The Bianco Guide to: Tokyo Food for Beginners
*Update: I’ve added a google map (here) to this guide now. You now will be able to see all the places I’ve visited, from Ramen to Izakayas (in the future) and Matcha greatness on a big map that puts them all together in one master list. Lovely right? Check it out here, share it and eat it. Actually, everything is perfect and tasty on this list, but if you’re close to one of the places marked as a star, you should stop thinking about where to go next and become Super Mario on Nintendo 64 and hunt those sites down.
You can walk down any random street in Tokyo and find the best food you will ever have. There are so many streets, floors, malls, 24 hour shops, guides and blogs full of amazing food that you can easily feel overwhelmed and over-challenged by the sheer amount of options. It is even pretty hard to walk to a restaurant and not stop somewhere on the way and eat there because you just found a place that sells a noodle soup that looks like straight out of a Wes Anderson Ramen dream (a dreamen).
This guide will give you some starters of where to go and what to eat in Tokyo. With these 5 tips you will not go wrong and will slowly start your own map of hidden gems in Tokyo.
Ichiran Tonkotsu Ramen
So lets start with an easy and obvious one: Ramen. If this is your first time in Tokyo do not try to start your trip with looking for the holy grail of ramen hidden in a secret ramen spot run by an old man asking for a password to enter. Just take a nice walk straight to the next Ichiran ramen shop (open 24h!) and be happy (and then use this guide and fly straight to heaven).
Ichiran is a franchise restaurant - which would normally ring alarm bells in any western country. But Ichiran is not a soulless, blood out of your lovely gastro scene sucking vampire - Ichiran is a fucking boss. Actually, it is pretty hard to find a Tonkotso Ramen as good after eating at Ichiran. Tonkotsu is the only Ramen they do and it is just straight amazing - it has won a countless amount of prizes already. They take Ramen very seriously and so should you. From choosing between a lot of options on a little piece of paper, your first encounter with a ramen ordering machine and sitting in a special cabin, you will love this place. I could tell you all the little details here, documented on my camera, fused into words... but to be honest the first time at Ichiran is pure magic and i do not want to spoil the end of House of cards before you met Francis Underwood. Just click on the map, go there and eat this amazing bowl.
open: 24h location: click
Maisen Tonkatsu Tokyo
The next restaurant you should head to is Maisen Tonkatsu. The only thing you should eat there is the deep-fried pork cutlet in a breaded crust aka Tonkatsu aka one of the best things the Japanese cuisine did for me (and you). The tender meat and the way this meal is served to you in a former world war II bathing house is just amazing. Now you will know you have finally accomplished your goals of eating Japanese food straight out of your dreams. This also could be your first time and chance to drink a Japanese Highball whiskey... Give it a try.
open: 11am - 10:30pm location: click
Ebisu Yokocho // Izakaya Mall
Time for an Izakaya aka probably the best place to be at night. An Izakaya combines drinking with friends, eating a lot of good food, smoking and repeating those things. Diving deep into the culture of Japanese after work drinks might be the first time you will feel accepted in amongst an endless stream of Japanese people. To start your Izakaya experience you should head to an (almost) secret place called Ebisu Yokocho. Behind some back-alley doors you will find a small hall with busy corridors full of Izakays close together, where you will have your first encounter with the amazing Japanese way of eating, drinking, smoking and laughing all together. This place is lovely, a little bit cheesy and sometimes it feels more like a theme park than as a restaurant. Still though, there are way more Japanese people than tourists, so you are on the safe side here. Just try find a place in one of those crowded small restaurants, order something to eat and some beer and be happy. There are guys walking around with guitars singing songs at command for cash. Again, this is cheesy for sure, but one guy sang the Dragonball Intro for me while i was eating grilled octopus. You cannot hate on that.
open: 5pm-4am location: click
Kaikaya By the Sea
After a loud and raunchy night at the Izakaya mall it's time to step your game up and visit my favourite restaurant in the world: Kaikaya By the Sea. For me this is the best place you will find in Tokyo to eat really, really, really good food and have an amazingly good time on top. The food is that good that you would expect sitting in a fancy restaurant getting treated like a little prince (I hate that). Nope, this is an Izakaya style restaurant. Its loud, people drink sake, highballs and beers while eating unbelievably good food and there is a room where you can smoke (and eat and drink.) The chef, T. Tange is a straight boss - he traveled the world and almost every pro skater, streetwear legend, Scarlett Johansson (you wont feel lost at Kaikaya) and the rest of Hollywood eat at this place. Luckily this lovely restaurant is not super expensive. I´ve never had such good food and walked out a restaurant with money left in my pocket. Do not try to leave this restaurant without eating the famous tuna rips, the assorted sashimi plate and the grilled crab (Jesus the crab!!)... or just take the big menu and fly straight to heaven. Check out my interview with the mastermind T. Tange here: click
open: 6pm-11:30pm location: click
After stepping your game up at Kaikaya, you should head for some original Tokyo cuisine called Dozeu Nabe. This traditional Tokyo dish is served in a very unique and unforgettable way in one of the most beautiful restaurants i have ever seen . "Dozue" (watherfish/loach) is simmered thoroughly on a little coal oven on your table in a soy sauce based bonito broth mixed with sake. Every time the broth evaporates, pour a new broth on top while feeling like a little grand master of Japanese Edo cuisine. The whole fish, including the bones, become tender and rich in flavour, which turns this weird looking fish into something from another league. The Komakata family runs two restaurants in Tokyo and you should make sure to head to the one in Asakusa and also visit the Asakusa shrine before or after eating there. It´s a win win situation.
open: 11am-9m location: click
The Bianco Guide To Tokyo for Advanced Students
If you followed these easy steps you will start to feel what lays if front of you and your stomach while walking trough the streets of Tokyo. Let's step up your game now and move on! The next guide will provide you with a little more specific places and will reveal more aspects to become a real Tokyo food hero. Click here and keep loving.