Tel: 81 3 5770 5039
An oasis of calm in the middle of a bustling fashion-boutique district, Aburiya moves at a gentler pace than the rest of the city. Most of the food is slowly grilled at your table's private hibachi, and the menu offers an extraordinary selection of meats and seafood from every region of Japan—venison from Hokkaido, pheasant from Aomori, and so on—all changing with the seasons. If you're lucky, you might snag the one outdoor table, surrounded by bamboo trees in the tiny front garden.
Sunlitte Ginza II 1F
Tel: 03 3545 0199
If the three-star Michelin rating doesn't convince you of Araki's place among the top tier of sushi spots, the hordes of devoted fans who followed the restaurant from Setagaya to Ginza when it moved in 2010 will. The new location is much more convenient, but it also means that Araki is no longer a neighborhood joint where you can saunter up to the counter sans reservation. Those willing to make repeated calls will be rewarded with some of the freshest, most exquisitely cut sashimi in Tokyo. Don't, however, be fooled by its new digs and recent accolades: Clean-but-flavorful presentations of uni and ikura sashimi or tuna sushi are served up by the jovial master chef, who puts customers at ease with his friendly service.—Rebecca Willa Davis
Open Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays through Sundays noon to 2 pm and 6 to 8:30 pm.
Sanyo Akasaka Building 2F
Tel: 81 3 3505 5052
Meals don't get more intimate than at Aronia de Takazawa, and not just because its dining room holds only two tables. Chef Yoshiaki Takazawa prepares his French dishes in full view of guests from a raised, stainless steel platform. There's a clear Japanese spin on Takazawa's creations—the ratatouille, for example, resembles a sushi roll and is to be eaten in one bite, and most of the seasonal ingredients are sourced from Japan—but rather than the silent treatment encountered at most small restaurants in Tokyo, he makes the experience a welcoming one with the help of his cheerful servers and playful dishes. Diners have the option of a 7-, 9-, and 11-course meal, but be prepared for a few surprises.—Rebecca Willa Davis
Open daily 6 to 9 pm.
Tel: 81 3 5219 6099
This tiny shop wedged under the Yamanote-sen train tracks feels like a street-food stall in downtown Bangkok. The aromas of fish sauce and fried garlic and spices permeate the air, while insistently bouncy Thai pop music blasts from the speaker system, competing with the rumble of trains overhead. All the food here is priced at 600 yen (about $5), including spicy salads, curries, stir-fries, and more than a dozen combination platters.(Under the Yamanote-sen tracks next to Tokyo International Forum.)
Tel: 81 3 5447 5522
The extensive tapas-style menu here draws on Spanish, Italian, Greek, and Moroccan influences. Assemble your components into a full pan-Mediterranean meal, or just nibble from the big selection of hams, salamis, cheese, and vegetable platters. There's a sensibly priced Old World wine listchoose from more than 30 wines by the glass, plus a dozen varieties of sherry. The rare-in-Tokyo smoke-free dining room fills up nightly with a lively international crowd. (Smoking is permitted in the separate late-night bar.)
Tel: 81 3 3337 1352
The food of OkinawaJapan's colorful slice of the tropicsis hypertrendy in Tokyo at the moment, but this lively pub-style spot predates the fad by quite a few years. The decor is an endearing mix of traditional Okinawan crafts and retro-kitsch bric-a-brac; the music follows a similar approach. The kitchen turns out a good sampling of traditional island fare: lots of pork, with the occasional goat dish for variety; interesting tofu and noodle variations; and home-style delicacies such as papaya pickled in miso. (Menus are in Japanese.)
(Located along the shopping street on the north side of the station.)
20 Daitokujimae, Murasakino
Tel: 81 75 493 0019
You're no monk, so why should you put up with shojin ryori? The Zen Buddhist cuisine contains no meat, no fish, no eggs, no dairy, and no assertive spices or herbs such as garlic. For the persuasive answer, park yourself on a zabuton cushion in one of the garden-view tatami rooms at Ikkyu, a restaurant just outside the southeast gate of the sprawling Daitokuji Zen temple complex. For more than 500 years, Ikkyu Tsuda's family has been feeding Daitokuji's priests and monks, and it's nothing short of a miracle what they can do with tofu, root vegetables, and rice. The lovely setting doesn't hurt a bit, and neither does the service, which includes a head-buzzing jolt of powdered green tea, whisked, brewed, and presented in a beautiful bowl—a miniature tea ceremony that's all part of the price. Reservations necessary.
Open daily noon to 6 pm.
Tel: 81 3 3796 6575
The chef at Gesshinkyo has created his own rusticated version of shojin-ryori (Buddhist vegetarian cuisine), using exotic vegetables and grains from all over Japan. The ten courses in the 12,000-yen set menu (about $100) and the eight in the 8,000 yen set menu (about $70) are each deceptively simplea small block of perfect sesame tofu topped by a crisp snow-pea pod, for example. Like the food, the setting is understated rather than showy: simple, private tatami-mat rooms for two to four people, with hanging scrolls, a small flower arrangement in the corner, and the pleasant hint of incense in the air. There's also a cooking class on the second Saturday of the month.
Dinner only; closed Sundays.
Tel: 81 3 5420 2225
The drawing card at this popular chain is the spicy, extrarich noodle broth made from long-simmered pork bones (hey, no one claimed that ramen was health food!). The thin, chewy noodles are relatively plain, the better to soak up flavors from the soup and optional condiments such as spicy bean sprouts and raw garlic cloves that you grate yourself. Ramen-slurpers will tell you that each Ippudo location has its own, distinct flavor, but you can't go wrong with its very first shop, conveniently located in Ebisu. Instead of water, you're served pitchers of an African iced tea that supposedly neutralizes the fat from all the pork; we recommend drinking an extra glass or two.—Updated by Rebecca Willa Davis
Open daily 11 am to 4 am.
Tel: 81 3 5779 3670
Those seeking a break from fluorescent-lit, hole-in-the-wall noodle shops will feel right at home at this soba restaurant in Sangenjaya (a tony neighborhood five minutes from Shibuya by subway). Its large, rough-hewn tables are occupied by locals and local celebrities alike (don't be surprised if you find yourself sharing one with a Japanese supermodel or soccer hero), who all flock to the tucked-away location for its unparalleled take on buckwheat. That includes everything from its mouthwatering soba noodles with white-sesame dipping sauce to the tea served at the end of the meal. But don't be afraid to go against the grain: Baked edamame, grilled duck, and the root-vegetable salad are all menu standouts. If it's too loud, try the smaller, more intimate Ebisu location.—Rebecca Willa Davis
Open daily 5 pm to 4:30 am.
Tel: 81 3 3716 2071
This unassuming restaurant in a quiet Meguro neighborhood is well-known among ramen and dumpling aficionados, and worth the subway or taxi ride from the city center. While it may look like every other run-of-the-mill Tokyo ramen-ya, Kaduya takes its dumplings seriously, serving both pork wontons and pork gyoza, steamed, fried, and in soup. The quality of the pork and the richly flavored broth make the difference. Try all the preparations, plus an order of chashu (braised pork) and a bowl of ramen (known here as shina soba). Beer is the ideal accompaniment. If you're in the mood for an after-dinner stroll, there's a lovely ancient Shinto shrine just a few minutes away.
Open daily 11 am to midnight.
Tel: 81 3 3351 1756
Expect a line (and the possibility that you might have to share a table) weeknights, when local college students and office workers crowd into this lively, casual eatery near Yotsuya Station. It serves heavenly pork-based ramen (called shina shoba) and a menu of Japanese-spun Chinese dishes, such as sparklingly fresh and crunchy jellyfish salad, boiled shrimp, and stir-fried oysters (in season). It's easier to grab a seat at lunch, although the menu is limited at that time of day. Then again, a hearty bowl of the rich, salty ramen—you can hardly see the noodles under the generous slices of pork, hard-boiled egg, sliced green onions, and squares of nori—plus an order of Koya's sara wonton (boiled pork wontons served with a dipping sauce, a dollop of chili paste, and a spray of cilantro), is all you'll need to get you through the rest of the day.
Open Mondays through Saturdays 11:30 am to 10 pm.
Tel: 81 3 3571 6523
This venerable 71-year-old shop is known as the inventor of gunkan-maki ("battleship wrap"), the technique whereby sushi with a loose topping like fish roe is held together with a wraparound seaweed barrier. The chefs haven't been resting on their laurels—the fish here is still as good as it gets. Cuttlefish and abalone, items that have a tendency to be chewy, are incredibly tender, while the egg custard is an inspiration. Even the little entr'acte morsels such as pickled eggplant are outstanding. (Menus in Japanese, but they're happy to explain in English.)
2F, 6-10-1 Roppongi
Tel: 81 3 5772 7500
While the number of famous French chefs' outposts in Tokyo is beginning to reach a critical mass, this casual eatery in the Roppongi Hills luxury mall is pure pleasure. The food is served by a well-informed staff at a black lacquered counter that arcs around an open kitchen. The Franco-Japanese cuisine emphasizes clean, bright flavors and inventive pairings, such as the edamame sauce that graces lasagna of ibérico ham and mackerel pike or the soy sauce–spiked caramelized quail. Everyone seems to be having fun here, including the young, enthusiastic waitstaff and the small army of chefs. There's a fine selection of wine by the glass, and the prix fixe menus are both generous in their offerings and reasonably priced. Robuchon has other Tokyo restaurants (as well as mainstays in Paris, New York, and Las Vegas), including the very formal Château Restaurant Joël Robuchon, but none is as much fun as this. (No reservations.)
Open daily 11:30 am to 2:30 pm and 6 to 11 pm.
Minamiza-higashi 4-ken-me, Shijo-dori
Tel: 81 75 561 2786
A family-run restaurant near the Minamiza Kabuki Theatre, Matsuno raises eel cuisine to high art. Though the menu includes a smattering of other offerings, ignore them and order one of the set meals that includes charcoal-grilled eel served over rice, and a bowl of a delicate clear broth that contains the mildly flavored liver (you can slurp the broth and skip the liver if you're squeamish). Mrs. Matsuno, if she's on the premises, is a gracious hostess who speaks English and will teach you the finer points of eel cuisine. Already an aficionado? She may suggest two unusual house specialties: shirayaki, eel cooked and served with a lighter sauce and wasabi; and hiremaki, skewered, broiled eel fins wrapped around gobo (burdock root).
Open Mondays through Wednesdays and Fridays through Sundays noon to 9 pm.
Tel: 81 75 231 1095
When you tire of ritualized kaiseki dinners, and of watching your mouth and manners in perplexing Japanese restaurants, this is the place to kick back and down a few beers or sakes. Menami's "home-style" obanzai cooking is rooted firmly in Japan, but the ever-morphing menu comfortably country-hops (try the Vietnamese-style spring rolls stuffed with pork, bamboo shoots and onions, or sansho-spiced lamb chops that would be at home in Greece). Many of the offerings are displayed on the countertop, which makes ordering easy. Make a reservation, for Menami has only a tiny counter, a few tables on a raised tatami platform, and a cozy booth near the door. If you like the ceramics on which meals are served, ask about Menami's sister pottery shop.
Open Mondays through Saturdays for dinner only.
Tel: 81 75 221 2525
In the West, we may consider soba noodles a humble meal, but the Japanese take them very, very seriously, and they come from all over the country to Kawamichiya, where the latest generation of the Ueda family watches over steaming cauldrons of handmade buckwheat noodles and broth. The specialty of this bare-bones, 300-year-old restaurant is hokoro, a filling meal-in-a-pot chock-full of noodles, chicken, tofu, and vegetables. Just around the corner, in an equally old and "oh-so-Kyoto" wooden shop, Kawamichiya sells its famous soba-flour cookies.
Open Mondays through Wednesdays and Fridays through Sundays.
This narrow, mostly covered pedestrian shopping street is parallel to and one block north of Shijo-dori, the main street in the center of town, and runs for blocks and blocks. Open from early morning until late afternoon, it's a great place to browse and graze among the fishmongers, fruit and vegetable grocers, pickle purveyors, and endless stalls of prepared food, from grilled eel to pounded-rice cakes. Eat on the run or take it back to your hotel with youor just fill up on the free samples.
86-30 Fukuchi-cho, Nanzen-ji
Tel: 81 75 771 8709
If the essence of Zen Buddhist Kyoto could be distilled into a pot, it would be a pot of simmering yudofu at this centuries-old tofu restaurant just across from the towering gate to Nanzen-ji Temple. Even if you find tofu bland and uninspiring, give this a chance: You'll likely be won over by Okutan's skewers of grilled tofu dengaku, served with a finger-licking sweet miso sauce.
Open Mondays through Wednesdays and Fridays through Sundays 10:30 am to 5 pm.
1F, 3-16-28 Nishi Azabu
Tel: 81 3 5786 0024
In a sensory-overload city, this Japanese sweet shop and tearoom is an oasis of calm. Up front, the shop sells traditional sweet bean–paste tea snacks alongside more whimsical, contemporary snacks, such as hoji tea and crème caramel—all in beautiful, eco-friendly packaging. In the back there's a low-lit, tiny tearoom where you can also order bento lunch boxes, alcoholic beverages, and a fine selection of Japanese and Chinese tea.
Sweet shop: Open Tuesdays through Sundays 11 am to 8 pm.
Tearoom: Open Tuesdays through Sundays noon to midnight.
Park Court Jingumae 1F
Tel: 81 3 5772 2091
Like the nearby Togo Shrine, Restaurant-I is about honoring nature. There are the locally sourced vegetables that dominate the menu, the zero-emissions kitchen helmed by Michelin-starred chef Keisuke Matsushima, and the sleek-but-peaceful space with watercolor paintings of produce on the menu covers and giant windows looking out onto the lush flora. Despite the Zen-like surroundings, however, the plates themselves are not filled with meager monk's food: Visitors are encouraged to indulge with lunch and dinner prix fixe menus that offer up inventive options like a regional vegetable and foie gras terrine, gazpacho with pink baby-shrimp mousse, and a summer truffle–scented lamb stew.—Rebecca Willa Davis
Open daily 11:30 am to 3 pm and 6 to 10 pm.
Coredo Nihonbashi Annex
Tel: 81 3 3517 5700
Chef Carme Ruscalleda's magnificent degustation menu (22,000 yen for lunch or dinner—about $190) is a Spanish tour de force: a three-hour cutting-edge Catalan adventure. The meal includes eight courses, with superbly crafted dishes such as stuffed calamari and Iberian pork shoulder, but you'll also be treated to multipart "micro menus" at either end of the meal, with bite-size surprises like anchovy ice cream (a starter) and a tiny brochette of rabbit and kiwi fruit. The elegant twin dining rooms are luxurious and spacious, and the cellar includes more than 500 wines, mostly Spanish, at all prices.
Tel: 81 3 3269 4320
The distinctive ball of cedar leaves hanging outside the entrance identifies Seigetsu as a sake specialty pub, and its selection of limited-edition, small-brewery rice wines from around the country is truly impressive. The food is equally noteworthy, especially the charcoal-grilled chicken and fish. The warm, comfortable interior is carved into oddly shaped little nooks, and the overall ambience is far more sophisticated than the usual pub.
Menus in Japanese.
Tel: 81 3 3573 7787
One visit to this tiny jewel—with nine counter seats, no tables, and a kitchen the size of an airplane galley—in the heart of Ginza will forever wean you off clever sushi concoctions and remind you what the best sushi is really about: the freshest, choicest fish available. There are no menu and no price list. While you shouldn't hesitate to let chef Fumio Sato know your likes and dislikes (and your spending limit), you'd be wise to leave yourself in his very experienced hands. He's been in the sushi biz for more than a quarter century, and he personally goes to the fish market before dawn each morning to pick out the day's offerings, which might include tuna from the Indian Ocean, abalone from California, and sea urchins from Maine. Be sure to order his miso soup with shijimi baby clams at the end of the meal. The charming, amiable Sato-san is as big a draw as his sushi. Though his English vocabulary is limited, he uses it with great enthusiasm and humor. Pricey but not outrageous (your check will depend on what Sato serves you, what you ask for, what the day's offerings are, and the fluctuating prices of fish). Reservations a must; a day ahead should be fine.
1-237 Miyagawasuji, Kawabata-dori
Tel: 81 75 525 0170
Some might call it a scam: taking oden—the hodgepodge stew that's served at ramshackle street stalls and slurped up by drunken students and salarymen on cold winter nights—moving it indoors, and charging an arm and a leg. But Takocho's spin on this seaweed-based broth—filled with octopus tentacles, hard-boiled eggs, fried tofu, fish cakes, and other goodies and served with a generous dollop of fiery mustard and a fistful of chopped scallions—is worth the up-charge: The broth is heavenly, and the ingredients high-quality and varied. Get there early: The counter-only restaurant fills up quickly, the choicest ingredients disappear fast, and the competition among regulars can be brutal.
Open Tuesdays through Sundays.
6-6-5 Ginza (Namaki-dori)
Tel: 81 3 3571 1949
When the Japanese want tempura, they go to a restaurant that serves nothing but. This high-end tempura-ya in Ginza has a number of outposts in Tokyo, including in the Isetan department store and the Imperial Hotel—but the ritual doesn't change. Sit at the sleek wood counter and watch as your chef batter-coats each stalk of asparagus, plump mushroom, and luscious prawn, then serves them, one at a time, piping hot from the oil. Tempura is all about the batter, the freshness and quality of the deep-frying oil, and the ingredients, and Ten-Ichi gets high marks all around. Each time you bite through the hot, crunchy coating, you get a burst of fresh flavor. The contrast in textures and temperatures is so perfect, it's a surprise each time. There are differently priced set menus, and you can also order separate items, including seasonal specialties. Salt and lemon are provided, which are a better alternative with some of the more delicately flavored offerings than the usual dipping sauce. The lunch set menu starts at 7,000 yen ($61); dinner starts at 8,000 yen ($69).
Open daily 11:30 am to 9:30 pm.
Tel: 81 3 3436 1028
Located at the foot of Tokyo Tower (a flashy copy of the Eiffel Tower), Tofuya Ukai is set in an old sake brewery in the middle of peaceful rolling gardens, pebbled paths, and koi-filled ponds. Inside you'll find a traditional restaurant of private tatami dining rooms and kimono-clad waitresses. At first glance, it's as improbable as a giant flying saucer landing by the Imperial Palace. But it's all ersatz, as a Las Vegas–esque re-creation built recently on the site (oh, wonderful irony) of a former bowling alley. Yet, everything about it works, and the experience and the multicourse meals (which highlight tofu but also include fish and meat) are as evocative as any you'll find in ancient Kyoto. So sit back and enjoy being fooled. Go for lunch, so you can enjoy a daylight view of the lovely gardens.
Open daily 11 am to 8 pm.
Tel: 81 3 5574 8861
Though he recently opened a New York outpost at the hip Gramercy Park Hotel, chef Yuji Wakiya's original Tokyo restaurant concentrates on the food, with no coolness factor to compete with the menu for attention (the vaguely Old World European interior design looks like it was left over from a former restaurant). This is Chinese food with a Japanese spin—small individual portions beautifully presented and served in consecutive, individual courses, not family-style. The set menu is a reasonably priced way to go, but nothing is astronomical. Don't miss the wontons in matsutake mushroom sauce or the shark's fin soup.
Open daily 11:30 am to 2:30 pm and 5:30 to 10 pm.