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Tokyo is an incredible dining destination. It has everything from Michelin Star restaurants to little hole-in-the-wall spots. The best part is that amazing food can be found just about anywhere and at any price range. You never know what you may stumble upon while wandering the city streets. With so many incredible food choices, it’s hard to decide how to make the most of your trip, especially if you have a limited amount of time. These are my top picks for must try food experiences in Tokyo, Japan:
1. Traditional Sushi
A trip to Tokyo isn’t complete without a traditional sushi experience. Tokyo is the world capital of sushi and not only is the fish some of the freshest that you’ll ever have, but many of the chefs spend years perfecting their skills. I recommend securing a reservation prior to your arrival. Reservations can be difficult for foreigners to obtain, but a hotel concierge may be able to help you out. There are also services such as Voyagin and Pocket Concierge that allow you to make reservations online for a fee or you can also just wait until your arrival and try your luck.
Upon landing in Tokyo, I called Kyubey (which came highly recommended) and was able to book a lunch reservation at one of their less busy locations. Ginza Kyubey was established in 1935 in Tokyo and has become one of the top sushi restaurants in Japan. You can expect high-quality food and amazing service. The whole experience was really special. Not only was the food delicious, but the amount of care and pride put into preparing every piece of fish was really incredible to watch.
A traditional sushi experience isn’t going to be cheap, but it is definitely worth the splurge. If you want to save a bit of money, I suggest opting for a lunch reservation. The cost of the smallest lunch portion at Kyubey is 4,700 JPY; it was actually quite filling and I found the servings to be generous.
2. Tasty Tempura
Tempura, or tendon, is a traditional Japanese dish of vegetables, meat, or seafood that has been battered and fried. These items are usually served over rice and dipped in a special sauce, called tentsuya, before eating. The batter is light, unlike the deep-fried items that are common in the United States. Tendon Tenya is a chain restaurant with locations throughout Tokyo and is a great spot for a cheap and delicious tempura meal.
I found the location in Harajuku to be convenient and the perfect place for a quick bite. The tempura at Tendon Tenya was some of the best I found during my trip and you really can’t beat the price. Some of my favorite items are the prawns and the pumpkin tempura. Dishes start at around 400 JPY and go up to 1000 JPY for a combo.
3. Visit a Food Hall
Many of Tokyo’s department stores have underground food halls. Visiting a food hall is a great way to sample some of Tokyo’s cuisines without a reservation. My favorite, Tokyu Food Show, is conveniently located next to the famous Shibuya Crossing and can be found on the basement level of the Shibuya Station near the east exit. It was once part of the large Tokyu Department Store. The department store closed its doors last year, but due to its popularity, its gourmet-style food court remains open.
Tokyu Food Show is one of the largest food halls in Tokyo, with over 85 vendors and a variety of cuisines from all over the world. You can find French pastries, Chinese dumplings, Indian curries, and of course, many amazing local Japanese bites. You won’t want to miss the unbelievable fresh sushi and delicious yakitori. Everything at Food Show is of high quality and many of the vendors are associated with restaurants in the area. The food here is intended for takeout, but there are a few small counters scattered about if you don’t mind standing.
4. Tokyo Street Food
You might be surprised to learn that street food in Tokyo can be somewhat of a challenge to find. It is definitely there, you just need to know where to look. It can usually be found along certain streets within the different districts of the city. Harajuku is a great area to explore. Along the main road, near Tokyu Plaza, you’ll find a handful of vendors mixed in among the shops. This area has more modern street food items. Here you will find multiple vendors serving the popular cheese dog, which is simply fried cheese on a stick, as well as many crepe stands.
Togoshi Ginza Shotengai is another great stop for food. It’s located in Shinagawa Ward and is the longest shopping street in Tokyo. The street becomes a walking street and is closed to traffic Monday through Saturday between 3:00 pm and 6:00 pm and from 2:00 pm to 7:00 pm on Sundays. The street is known for its korokke vendors. Korokke is a Japanese croquette or a breaded ball of potato or meat.
Nakamise street is another shopping street that is popular for its food. Nakamise Dori leads up to the gate of Senso-Ji temple and is just a short walk from the Asakusa Station. The street is very touristic and is packed with souvenir shops, but the food makes it worth a visit. The food stalls offer all kinds of traditional Japanese street food. You’ll find everything from fresh dumplings, yakitori, mochi ice cream, and karaage or fried chicken.
5. Sweets on Takeshita Street
Takeshita Street is a shopping street located in the district of Harajuku, an area popular with the Japanese youth. It’s one of my favorite areas in Tokyo. Harajuku is known for its artsy vibe, vintage shops, themed cafes, and cosplay stores. Along Takeshita Street, you will also find all kinds of fun dessert shops.
Totti Candy Factory is one of the favorites among tourists. It’s known for its giant cotton candy and rainbow grilled cheese. Other must-visit shops include Marion Crepes and Eiwelt Gelato for cute animal-shaped ice cream cones.
6. Conveyor Belt Sushi
There are a handful of conveyor belt sushi restaurants around Tokyo, but one of the most visited and highly rated is Genki Sushi. Genki Sushi is located in the Shibuya area and is a quick walk from the train station. It’s a great place to take a break from sightseeing and enjoy some fresh sushi at a great price. Genki Sushi is very popular and can get busy during lunch and dinner hours.
On arrival, you’ll want to check in with the host and join the wait outside. A crowd can form and although it looks like a lot of people, the restaurant is run very efficiently and the wait is not as long as you would think. Once your name is called, you’ll be given a seat at a counter with a touch-screen monitor to use for placing your order. The menu is available in a few different languages, including English, and you are allowed to select a few small plates at a time.
When your food is ready it is sent out on a belt that runs across the counter. As it is being sent out, your screen will light up, alerting you to which belt it will arrive on. The experience is a fun one, especially if it’s new to you. The food is also delicious and you can enjoy a meal for under 1000 JPY.