Hi! Japanese Illustrator, Koko here!
You are going to Japan…. the land of Food!
Did you know Tokyo has the most Michelin stars restaurants in the world!?
You will not be disappointed with food, but the problem is that there are so much food to try…but your time is limited.
I’ve got your back. As a native Japanese, me, I am going to explain EVERYTHING what I think you should eat.
Ready? (Supachan, Rickey, Duy-kun, I hope you enjoy this article!)
What to know about Eating Out in Japan
I’ve lived abroad for more than half of my life, so I know 100% what the difference is!
In Japan, you have to know what to eat BEFORE deciding where to go.
Why? What do I mean?
Because many times, we have specialized restaurants in Japan. You can’t just go to a random place, and order this and that.
For clear example…… you go a sushi restaurant because you want to eat sushi. You don’t go to Ramen Shop to order Sushi.
In Japan, this “specialify ” is more specific.
KNOW what to eat. Then GO.
If you can’t decide – then go to a Family Restaurants, they usually cover many different dishes.
Where to look for Food
Here are some places you are promised to find some good foods.
Under Train Stations
Translated Eki-Chika. If you go to big train stations, they usually have shopping mall attached. They have dining / take out food floor on the basement floor. Go down and see what they offer!
Food Floor at shopping malls
There aren’t that many open-space food court in normal department stores in Tokyo, I think it’s because the space, they have individual separated restaurants on a food floor. Restaurants floor is always located on the top/upper floor.
Near Train Stations
No matter where you are, go to train stations if you are hungry. There are always some good cafes, restaurants.
On the other hand, it gets difficult to find eating places if you are in residential areas. You maybe able to find convenience stores, would be the best bet.
Don’t leave Japan without trying THIS FOOD
After all, I still have to mention sushi is one of the MUST eat while in Tokyo.
Do not wait to eat those in Kyoto or Osaka, Eat in Tokyo. After all, I am Tokyo locals and I believe best Sushi is in Tokyo 😉
Go for extreme experience! You’re in Tokyo, try best of the best sushi, why not?
Kyubei久兵衛 is one of the most famous, delicious sushi restaurants in Tokyo. Local Japanese’s dream to try their sushi.
Check KYUBEI Ginza Sushi Reservation here (in English!)
God of Sushi, JIRO – this is his 2nd Sushi Restaurants – now opened in Roppongi.
It’s got Michelin 2-star.
A documentary film about JIRO was made years ago. Obama has eaten at JIRO’s main restaurant when he visited Tokyo in 2014.
You can reserve JIRO’s 2nd restaurant here (in English)
Eat and Meet JIRO – if you can go for extreme experience
It is possible to make a reservation to meet and eat JIRO’s Sushi. I’m sure it’s going to be a life-experience. (If you do, can you please tell me your story!?? I’m dying to hear.) Hah, you are eating the same sushi as Obama…
Maybe I don’t need to explain because it seems like Ramen is becoming mainstream these days in the world. (yay!)
Ramen is Japan’s Passion. Soul.
Seriously there are millions of Ramen shops in Tokyo…..I don’t know what’s the best ramen. Here are my favorites:
Ippudo Try ShiroMaru
Ramen shops usually have really good Gyoza as well. Order together with your Ramen!
Tempura is deep fried vegetables and seafood. No meat.
Real good tempura, they use fresh seafood, perfectly crispy deep fried – it’s super airly, crunchy outside but yet lots of umami and soft inside.
There is a opportunity that you can eat Michelin Starred tempura restaurant in Tokyo.
It’s like…. Japanese pancake with lots of vegetables / meat / seafood. There are so many different choices.
Okonomiyaki is originally from Osaka and Hiroshima.
#5 Bento Box
Bento Box, means Meal Box. You can easily buy at convenience stores, local grocery stores, bento specialized shops.
Some recommended Bento Chains. Most of them are Japanese only websites 🙁 but at least you remember the logo, if you see them in a city, you know it’s a Bento Shop!
Yoshoku, 洋食 means “Western inspiration Japanese Food”. If you miss your “western home” cooking while in Japan, I recommend you to go try Yoshoku Restaurants.
Edoya, has been running its business since 1950s, they serve excellent Yoshoku.
#7 Japanese Curry Rice
Japanese Curry is nothing close to Indian or Thai Curry. It’s sort of Yoshoku as I explained #6.
Japanese Curry Rice has been one of the most popular dishes among especially Japanese kids, it’s a popular home-cook dish in Japan and school lunch!
You can buy Japanese Curry at many places, such as Bento Boxes (on #5), or Gyudon places (#8), or Family Restaurants, food court etc etc…
My recommendation: Try curry with deep fried Tonkatsu on it.
Gyudon, is another Street Food in Japan, like Ramen. It’s our soul! If American students eat Mac and Cheese, Japanese students eat Gyudon 😉 It’s cheap, delicious and FAST to serve.
*Not recommended for Family & Kids Dining
Many places are “quick serve, quick eat, leave” kinda place. Not recommended for small kids, because they are very busy usually and they only have counter seats. I recommend take out if you find one near your hotel.
Gyudon are served only those chain restaurants. You can’t really go to a “normal” restaurants to eat.
Gyudon places are easily found, normally near major stations.
Tonkatsu ＝とんかつ is deep fried pork wrapped with light bread crumb and batter.
No surprise, Tokyo has a Tonkatsu Restaurant with Michelin 1-star.
You can book here, the reservation costs start from $37~.
#10 Yakiniku 焼肉
Yakiniku – Japanese BBQ. It’s a great party-social food. Recommended to go with at least 2 people.
You usually need to grill own meat yourself, some places have AMAZING quality of Wagyu Beef.
Wagyu means “Japanese Beef”, that farmers raise cows very special way.
My TOP of the TOP Recommendation is GYUTETSU. 牛鉄 – means “Beef Iron”
Their Menu Page Here
I agree, their website is terrible. But their food quality is top.
What you should order at Gyutetsu
A-set (3 different parts of beef) and be sure to order “Marinated = TARE=タレ”.
Tokusen Karubi 特選カルビ (special Karubi) with Marinated, Tare.
Those 2 you need to try. Then order some rice, salad, Kimuchi (It’s a Korean pickles / spicy) .
They have stores in Kichijoji / Shimo-Kitazawa / Jiyu-Ga Oka / KeiDo / Futago-Tamagawa.
Once I started going there, I don’t really go other Yakiniku places. 😅
If you have a plan to go visit Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, I strongly recommend to try this place for dinner.
But be careful, there can be a long waiting line during the weekend.
Kobe Beef is NOT only best beef in Japan.
It’s really funny how only Kobe Beef is so famous outside of Japan. It’s a prime beef for sure, …. but in Japan, there are SO MANY different Luxury – Top Rated beef. All over in Japan actually.
**Matsuzaka Beef – Farmers take care of each cow like their child. They give beer to cows (to help getting appetite) and massage, clip nails… Matsuzaka Beef has elegant umami, once you eat it, you won’t be able to forget the taste… art of Wagyu!
…. the list goes on and on.
It’s written in Japanese but here is the list.
Japanese Wagyu Beef List
So, you don’t _have to_ try Kobe Beef. There are tons of other Jaw-dropping, DELICIOUS Wagyu in Japan.
It will be super experience to try so many other Wagyu yourself during the trip in Japan!
Takoyaki – たこ焼き is Japanese street casual food.
Tako – octopus, Yaki – means grill, fried.
It’s got a bite-sized octopus in it. You eat with similar sauce to Okonomiyaki, with mayonnaise. These days there are different versions of Takoyaki available.
Note: It’s super hot inside. Be careful not to get burnt when you eat!
#12 Japanese Teishoku Dining
If you don’t know what Japanese food to eat, but you want to eat something Japanese food, try go to Japanese “Teishoku” Restaurants. Teishoku=定食 means “meal combo”. It usually comes with Rice, Miso Soup, pickles, and main dish.
Most of them are so-called “home-cooking”. If you are curious what normal Japanese eat at home, this teishoku set is similar.
Teishoku Restaurants are also found everywhere in Japan. Most are run by individual owners and menus are written only in Japanese.
#13. Japanese Pasta
Why in the hell you have to eat pasta in Japan!? I know, I know. But we have those Japanese Style Pasta, that you can’t eat in Italy 😉
If you are craving for Pasta but still wanna try Japanese, try Tarako Spaghetti (cod Roe Pasta) .
#14 Japanese Cakes and Bread
You may think Japan is the last place to eat delicious cakes and bread, because Japan is Asia…
may I just say…. Wrooooong!!! you will see SO MANY, million different types of cakes in Japan.
In general Japanese cakes are super light, fluffy and less-sweet. which, helps you to eat more and more….
Please please, try some cakes in Japan. You will be mind blown away.
Where to find: Eki-Chika (under the train station) has the best chance. or cake shops near train stations.
Bakeries are the same stories. There are so many interesting looking (and delicious) bread, please try if you see them.
Some places offer coffee and tea, where you are allowed to sit down and eat inside.
My list can go on and on… but better stop here.
Those are one of the MUST eats in Japan. Of course you will gain weight. It’s good food, life is good, why bother.
You can always lose weight when you’re back to your country.
Enjoy Food in Japan.