Add my favorite places in Tokyo and they’ll appear on the map below!
Before we go into detail, some info I’ve found helpful during my travels, in no particular order:
- Cash is still king. Want to ride the metro? Cash only. Eat at a restaurant
with a ticket kiosk? Cash only.
- When I land I immediately find a 7-11 or Japan Post ATM, because they have the lowest fees and a reasonable exchange rate. Get 10x ¥1000 notes.
- Then, I load ¥2000 on a Pasmo (get one if you don’t have one). A surprising amount of vending machines (and other places) take Pasmo, so it’s an efficient way to not deal with coins (the bane of my existence).
- I’ll add 💴 to the title to denote cash only establishments
- Smoking in restaurants and bars is still allowed (much to my chagrin).
- I’ll add 🚬 to the title to denote places where smoking is allowed
- Make reservations at more popular restaurants.
- Public transit infrastructure is really good, so you really don’t need to use Uber or taxis unless the trains stop running (usually around midnight).
The food in Tokyo is second to none. I’m not a huge fan of fish, so my list is going to leave out a lot of the fantastic sushi restaurants, and instead focus on my holy trinity of Japanese cuisine:
Immediately after clearing customs at Haneda (always fly into Haneda) and following the above cash to Pasmo routine, I head directly to Gogyo for their burnt miso ramen.
It’s right around ¥1000 (depending on the options), though if you want a highball to accompany it, that’ll be another ¥700. The service is fast and there’s an English menu (it’s across the street from an American military base).
Ippudo (Multiple locations)
Ippudo is a chain restaurant, so pick the closest one to you. Order the spicy karaka ramen (an 8 is spicy enough), and an order of gyoza, which pairs amazingly with the provided yuzukoshō. Their rooibos iced tea is also fantastic.
Ichiran (Multiple locations) 💴
Another chain ramen restaurant, though this one is known for the “antisocial” experience and hyperspecific ordering criteria. Buy a ticket from the kiosk, sit down in a booth (there are dividers on each side), order your ramen exactly how you would like it (broth thickness, noodle texture, garlic, spice), and pass the order through a little window where runners will pick it up and deliver the ramen minutes later.
I admit that it’s not my favorite ramen (nor experience), but definitely worth trying for both.
Ramen Street (Tokyo station) 💴
For a wide variety of ramen, head to the basement by the Yaesu south exit of Tokyo station and visit Ramen street. Lots of variety, each with varying line lengths (some up to an hour!).
Taishoken (Ikebukuro) 💴
This was the first bowl of ramen I ever had in Japan… it was amazing. The noodles are super thick compared to other restaurants, and the broth is rich (though a little on the fishier side). They also have amazing gyoza, though if you order a bowl of ramen and gyoza you’ll have a hard time finishing both.
Located right by the higashi-ikebukuro station, you might have to stand and wait a little on the balcony for the restaurant to clear out.
Afuri (Multiple locations) 💴
Right next door to Butagami (below) is a unique ramen restaurant: they do shio and shoyu ramen with citrus. It’s much lighter than any of the ramens above, and good for a warm day.
Hidden in the basement (sensing a theme?) of Roppongi Hills is a favorite tonkatsu restaurant. Go down the escalator from the Mori tower into the Roppongi station, and turn right into a corridor at your two o’clock–if walk down a long hall and end up at the fare gates you’ve gone too far.
They only serve tonkatsu: three grades and two cuts (fillet == hire, loin == rosu). I recommend getting half and half of the premium grade so you can try both.
It’s not as good as the Rusutsu black pork we had at Chitose in Hakuba, but it’s still excellent.
Toraji (Multiple locations) 🚬
If you’re in the mood for yakiniku, I strongly recommend heading to Toraji for their wagyu and super prime short rib. It’ll be a little on the expensive side, but I’ve managed to do a full meal (salad, meat, drinks) with coworkers for $75 per person. Reservations recommended on busier nights.
Yakiniku Champion (Ebisu) 🚬
The first thing you’ll notice when you enter Yakiniku Champion is that they’ve blatantly stolen their branding from the Chicago Bears. The second thing you’ll notice is the display case of well marbled meats ready for your consumption.
Definitely on the expensive side (you’ll spend ~$100/person for food and drinks), but well worth it for the amazing beef. We were able to get in without a reservation after waiting maybe 30 minutes (got a drink around the corner).
Ten Ryu Gyoza (Ginza)
A Chinese restaurant on the north side of Ginza with the largest and juiciest gyoza you’ve ever encountered. Duck into the alcove, head to the back left corner, and take the elevator up to 4F. There’s usually a line, so be prepared to wait for a seat.
Japan has a pretty relaxed stance on public drinking, leading me to do things like this:
Bar High Five (Ginza) 🚬
The first bar I went to in Tokyo, after I got kicked out of TENDER down the street because I wasn’t dressed well enough (SF tech bro doesn’t fly in Ginza). Take the elevator down to the basement, and wait for a spot (unless you followed my instructions and made reservations).
You’ll get a hot towel and an amuse bouche, as well as some crackers or nuts. Then, they’ll ask you what you want in my favorite format: base spirit, any flavors you like/dislike, and spirit forward or refreshing. Then they’ll make you something novel that meets those parameters, and trust me it’s delicious.
If you sit at the bar you can also watch them hand carve ice into diamonds or spheres for your drinks–ask one of the staff to show you their carving knife and technique! They also seem to have a few rotating bartenders–every time I go I see the same faces plus a new face or two.
Campbeltoun Loch (Ginza) 💴 🚬
Right outside of Hibya station, turn right at the above ground train tracks and look on the right side of the street for a basement entrance to one of the best selections of scotch in Tokyo. It’s a tight fit (and it’ll only fit ~6 people), but it’s definitely worth it.
Half pours are half the cost of a full pour (not so in many places), so it’s a great opportunity to try a few different things.
B Bar (Roppongi) 🚬
When I was in Tokyo in December 2016 we saw a bunch of signs for 300円 highballs, but the only part of the advertisement we could read was the name of this bar. Being the thrifty crew that we were, we decided to give it a go.
Little did we know that this bar is actually attached to the Baccarat crystal store in Roppongi, and doesn’t serve anything close to a $3 highball. I ended up getting a class of Hibiki 21 (at $25 a glass, it was the cheapest thing on the menu) while my coworker bought the last shot of Louis XIII for the low price of $200. That said, he was able to negotiate keeping the decanter it came in, which will go for $400-500 online, so I feel like he came out ahead.
They have some interesting things, but I’d save it for a time you want to impress your boss (and they’re paying).
Bar Caol Ila (Shibuya) 🚬
Caol Ila came at the recommendation of a fellow whisky fan I met in Campbeltoun Loch in June 2018. She actually told me to go to a different bar () but apparently the AC was out, so it was closed (summer in Tokyo very much requires AC).
As the name states, they’ve got a lot of Caol Ila, as well as some other peaty scotches (Ardbeg, Hakushu), and some SMWS bottles. Definitely go if you like peaty whisky.
Ne Plus Ultra (Roppongi, Ginza) 🚬
If you know me well, you’ll know that after whisky itself, my favorite thing in the world is finding hidden bars to drink whisky in. Ne Plus Ultra rises to the occasion. Hidden in the basement of an otherwise unassuming building next door to the Ippudo in Roppongi, you’ll need to use a member’s RFID card to enter.
Once you’re in, head down the stairs into a sitting room with overstuffed leather armchairs, a wood fireplace (unclear if it’s ever used), and a bar with a great selection of whisky, rum, and cognac designed to pair with the Cuban cigars stored in the humidor at the center of the bar.
There’s another, larger location in Ginza as well.
Koffee Mayama (Harajuku)
I admit that I don’t drink coffee, but everyone in my life who does swears by Koffee Mayama. Look for the black slat building with stepping stones and a pebble garden. Even if you tell them you don’t drink coffee and are here to buy a bag for a friend, they’ll pour you a sip of something delicious.
Bags are roughly $20, and they have ~20-25 different roasts (both their own and guest roasters).
As you might have guessed based on the recommendations above, most of what I shop for is alcohol related, though there will be a few exceptions.
Liquors Hasegawa (Tokyo Station)
There are two locations in Tokyo Station, but you’ll want to go to the one on Yaesu chika first street, as it’s the better of the two (it’s the one that offers samples). Samples vary from ¥100 to ¥500, based on the price of the bottle. Typically, I’ll stop by on my way out of the country in order to get rid of all my spare change.
Shinanoya (Ginza, Shinjuku, Shibuya)
Shinanoya has a huge selection of scotch, mostly from independent bottlers. They also have a reasonable amount of bourbon, though the prices are a little higher than other places. Occasionally they’ll have Japanese (I got Hibiki 17 for ~$100 in December 2016 and Yamazaki 2016 LE for about the same in 2017), but those days it’s mostly NAS and re-bottled scotch.
Liquor Express (Ginza)
Just down the street from Shinanoya, Liquor Express has one of the best selections of Japanese whisky I’ve seen. For a price. Bottles (when they’re in stock), go for a healthy premium (e.g. Nikka distillery components are ~3x the distillery price). They’ve also got a reasonable selection of old bottles for a good discount (e.g. I’ve seen the ceramic Tsuru 17 for $200 several times).
Liquor Mountain (Multiple locations)
A larger chain store than Shinanoya (and liquor only), they’ve got a pretty big selection of scotch. Always worth ducking in for a look, though it’s rare you’ll find something truly valuable. Some of them will do tastings as well, so make sure you’ve got your coins.
Tanakaya (Mejiro) 💴
Head out of the main entrance of the Mejiro station and turn left, staying on the left side of the street. Keep on the lookout for another basement stocked full of scotch and cognac, as well as a shockingly good selection of French wine and craft beer. No Japanese whisky though (they apologized profusely when I asked).
Cash only makes it hard to buy an expensive bottle though…
High-end department or electronics stores (Multiple locations)
Isetan, Mitsukoshi, etc. occasionally select a bottle of Suntory or Kavalan and sell it in their stores for a limited time. Department stores in Japan typically have a food hall on the basement floor(s), so look head downstairs and check out their selection if you’re in the area. No need to go out of the way to seek these out though.
Bic Camera, etc. also usually have some liquor on the first or second floor, though it’s usually not terribly interesting. When I was there in July 2018 they still advertised Yamazaki 12 and Hakushu 12 for ¥8800, but of course there’s none to be had.
Don Quijote (Multiple locations)
Donki is a trip in and of itself–it’s basically a vertially stacked Walmart, complete with literally everything one might need at any hour, day or night (they’re usually open 24/7).
The top floor usually has luxury goods and is where they keep the good booze; otherwise, look for a locked display case near the liquor or behind the register on the same floor.
Jack Road (Nakano)
Take the Chuo (rapid) north from Shinjuku one stop to Nakano, and walk up Nakano broadway until you get to the main mall. From there you can head to 3F for a lot of small watch shops with a impressive selections. Jack Road is the biggest, but there are three or four other smaller shops with some interesting pieces.
Kapabashi Dori (Akasaka)
If you’re into cooking, this street is the place to be. From tiny shops selling plastic and wax food to two feuding knifemakers, you can get a ton of different cooking accessories. There are also a lot of nice ceramics stores in the area.
I often jokingly say that Japan is “the last great America” in that they do everything better than the US does: better whisky, better national pride, and better baseball.
Japanese baseball games truly are something else. Seats start around ¥2000, and you can bring your own food and drink (!), so stop by a 7-11 or Lawson to pick up snacks and a few cold ones. At the entrance they’ll hand you a cup for you to pour your booze into, so I’d recommend keeping one beer out; otherwise, they’ll give you a weird look when you ask for a cup), and bringing the other N-1 in a backpack with a jacket stuffed on top. Rarely do they seem to check the whole bag. If you finish all N, you can buy beer inside the stadium for ¥500-700 from teenage girls running around with keg backpacks wearing what can only be described as a miniskirt made of coozie material.
Right after you enter the game, make sure you pick up a folded chant card. Every home team player has their own chant card, and if you don’t get one you’ll be lost for the entire game (who are we kidding, you’ll be lost with it too, but at least you’ll have more of an idea of what you’re supposed to be doing when).
Be prepared for other shenanigins too: one game the pitcher was driven to the mound in a convertible, and every few innings ~50 or so cheerleaders will run onto the field and start doing choreographed dances (Korean baseball is even more intense in this regard).
As for the baseball itself, it’s probably comparable to a AAA team in the states, but that’s not the point of going…