Hello from Tokyo! We are Frazer and Emily, two British travellers with a passion for food. Whilst Emily has Japanese heritage and was raised on Japanese cuisine, this is Frazer’s first trip to Japan. Emily’s knowledge of Japan paired with Frazer’s love of trying new dishes, make us a formidable foodie-force!
We have recently moved to Japan to spend the next year travelling around this amazing country, learning all about the regional dishes and culture. For the past month, we have been immersing ourselves in Japanese culture and seeking out the best restaurants in Tokyo. Below are our favourite places serving up food loved by the Tokyo locals. This selection has recommendations and hot-spots the locals love but have English menus to hand (phew!). Fancy reading up on some of the other famous food and drink Japan has to offer? Have a look at our guide.
Address: 4-14-1, Akihabara Ichi 3F, Sotokanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
Pricing: ¥ ¥
Reservation advised after 7pm
Established in Osaka in 1953, Yukari have successfully transported their quintessentially Kansai flavours to the heart of Tokyo. Okonomiyaki is a staple Japanese dish, and literally means ‘grill as-you-like’ so all tables come equipped with inbuilt hotplates. Trying a new cuisine is always a daunting prospect, especially when you are expected to cook it yourself. For a relaxed experience, Yukari should be your first port of call. Renowned for using the freshest ingredients, Yukari’s dishes are not only carefully prepared but also expertly cooked before being transferred to your hotplate. Yukari’s speciality is Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, a popular style distinguished by the addition of noodles, and our favourite style by far. Located in the modern and spacious food court of Akihabara-ichi, a large helping of okonomiyaki is the ideal antidote to a busy day of shopping in Electric Town.
Frazer recommends: Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki – ¥1650
As a newcomer to Japanese cuisine, I opted for Yukari’s signature dish. A thick blanket of fried egg crowns a mixture of crisp Japanese cabbage, pork, squid and prawns; all of which rest on a layer of steamy noodles. Outside the fresh seafood (which is easy to get used to in Tokyo!) the standout feature here is the sauce. The okonomiyaki sauce is sweet yet tangy and the ‘magic five’ mayonnaise not only gives the dish the instantly recognisable lines but mellows the strong flavours, resulting in a truly moreish dish.
Emily recommends: Yakisoba – ¥880
The yakisoba at Yukari is Japanese street food dish cooked to perfection. Yakisoba is classic matsuri fare, go to any festival and chances are you will find numerous yakisoba stalls serving up this Japanese classic. Yukari serves this comforting mix of fried wheat noodles, crunchy vegetables, thinly sliced pork, seafood and piquant oyster sauce with bright-pink pickled ginger. As far as yakisoba is concerned, this is as authentic as you can get in modern Tokyo. Although the food is traditional, the sleek and roomy space at Yukari is a welcome respite from the crowded streets of Akihabara.
2. Sushidokoro Yachiyo 鮨處八千代築地場外店
Address: 4-13-18 Tsukiji, Chuo, Tokyo
After the hustle and bustle of Tsukiji fish market, Yachiyo is an oasis of calm. One of many sushi shops in the outer market area, Yachiyo is signposted only in Japanese ( 八千代 ) making this restaurant difficult to find. However it’s worth the challenge, as Yachiyo is the place to go for a comprehensive introduction to Japan’s most famous cuisine. Even a seasoned sushi-lover would appreciate the discipline of these chefs and the pride they take in their craft. At Yachiyo, the kitchen counter takes centre stage. A brightly lit, low-level counter ensures that all ingredients are on show and the careful preparation and shaping of each item of sushi is visible to all. We recommend ordering the 10 piece set and supplementing this with personal favourites. When visiting Tsukiji, bear in mind that the earlier you arrive, the fresher the fish!
Frazer recommends: 10-piece sushi set – ¥1000
The 10 piece set is a showcase of the freshest seafood from Tsukiji fish market for a truly incredible price. A colourful array of classic sashimi including prawn, squid, roe and shellfish are shaped into perfectly bitesize pieces. The standout item for me was the aji (horse mackerel) which, despite its delicate appearance, is pleasantly meaty. I found the chefs’ dedication to their profession inspiring – I could not help but notice the way they subtly assessed your reactions to the sushi as if to grade themselves on their creations.
Emily recommends: Saba, crab, unagi & tuna sushi – ¥100-350
In addition to the 10 piece set, I would recommend ordering saba (mackerel), crab and tuna. With the Tsukiji fish market just around the corner, it is unlikely you will ever find such a wide range of fresh fish elsewhere. There are several types of tuna served here including akami (red lean meat), chutoro (fattier cut), otoro (the fattiest cut) with the fattier cuts being prized for their rich flavour. Mackerel is often overlooked yet it is one of the most flavoursome items of sushi I have ever tried! Last but by no means least, unagi (eel) is a must. Although it may not seem appetising at first, it is nothing like the jellied eels served up in London. Instead, freshwater eel is gently boiled before being marinated in a tare sauce – the result is a sweet yet delicate explosion of flavour.
3. Sajilo Cafe
Address: 1-36-8 Kichijoji-Honcho, Musashino-shi, Tokyo
Pricing: ¥ ¥
Kichijoji is a small yet dynamic neighbourhood. Stylish boutiques, coffee shops and the Studio Ghibli Museum are what put this place on the map. However, nestled away behind the central shopping district is a lesser known gem, Sajilo. With two tables and a set of counter seats (usually occupied by locals), it is a small place. The interior is stripped back yet cosy and the towering rows of spices and crockery give it a very individual atmosphere. It is clear that each ornament has been chosen to create a relaxed ambience that the staff take great pride in upholding. The chefs are always busy at work, filling the restaurant with the fragrance of crushed spices and freshly baked naans.
Frazer recommends: Mutton curry (single set) – ¥1000
The menu at Sajilo offers three different curries, of which you can either choose one large portion for ¥1000, or the set of two smaller portions for ¥1150. On arrival I eyed up the dishes and, unsure what to choose, I went adventurous with the mutton curry. It isn’t a particularly popular meat in England as it has a tendency to be tough if not well prepared, however this was not the case at Sajilo. The sauce had infused into the slow-cooked meat, causing it to fall apart in your mouth. The naan breads were some of the largest I’ve had, and as they are baked to order using an authentic tandoor they are soft, doughy and soak up the curry with ease.
Emily recommends: Daikon & pork/butter chicken (double set) – ¥1150
For the opportunity to sample two different curries, go for the larger set menu. I enjoyed the contrast of my choices – the mellow almost fruity daikon and pork curry and the creamy yet fiery butter chicken. When ordering, you can personalise the spiciness of your curry (2 was optimum for us) – err on the side of caution here as Sajilo are serious about their spice. The curry sets are all accompanied by a crisp and colourful salad, huge naan breads and a delicately blended chai tea – never has a meal been more satisfying.
Address: 3-1-15, Nihonbashi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo Hisae Building 1F
Cuisine: Kaisendon (sashimi rice bowl)
Pricing: ¥ ¥
Tsujihan is adored by locals who will settle for nothing less than the freshest of sashimi bowls. Squeezed onto the end of a narrow alley strung with paper lanterns, it can be another tricky place to find. The queues can also be long, but this is testament to the mastery with which Tsujihan serve their signature dish. Here, only one item is on offer – the zeitakudon (luxury bowl). This bowl is available in different grades which correlate to the quality and quantity of fish used – ume, take, matsu. Locals opt for the ume bowl as it is the best value – expect a bowl of rice topped with generous mounds of mixed seafood including sea bream, tuna, squid, ikura (salmon roe) and herring roe. For this, plus crab meat, opt for take and for extra sea urchin (the ultimate item in any kaisendon) upgrade to matsu.
Frazer and Emily recommend: Matsu zeitakudon – ¥1980
Tsujihan is a modest yet spacious spot, with only 12 seats lining the counter. This open preparation area is where the bowls are expertly constructed. The chefs at Tsujihan prescribe a very particular way of eating the zeitakudon and we recommend you listen to their advice! On being seated, you will be presented with 4 thick slabs of sea bream sashimi in a rich miso sauce. Although you will be tempted to eat them all, leave at least 2 slices to add to your bowl later on. The zeitakudon itself is a sight to behold – a tower of seafood of all colours, tastes and textures rise above the soft, sticky rice beneath. For best results, mix the fresh wasabi with soy sauce and distribute evenly over your dish. The sea urchin is a really defining contribution to this already outstanding bowl of food. Once you approach your last few mouthfuls, place your bowl on the counter and ask for tai dashi (sea bream stock) and add your reserved sashimi to this fragrant soup. This transforms the bowl into chazuke, which brings together all the leftover flavours, rounding off this truly special experience in an unique way.