Tokyo is one of the best cities in the world for foodies. You'll see more than a few Michelin Stars in Japan's capital city, and you might be surprised at just how broad the options are in terms of cuisine. Besides the hometown favorites (including regional specialties from all 47 of Japan's prefectures), you can find Italian, French, Chinese, Korean, Indian, British (Pub options), German...the list goes on and on.
Because there are so many options, one of the trickier parts of eating in Japan is finding the right place to eat. Especially if you're traveling with multiple companions, settling on a single type of cuisine can be difficult, and so you may find yourself wandering for a while trying to find a place.
Unfortunately, many boroughs of Tokyo don't make it easy to find a suitable restaurant on the fly. Sometimes the restaurants are located inside of department stores or tucked away inside of other high-rise buildings with nothing but a tiny, obscure sign to entice you to visit. This is especially common in Shibuya, Shinjuku, or other super busy boroughs like that.
Then again, some boroughs are great for finding enticing food, offering a variety of options that are easy to survey as you walk around. Those are the places I'd like to describe for you in this article.
So without further ado, here are my Top Three foodie boroughs in Tokyo (with a few honorable mentions)...
The best foodie borough in Tokyo offers visitors more than a good meal. There are cafes for snacks, and plenty of fantastic shops and things to do to while away the hours between meals. The Bohemian borough of Shimokitazawa in the Setagaya district of Tokyo offers all of those things.
This has long been my favorite part of Tokyo. I remember coming here when I was a little kid and always finding good food to eat and plenty of fun things to do. Shimokitazawa is home to Tokyo's Indie movie scene, so there are a number of charming little theaters tucked away in different corners of the borough. For gamers, it is one of the last bastions for 2nd-hand game shops and game centers (arcades), making it a TRUE gaming otaku's paradise (unlike Akihabara which has become more of the Disneyland of video games and electronics). For shoppers, Shimokitazawa offers some neat vintage shops, modern clothing stores, and everything in between. Needless to say, there are tons of things to do there besides eating, which makes it a worthwhile enough place to hang out and catch multiple snacks and meals in the process.
Types of Cuisine: Really, you can find almost any type of cuisine here. You can find everything from fast food options to high end artisanal restaurants offering just about every type of food, both domestic and international. It’s probably easier to tell you what isn’t available here...I can say that I have not found any African or Eastern European cuisine here, so if you’re looking for those, you’ll have to head to another borough.
How to Get There: Shimokitazawa is accessible via the Odakyu and Keio Inokashira Lines. Once you arrive at the station, you can head in basically any direction and find a great number of restaurants and cafes. That said, heading out the South Exit will plop you in my favorite part of the borough.
I would be remiss if I didn’t offer at least a few of my favorite options in the area, so here are my Top Three:
Bar Alimentari Daniela
There are a lot of great Italian restaurants in Tokyo, but none that have the combination of charm and delicious, affordable food that Daniela offers. All of the pasta is handmade in the restaurant, and they offer a wide variety of unique pasta and sauce options (you can mix and match). My personal favorite is the black truffle pasta, but the wild mushroom (pictured below) is a close second!
My wife and I stumbled on this option a while back while wandering the streets and really enjoyed the food and vibe here (again, window shopping for restaurants here is great!). Palazzo offers a wide range of Japanese “soul-food” style options, and even offers mix-and-match plate lunch options if you want to try a few different types of foods.
Do you like Curry? Do you like Bread? Do you like Curry Pan? If your answer is yes to any of those, this is a place for you. I followed my nose here one day while strolling the streets of Shimokitazawa, and was happy to find that the restaurant not only produces Tokyo’s best Curry Pan, but also a variety of delicious Japanese curry dishes.
#2: Omote Sando (backstreets)
The main street that leads from the Meiji shrine to the Aoyama section of Tokyo is known as Meiji Dori. The main street itself offers a wide range of high-end stores and restaurants, but that is not what makes this area one of the best foodie boroughs of Tokyo. No, you have to take a turn down a backstreet and then you will really understand why.
Along the main drag that’s where the highest priced leasing areas happen to be, so you'll only find the popular chains and highly commercialized eateries (like Bills and Ben & Jerry's), but once you dive into the back streets, you start to find all of the gems for snack and meal hunting. Sometimes in standalone units and other times as part of larger building complexes, a wide range of restaurants and cafés awaits. Most will have at least a menu outside for you to peruse, while some will have the Japanese favorite fake food displays.
How to Get There: Omote-Sando Station is accessible via the Tokyo Metro Ginza (Orange), Chiyoda (Green), and Hanzomon (Purple) lines. Once you get there, dive into the back streets and start your foodie search!
Types of Cuisine: While I would not recommend trying to find fancy Japanese restaurants in this area (though there are a few great noodle shops), you can find just about any other type of cuisine here. The real treats here are specialty foods. Maybe you’re in the mood for a fantastic hamburger. Perhaps it’s a Japanese take on Hawaiian cuisine. Or maybe you’re just trying to find a great Keema curry. The back streets of Omote Sando offers all of that.
Budget: If you decide to eat along the main drag of Meiji Dori, the higher end joints will cost you between 3000 and 5000 yen. Once you hit the backstreets, however, you're looking at anywhere between 1000-2000 yen for a decent meal and drinks.
I’ve always been a fan have a great hamburger. There were a handful of places in Tokyo that I would say rival even the best burger joints in the states. My wife wrote about our favorites in a separate article here on Odigo, but one of them happens to be in this borough. That is Fellows burger.
Fellows does burgers simply and deliciously. The meat is seasoned to perfection, the buns are perfect with a nice crisp on the outside and warm, soft center, and all of the toppings are fresh, tasting as if they were delivered to the store that morning (which they were). Each burger comes with a side of fantastic fries, and there are some additional side options that you can select there.
My hands down favorite Thai restaurant in all of Tokyo is Chao! Bamboo. My wife and I used to go to this place at least once a month when we lived in downtown Tokyo, and for good reason. First of all, we love the vibe. It’s a small joint, with steel tables and stools, and only three walls. The other wall is just a plastic sheet that opens to the street (don’t worry, in winter time they’ve got kerosene heaters to keep you warm). There, you can find all of the greatest Thai options, but our personal favorite was the Satay Noodles (served in a broth, rather than stir fry).
Once upon a time, an American Restaurateur decided to open an Italian restaurant in this area. Il Forno survived for many, many years and was a personal favorite during my formative years. When it closed down, I was discouraged, but only until I learned that he opened three new eateries just a stone's throw away. Cicada is a high end fusion restaurant that is great for a date night. CrissCross (my favorite) is a pub-style eatery with down-home food served with high-end ingredients. Breadworks is a bakery that makes some of the best bread and pastries in all of Tokyo!
This is the option that is furthest from the Tokyo city center, but nevertheless super easy to access. This area has always been kind of the oasis from Tokyo's city center, in part because of its large park there, Inokashira park. Because of the park's many attractions, including countless cherry blossom trees, and the Ghibli museum, a lot of restaurants and cafés have opened up in the surrounding area. It makes for a wonderful day-trip experience just walking around looking for all the different options and discovering one of the memorable--oftentimes quirky--places to grab a meal or snack.
How to Get There: Kichijoji is accessible via the JR Chuo line and Keio Inokashira Line. From there, your best bet for finding great food establishments is to follow the train tracks, or walk directly towards Inokashira Park. Both options will offer a wide variety of choices for you.
Types of Cuisine: Kichijoji offers a wide variety of options, but your best bet are Japanese-variations of international favorites. I say that because all of the restaurants I have visited in the area either specialize in Japanese foods, or put a Japanese spin on foreign favorites like burgers, paellas, curries, etc. This area is best for bars and cafes, so if you're in the mood for high end or ritzy options, you probably want to hit up an area closer to city center.
Budget: Most places in this area will run you between 700 and 1500 yen for lunch, and between 1000 and 3500 yen for dinner.
This is my personal favorite meal option in the area. Yes, I am more partial to it because of its deep ties to anime and manga. After all, it is a popular place for established and rising animators and comic artists alike. Still, Café Zenon is more than just a cool hang-out, as it has really good food and a fantastic coffee (along with some neat latte art).
Mahika Mano Hammock Cafe
Looking for a tasty meal or dessert with a twist (or in this case, net)? Head over to the Mahika Mano Hammock Cafe, which serves meals at lunch time and drinks/desserts all day. The meals here are Japanese variations of curry, loco moco, Taco Rice, and gnocchi, as well as seasonal options.
If you feel like stepping back in time and finding a restaurant that feels like it could’ve been there 50 or 100 years ago, head to Yurakucho. There are myriad high end options just a stone's throw away towards Tokyo station or Ginza, but the row of restaurants under the tracks (or right across) are the real draw.
How to Get There: Yurakucho is accessible via the JR Yamanote line and Tokyo Metro Yurakucho Line. Once you reach the station, take the nearest exit and follow along the tracks. You'll be flanked by countless eateries. I haven't had a bad meal in the area.
Types of Cuisine: This is a working class cuisine area, so most of these places get a little raucous (and depending on the place, a little smokey). Expect to find a lot of Showa-era (postwar period) favorites, especially Izakaya (serves small serving plates, like Tapas-style meals, with plenty of alcohol options.
Budget: You can find lunch options here for between 700 and 1500 yen, but a good dinner with drinks will bring you up to about 3000-5000 yen per person.
Andy's Shin hi no Moto
Hands down, the best Izakaya for expats and foreign visitors to Tokyo, Andy's gives you delicious food with an authentic Izakaya experience at a reasonable price and with multilingual staff. You really can't ask for a better place to go when visiting Tokyo. Be sure to call ahead for a reservation: 03-3214-8021.
Yebisu is the Japanese god of luck and fishermen, so I guess it makes perfect sense that Ebisu, his name sake borough of Tokyo, would offer a bounty of foodie options. Now you can opt to go to Ebisu Garden Place, where there is a host of ritzy options, but I prefer the area out the Ebisu West Exit. When you depart the exit, you'll see what I mean when I tell you that you won't be lacking in food options. The main street has plenty of restaurants, as do all of the side streets.
How to Get There: Ebisu is accesible via the Tokyo Metro Hibiya line and JR Yamanote line. Once you arrive, head to the West Gate.
Types of Cuisine: I've had just about every cuisine in Ebisu that the greater Tokyo area offers--Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Indian, Italian, American, etc. They even have fast food favorites (like Shake Shack), and if you're in the mood for a celebrity chef experience, head over to Ebisu Garden Place for places like Joel Robuchon's restaurant.
Budget: Lunch sets in the restaurants outside Ebisu's West Exit will run you between 700 and 1500 yen. Dinners are double that. Meals in Ebisu Garden Place will easily cost you 5,000 to 50,000 yen, depending on where you choose to eat (Burger King and Blue Seal ice cream notwithstanding).
Ebisu Beer Hall
If you're looking for a fun Japanese-style beer hall experience, Ebisu Beer Hall offers good food and excellent Ebisu beer. It's one of the few places that offers decent beef at reasonable prices, and did I mention that the beer is great? That's because it is!
So there you have it...
...a quick guide to Tokyo's best foodie boroughs. Although I stand by my belief that it is almost impossible to find a bad meal in Tokyo, if you are in the mood for great places to visit with lots of easy to spot and memorable options, I say zehi, give a few of these boroughs a shot while you're touring Tokyo!