock full with fluffy rice, minced tuna, and an egg — then dressed with delicate slices of lightly seared A5 wagyu, and topped with generous servings of salmon roe and sea urchin.
What really stood out, however, was turning the rice bowl into chazuke (soupy rice). The store recommends that you leave about one-third of your rice bowl for this.
Simply pour in some of its complimentary dashi broth and you’ll be enjoying the luscious flavours with every sip.
What to order: Signature bowl (1,600 yen), roasted beef with caviar (six pieces for 950 yen), seared wagyu sushi (four pieces for 950 yen), and stewed beef (450 yen).
5. Coffee-ya Waseda
52-2 Wasedaminamicho, Shinjuku City, Tokyo 162-0043, Japan
Open: Monday to Tuesday (11am to 7pm), Thursday to Sunday (11am to 7pm)
Inside, you’ll find it buzzing with life, from the smells and sounds of coffee beans being roasted in-house, to the coffee connoisseurs striding up and down, studying the mind-boggling array of beans displayed on rows of shelves.
For those who prefer a medium roast, the Dominica AA Loma Gajo Cherry blend (550 yen) is a choice selection — fragrant and refreshing.
Of course, if you’re one to relish a sweet treat with your afternoon cuppa, don’t forget to order a seasonal tart (630 yen) and some coffee jelly (510 yen) as well!
What to order: Dominica AA Loma Gajo Cherry (550 yen), coffee jelly (510 yen), and seasonal tarts (630 yen).
6. Tenmatsu Nihonbashi
1 Chome-8-2 Nihonbashimuromachi, Chuo City, Tokyo 103-0022, Japan
Open: Monday to Friday (11am to 2pm, 5pm to 9pm), Saturday and Sunday (11am to 2.30pm, 5pm to 9pm)
If you’re a fan of crispy, airy and light tempura, then Tenmatsu’s Nihonbashi outlet is a must-visit if you’re making a list of what to eat in Japan.
Tenmatsu is a decades-old, homely Japanese restaurant that is frequented by locals and tourists alike. Its ingredients are fresh, its tempura crunchy and its prices affordable for its quality.
Get its classic tendon for 1,375 yen, comprising shrimp, fish and mixed vegetables, or if you’d like to treat yourself a little, go for its tuna bowl and tempura option for 1,815 yen.
Considering that it serves mainly locals, you might find yourself having to gesture and point or rely on good ole’ Google Translate. But hey, all that legwork’s worth it for good, cheap eats in Tokyo right?
What to order: Tendon (1,375 yen) with shrimp, fish and mixed vegetables on rice, and tuna bowl and tempura (1,815 yen) with the same tempura assortment but with an additional tuna bowl.
3 Chome-15-10 Tsukishima, Chuo City, Tokyo 104-0052, Japan
Open: Monday and Friday (5pm to 10pm), Saturday and Sunday (4pm to 10pm)
If you enjoy okonomiyaki, then you must surely try monjayaki, if you’re keen to explore lesser-known must-eat foods in Tokyo.
Monjayaki comprises similar ingredients such as chopped vegetables and your protein of choice (seafood and meat), but with more liquid in its batter. The result is a runnier, chewier pancake, typically eaten directly from the hotplate itself using a small spatula.
If you’re ever in search of this unique snack, you’ll find dozens of restaurants along Tsukishima’s Monja street, but our favourite’s Yoshimiya (好美家) – decked with a huge red sign with its name in Kanji.
Don’t expect a fancy presentation of the dish – its charm lies in its messy appearance and unpredictable texture.
What to order: If trying monjayaki for the first time, opt for its special monja (1,350 yen) or if you’re feeling adventurous, its mentaiko mochi cheese monja is also a crowd favourite (1,550 yen)
Sarah Chua contributed to this article.