Here are three ‘Tokyo’s best….’ experiences I’ve found. NONE of which you’ll find in the Lonely Planet. There are many far more fabulous bloggers than I who have amazing detail. So please visit the links for more info.
Also check my Google Map of Yokohama and Tokyo for locations.
Mutekiya in Ikebukuro was described as Tokyo’s best ramen. No arguments here. It was fabulous and cheap. Considering the quality for about $12 Australian I felt like I was robbing the place. Frankly I didn’t like it as much as Yokohama’s best ramen (their pork was way more smokey and BBQey), but it was amazing.
Even with typhoon heavy rain, there was still a 20 minute queue to get in this little place. It seats about 16-20 people also. So don’t expect to waltz straight in or enjoy a few quiet beers. There were a few repeat visitors in the queue too, always a reassuring sign.
It’s about a 5-10 minute walk from the Ikebukuro subway on the JR line, so is it accessible? Hell yeah. See the link above for full details. My advice, get there for about 11am and have a big bowl or ramen to keep you full all day.
Maisen Tonkatsu is the opposite of the ramen rush. I’m told it is a chain store, but you’d never guess. It’s in the very posh Aoyama district area near Harajuku, so this ain’t no sloppy Burger King. It’s the kind of place posh mums take their daughters out to for a long, leisurely lunch. It’s down these tiny back streets full or markets and boutiquey stuff which is very entertaining walk in itself.
You can either sit at the bar – an experience in itself – or wait for a table in the main room. If you’re not fussed you can probably sit at the bar without queuing. But to get a table you’ll have to wait 10-20 mins. They serve great set meals with different variations of delicately fried pork cutlet (ton katsu) in the crunchy panko crumbs. Something you can get overseas but you haven’t really tried it until you’ve had it in Japan. It’s just soooo much better.
There’s plenty of set meal options, most of them well under $20 Australian and all very, very tasty. Unlike the ramen stores you can kick back and have a few beers here, maybe even desert. There’s no hurry. So Maisen Tonkatsu is a must to remember that you’re on holiday when Tokyo starts wearing you down. Being down the back streets it’s a little harder to find but it’s entertaining. Simply use the Google Map above and your phone (here’s another handy tip about phones in Japan) and you can’t go wrong.
Finally and arguably the best it’s okonomiyaki (o-ko-no-mi-ya-ki) time. Buchiumaya in Shinjuku serves Hiroshima style pancakes (there’s two schools of thought: Kyoto and Hiroshima style. Apparently okonomiyaki is huge in Hiroshima). Not soft, sweet fluffy western pancakes. These babies are a whole meal in themselves. In fact I suggest starving yourself a bit so you can finish the thing. Don’t know if it’s the best in Tokyo but it was the best food of my trip.
Buchiumaya is a tiny place that seats about 15 people. It’s in the back alleys of Shinjuku and is full of Japanese rustalgia from the 1950s, e.g. old porcelain signs for soda pop and various other kitschy advertising. For me that really added to the irresistible charm of the place. They cook the pancakes on a massive hot plate and it’s a very cruisey atmosphere. The cooks are in front of you and talk shit all night with the locals. It’s a great laid back place.
Oh yeah and they serve Hoppy beer and shochu in a big beer mug. Strangely no other places I found will mix beer with Shochu in the one glass, but it works and it’s a great drink for the barmy Tokyo nights. But let’s not forget the pancakes, they’re absolutely brilliant. You can get them with cheese, pork, prawns and loads of spring onion. Enough spring onion to sink a ship – twice.
Of all three places, Buchiumaya is the hardest to find. We had to wait about 20 minutes for a table. There are other bars across the road you could go to while you wait I guess. One is called Mr Canso that has beer and canned food, just plain Japanese weirdom. Probably best to do it on a quiet night light a Tuesday or Wednesday. As Japanese businessman endlessly while away the hours sinking beers, cigarettes and pancakes into the night. I strongly suggest getting a cab there as it’s hard to find. You can easily walk to Shinjuku station on your way home. It’s about 15 minutes.