Ramen is to Tokyo what pizza is to New York City: a hot-button topic that often boils down to water. All three locations of this popular mini chain swear by h20 from the wells of Mt. Afuri in Kanagawa. Pick and pay for a bowl using the picture menu on the vending machine, hand the ticket to the chef, and then join the best-noodle-bar-in-town debate inevitably going on at the bar.
Creative types claim tables for two or camp out on the wide, continuous daybed that runs along one wall of the the trapezoid-shaped room. Round trays stabilize dishes of updated Japanese comfort food from lunchtime until late. Opt for dessert and tea with a lunch set, as the pumpkin cake and parfaits are divine.
Pop down the alley just around the corner from the united arrows in Harajuku. See a calf wearing tribal beads in the middle of the street? You’re in luck: the curry spot is open. A laid back Danish modern design sensibility coupled with '70s African flair and meals that easily last hours make this place feel less like a restaurant and more like a beatnik lair.
A cluster of pop-up food stalls in a lovely outdoor space away from the fray of Harajuku. There's the vegan Cori stand (rare in Tokyo), the cute Coffee Shozo, and the deliciously crisp Brooklyn Ribbon Fries. Check out the rotating exhibits of local artists in the Festival Tent or rent the parked caravan (instead of a hotel) for a night.
Finding this spot takes a little work, but you will be handsomely rewarded. Turn down a non-descript alleyway in Harajuku and up a narrow flight of stairs leading to a tiny shop overflowing with flowers and an organic, farm-to-table restaurant that sits less than 20 people (make reservations in advance). Eatrip does dinner on Tuesday through Saturday and brunch on the weekend.
It doesn’t look like much from the street. But once inside, this after-work and late-night dining destination reveals itself to be a revelrous winding food hall showcasing regional dishes from across the country. Grab frosty mugs of lemon shochu cocktails and take a table in the aisle where you can dig into all sorts of small plates from onigiri and sushi to yakisoba and steak.
Act like a local and post up for an afternoon at this cafe, mercantile, and event space. Go for coffee, tea, and baked goods, or take the Mediterranean sandwiches, salads, and pasta route. Either way: end up on a couch and take advantage of WiFi in the sunny back room. Pick up chocolates, stationery, candles, or other gifty items on the way out.
East of the Sumida River, a tiny restaurant churns out one thing and one thing only: tempura of the edomae variety, meaning it adheres to seasonal ingredients of the Shigunate era. Reservations are a must.
Enter only when ready to grub at the yakitori joint at the bottom of the massive Roppongi Hills shopping complex. A mob of friendly, grill-happy young men in hachimaki (traditional headbands symbolizing determination) sling skewers of all kinds (meat, chicken, seafood, veggies) and keep the cold beer coming.
Open since 1895, Imahan is one of the oldest sukiyaki spots in the city. Try not to drool as your server prepares the perfectly marbled wagyu beef sizzling in the shallow iron pot. Once the beef is cooked, it's presented to you dipped in raw egg (all that umami flavor!). End the meal with fluffly eggs scrambled with the remaining sukiyaki sauce. Oishii-desu!
After navigating the maze that is Tokyo Station (look for the Yaesu Central Exit, then turn right), join the lines of Japanese salarymen and choose your dish from the pictures on the vending machines in front of each store. Present your receipt and your bowl will be brought to you once you sit down. Rokurinsha is one of the most popular, but this alley is prime Ramen real estate (you have to be invited to open a shop here), so you can't go wrong with any of the options.
Whether crammed in at the bar or tucked into a Tatami room in the back, the friendly cooks deliver the authentic Izakaya experience you've always dreamed of and the sashimi and tempura of tonight’s dreams. This hole-in-the-wall is tough to find but worth every baffling wrong turn. The best we can do: Just north of Tokyu Hands there's a 7-11; look for the alley entrance directly across the street, then head up hill. The restaurant entrance is on your right. Ganbatte! (Translation: good luck.)
Slide up to the eight-seat, L-shaped bar and watch the young chef (Takao Ishiyama is barely 30-years-old but has already trained under some of Tokyo's best sushi chefs) meticulously prepare each dish. Ishiyama's English is pretty good, and he's happy to tell you about each piece. For its quality and Ginza location, this omakase meal is not cheap. But it is justified.
A destination cafe and garden shop where the rustic plates and O-Kitchen desserts are as much of a draw as the stock inside the pop-up shop/outdoor hut for wood carving workshops and rosette making. After coffee, cruise over to nearby Playmountain, another beacon of postmodern Japanese lifestyle from Landscape Products Co., Ltd.
The white-washed rustic cafe collaboration between artist Yoshitomo Nara and design firm Graf is practically hidden on the fifth floor of a back street office building. Order a lunch set (a super deal for 1000 yen) and peer into the windows of the clubhouse constructed in the center of the room. Note the collage-like details of Nara’s workshop installation.