Enjoy traditional Japanese food in a historic restaurant … or dine in a sleek cafe serving molecular cuisine.
In Tokyo’s Minato district, one of Japan’s oldest restaurants awaits customers. First opened more than 350 years ago, Akasaka Asada serves kaga ryori, a cuisine hailing from Japan’s Kanazawa area. The chefs incorporate seasonal delicacies such as mountain-grown greens and seafood into miniature works of art, served in sunken, private tatami rooms.
In Tokyo, visitors can enjoy traditional Japanese food in a historic restaurant … or dine in a sleek cafe serving molecular cuisine. This bustling city serves visitors delicious selections displaying both a respect for the past and daring innovation.
After all, Tokyo is a foodie hub, with more Michelin stars awarded than any other city in the world, with 234 awarded stars in 2018. The starred restaurants include sushi, yakitori and ramen restaurants, of course — but also French, Italian and Chinese options, among others, displaying Tokyo’s international flair.
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Kaiseki ryori is a multicourse cuisine of Japan, a culinary finery of sorts, featuring premium, seasonal items such as Wagyu beef, Aigamo duck, Echizen crab and handmade noodles, delicately seasoned. The small dishes, soups and flame-grilled items are artfully arranged and garnished — almost like bonsai on a plate.
Find kaiseki in a ryotei, a service-focused, upscale restaurant with Japanese-style rooms. It’s all about the experience, here — tatami-mat floors, artfully arranged flowers, a server dedicated to your needs, and beautiful gardens outside. Diners remove shoes, step on to tatami flooring and sit on a cushion before a low table.
On an everyday basis, many Americans are now familiar with sushi. But there’s more to Japanese cuisine. For example, sushi lovers may also enjoy sashimi – sliced raw fish served with soy sauce — with ocean-fresh sashimi and sushi options near Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market.
Shabu shabu (hot pot) is a participatory experience — swish thin slices of beef and vegetables in boiling water, then dip in sauce before eating. With sukiyaki, you can cook sliced beef, tofu and vegetables with vermicelli noodles. Or seek out a make-your-own monjayaki restaurant, where you’ll cook savory flour-based pancakes with veggies and meat.
Tokyo’s Ryogoku district boasts such hot pot options, but other districts offer unique specialties as well. For example, in Fukagawa find a local rice dish topped with a miso-based stew of clams and leek; and in Asakusa, try dojo-nabe, an Edo-era dish made of freshwater fish, topped with chopped leeks and spices.
Tokyo’s traditional areas like Kanda, Nihombashi and Asakusa contain tiny family-run restaurants serving recipes passed down through generations, such as buckwheat-flour soba noodles, wheat-flour udon noodles and tempura — vegetables or fish battered in panko crumbs, then deep-fried.
Ramen shops ladle out quick-cooked noodles into giant bowls, in cozy pre-war and midcentury buildings festooned with bright signs, primarily in the Shinjuku business district. At Tokyo Station, visitors will even find a “Ramen Street,” and perhaps Tokyo’s variation on ramen — somewhat curly noodles swimming in the store’s original broth, accented by ingredients such as egg, bamboo shoots, sliced pork and scallions.
New twists, old favorites
But Japan is always experimenting — look no further than the blue-hued ramen dish at an Instagram-popular restaurant like Kipposhi, in Tokyo’s Oshiage area.
International trends like farm-to-table are represented at restaurants like Tokyo’s Mensho, where it’s farm-to-bowl; small batches of wheat noodles are made on-site in a contemporary, warm space. Some Tokyo chefs are sourcing fresh organic food from farmers, while others — such as at We Are The Farm Ebisu in Tokyo’s fast-paced Shibuya neighborhood — go a step further and grow their own greens.
Molecular cuisine uses scientific methods to craft small, savory dishes. The 8-seat, Michelin-starred Tapas Molecular Bar’s chefs cook up a feast using liquid nitrogen (among other tools), as visitors look on. Science also shows up in the dining room via cutting-edge tech. At upscale Tree by Naked, the gourmet food is real — but virtual reality–enhanced effects play with perceptions of light, sound and color in the multi-story dining facility.
Kaiten-zushi or conveyor-belt sushi is another new twist on a well-known favorite, and found in Shinjuku and throughout Tokyo. Grab a seat at the bar or in a booth, then select picks from the conveyor belt transporting plates of fish and vegetable sushi past diners. When you’ve finished, restaurant staff totals the order by the number and types of plates consumed.
Visitors also flock to Tokyo for unusual, almost surreal dining establishments that are increasingly popular. These themed restaurants are often found in districts like Shibuya. Among the themed-restaurant options? An “Alice in Wonderland”-themed restaurant, a kawaii (cute) monster café and even prison-themed and vampire-themed eateries. All offer simple meals — but complex, creative layouts for an only-in-Tokyo experience.
Skyscrapers epitomize Tokyo’s future-facing facets, and the city’s top-floor restaurants and bars don’t disappoint. Sample high-rise cuisine and cocktails in the Otemachi and Marunouchi districts around Tokyo Station.
At night, dine and drink in hot nightlife areas, including Roppongi, Shinjuku and Shibuya. Try the skewered, grilled meat termed yakitori, which can be found at an izakaya restaurant, where tapas-style small plates of savory, fried foods pair well with local beers, sake and alcoholic beverages.
Find boisterous, atmospheric izakayas serving locally made craft brews in areas such as around the Yurakucho and Ueno stations. It’s a perfect blend of old and new.
The Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau works to provide the best “Tokyo experience” for every visitor, every time they visit, by uncovering and developing Tokyo’s enduring charms.