The main point of any trip to Japan is the food. One of the best ways to plan a trip to Tokyo is around the food. But to be honest one doesn’t need much planning to eat well in this city. You’re surrounded by an incredible local culinary culture compounded with the influence of imported cuisines made with Japanese finesse.
It was my first trip to Tokyo (the first time for the whole family) and I had a list of dozens of places compiled through recommendations and research, but every mealtime decision was made spontaneously. Scrolling through the map to see what was nearby, what was open. And when in doubt piecing together meals with bentos from depachikas and snacks from konbinis. Looking at food was the main activity of the trip, collecting photos of familiar LA spots in a foreign city, peering into every restaurant and eatery with wide eyed wonder, the appetite of eyes always a little more ambitious than that of the stomach. I can’t wait to go back and explore more of the city, one meal at a time.
After checking into our Airbnb in Shinjuku, we set out for some dinner. Abura Soba was close and an easy choice (and the menu was easy too even for jet lagged tourists). We love noodles and we love scallions and this had plenty of both and a jammy sauce with egg and vinegar and chili oil. First meal in the city was a 10/10.
FEAST FOR THE EYES
all around shinjuku
The rest of the evening was spent exploring the network of department stores and all the food courts and restaurants and cafes and bars within, overwhelmed in the best way in the depachikas, drooling over the bakeries, thinking about how
Brunch was at a cute spot in Omotesando that I had stalked on Instagram. The patio was pretty full by mid morning. We loitered in Breadworks (the associated bakery) while we waited.
Wanted coffee. And wanted to go to a place that I saw on TV (Terrace House). But regardless Lattest is a super cool cafe with industrial chic vibes, all women-run and great coffee.
Can’t walk more than a couple blocks before stopping for a bite (or rather, seeing other people queue and getting in line behind them). Maisen is a chain that specializes in katsu sandos. And they package them up neatly in boxes that makes it quite convenient to eat while walking around the neighborhood.
I was dying to go to the beautiful Nezu museum, and while there did a little tea ceremony that came with a traditional sweet bite.
Even though I don’t really care for traditional Japanese sweets (they’re always a little too sweet for me) I will happily participate for the tea. Also, you could literally serve me anything in this garden and I’d eat it up.
We continued walking form the museum over to Roppongi, and went to Imakatsu for lunch. Katsu restaurants are one of my favorite concepts. You order your deep fried main and then round it out with bottomless shredded cabbage with sesame dressing, rice and miso soup. Imakatsu had a bit of a wait even in mid afternoon but was well worth it.
The rest of the day was spent catching views from Roppongi Hills, and walking around Shibuya. For dinner we took the easy way out, ducking into an Ippudo Ramen in a department store and marveling at just how much cheaper it is in Japan compared to the US.
We grabbed some coffee from a cafe near the Airbnb and then headed over to the Imperial Palace to start the day.
Next on the itinerary was Asakusa. I had been recommended Asakusa Imahan, a sukiyaki and shabu shabu institution in the neighborhood. Even on the early side there was already a queue. Which I took as a good sign, especially since many were locals. With our spot saved, I walked over to another neighborhood institution: Asakusa Kagetudo to pick up some of their famous melonpan. Nothing like pregaming for sukiyaki with ice cream filled bread.
AFTERNOON PICK ME UP
After braving the crowds around Sensoji, it was time for dessert. My first choice matcha gelato was already sold out for the day, but my heart was set on ice cream so I settled for a spot in the shopping street, which hit the spot just fine.
After Asakusa, we did an obligatory stop by Akhihabara to immerse in the chaos that pop culture tells us is Tokyo. It didn’t disappoint. And then we continued on over to Ginza. Where I went to the MUJI flagship and shopped around to build up an appetite. Dinner was a spontaneous choice. I looked on the map and Sato Yoske had decent reviews, and udon sounded pretty good so we thought we’d give it a shot, wandering through rather quiet streets after dark to find it. It ended up being an excellent choice. This is probably the best udon I’ve ever had. Fresh, chewy, almost al dente. And so many options from soup to chilled to dipped. I was quite pleased with this unplanned meal.
2 Chome-12-20 Komachi, Kamakura, Kanagawa 248-0006, Japan
We’d originally planned on going to Hakone and doing the classic “admire Mt Fuji” itinerary that one does. But weather was not on our side and so we decided to stay in the city for the entirety of our trip. Which gave us a day to make a lil day trip to Kamakura.
After taking the train out, we waited a hilarious amount of time for curry and a famous curry house, Caraway. It was really quite good, and inexpensive, and clearly a very traditional and nostalgic atmosphere that is so cherished by the Japanese. But it seemed a little overhyped considering the long wait. But still a delicious lunch.
The afternoon was spent in the shopping streets, filled with other visitors whether local or international, sampling foods, buying things on skewers, snacks in bags, never having the chance to be hungry.
DESSERT FOR DINNER
After returning to the city, we were not hungry enough for dinner, but still felt reluctant to go home, unwilling to miss a meal in our short time in Japan. And so we ended up at Harbs. Something my mom found on some Taiwanese blog. Famous for teas and Japanese style cakes. So basically, dessert for dinner but no one was complaining. Harbs is good, their cakes (while pricey) are all delicious and pair so well with tea.
4 Chome-13 Tsukiji, Chuo City, Tokyo 104-0045, Japan
4 Chome-9-12 Tsukiji, Chuo City, Tokyo 104-0045, Japan
Some people wake up well before dawn to go to Tsukiji Market and watch the fish auction. I was not interested. I mean, I’m not really interested in seafood in general, but I felt the need to participate, given the fame of the fish market, and because it was scheduled to move from it’s original location. So we got there at a normal hour of morning, the market already full of action, and more and more people crowding into the alleys (aisles?) as the hours went by. The vendors of fresh seafood grilled, boiled, cut and served so casually on skewers and paper bowls make for a fun and interactive eating experience.
I had read somewhere that there was a stall off to the side of the market that specializes in gyudon and is a favorite among local workers of the market. And on an overcast morning, there’s something so appealing about a steaming vat of beef stew in a stall that despite its location doesn’t sell fish at all. There are only a couple seats at the counter and some tables for standing. You eat there, you get hot tea to wash down the rich meal. You leave full and satisfied. You wonder why the best gyudon you’ve ever had is adjacent to a famous fish market. Kitsuneya is famous for a reason and even as someone who hates the smell of seafood I would happily go back to the fish market just for this.
BREAKFAST FOR LUNCH?
When it starts raining, the options for things to do becomes, well, fewer. And at some point after popping into some malls and shopping, we decide we need a break and despite not being hungry at all, sit down for fluffy souffle pancakes at A Happy Pancake. The good thing is, at an early afternoon hour, there wasn’t a wait. A couple plates to share and drinks all around made for a nice “afternoon tea” and we continued on our way to shop around Ginza because a rainy day calls for lots of department store steps.
7-ELEVEN ROUND Up for dinner
Having walked through several food courts around the many department stores in Ginza, we picked up some snacky foods, stopped by 7-Eleven for some more snacks and instant ramen, and then hauled it back to the hotel for a rather DIY dinner (which was as good as any meal I’ve had tbh, we love a food court and convenience store haul).
LUNCH pieced together from a bunch of random places
The last day was pretty frenetic. We went over to Tokyo station, snacking on the way and then giving into the alluring stacks of bentos for a quick lunch.
SNACKING & SHOPPING
The rest of the day was spent wandering the labyrinth of underground malls beneath the station, and then exploring the department stores and shops nearby. Made a quick stop by Shibuya and Omotesando for more shopping before heading back to Shinjuku.
Random department store restaurant specializing in ochazuke, somewhere in Shinjuku
Dinner was again a spontaneous choice. Wandering the food courts and restaurants of the department stores before settling on a restaurant that specializes in ochazuke. It was the first time I’d had ochazuke and while I’m normally not a fan of porridge or congee or really anything that makes my rice soggy, I did like the subtle flavor of tea and warmth it added to what otherwise could be easily mistaken as a poke bowl.
Did one more shopping spree.
Had one last ice cream at the airport.
And admired my candy haul at home.