I spent the past week in Tokyo for work, and while most of my days were spent inside an office building, I used the evenings to discover Tokyo’s incredibly diverse night life, much aided by the great colleagues of the EU delegation in Japan who warmly welcomed us and introduced us to some of the city’s more interesting spots.
The choice of restaurants and bars in Tokyo being so humongous, there is no point in pretending that the addresses and tips I am sharing below are some of the highlights of any Tokyo trip. Rather you should see them as pointers to help you go out there and discover for yourself what Tokyo has to offer, based on your own tastes and interests.
You can also check out my recommendations for what to do in Tokyo at night.
Here are 5 addresses I can heartily recommend:
Gonpachi Nishiazabu, Minato-ku
Gonpachi is the restaurant in which Kill Bill’s sword fighting scene was shot. It is therefore totally iconic, very touristy but also had good food for a decent price. As it’s also extremely photogenic I really enjoyed my time there, although I must have been a bore for all my colleagues!
Bonus: observe the badass grilling experts while you sip on your cold draft beer at centre stage bar.
Address: 1 Chome-13-11 Nishiazabu, Minato, Tokyo 106-0031, Japon
Tofuro is a traditional izakaya (Japanese inn) in the heart of Tokyo’s very popular Ginza district. It’s interior decoration will remind you of all those samurai and geisha movies you’ve seen. The food there, especially the seafood grill and the sushi, were incredibly refined, again for a very modest price compared to most Western European restaurants. If you go there as a group you can even enjoy a whole room to yourselves.
The various sake brands they have are also quite good, and the service impeccable.
Bonus: if you don’t feel like seating in seiza position all evening, they have rooms catering to tourists, who can let their legs dangle under the table while still having the impression they are eating the traditional way as their table is so close to the ground.
Address: 8 Chome-2 Ginza, Chuo, Tokyo 104-0061, Japon
Did you know sushi is from Tokyo, or at least the nigiri sushi version? If you are lucky, you can secure one of the few tables at Sushi Iwase in Shinjuku, a favourite among both locals and tourists since after WWII.
I was alone so I didn’t stay very long but the sushi I had were divine, and really quite different from those you get in European ‘Japanese’ restaurants, which are most of the time managed by people from China or South-East Asia.
Do book in advance and avoid weekends if you want a chance to try them out!
Address: 4-1-9 Shinjuku, Shinjuku Youth Bldg. Pax 6F, Shinjuku 160-0022, Tokyo Prefecture
If you are curious about Japanese tea and sweets called ‘wagashi’, you can either go to one of the traditional and expensive tea houses for a proper tea ceremony, or you can head to Ginza’s super modern and sleek Higayashi tea bar.
I went in the early afternoon and tried a selection of green teas and wagashi as I wasn’t sure what exactly I wanted to try. And while the wagashi sweets were absolutely delicious with many new and interesting tastes, I was a bit less impressed by the tea. But that’s because I’m a big big tea drinker and am quite demanding 🙂
Bonus : the interior decoration itself is worth a visit!
Address: 1 Chome−7−7, Ginza, Chuo, 104-0061 Tokyo,
Your friendly local izakaya
Wherever you are in Tokyo, you will find a local friendly izakaya which doesn’t even have a menu in English, but serves lovely typical food. The one we tried on our first day in Tokyo, near Hiroo station, served ‘oden’, a tasty mix of vegetables and tofu.
We loved the fact that no one really understood us and that we just picked what looked good on the counter, without knowing what it was and how much it cost.
Bonus: if you are lucky a friendly local with some English will let you in on the secrets of that izakaya. Try to spot the bottles of sake that people own and leave at their favorite restaurant, for example!
While the more famous spots in town offer an incredibly entertaining environment that will certainly tick the boxes of what a proper Japanese culinary and cultural experience should look like, you might actually discover that it’s in the small, unknown restaurants in the middle of nowhere that one tastes the best Tokyo food.
Now I’m looking forward to your suggestions for my next visit to Japan.
What is your favourite restaurant or type of food in Tokyo?