Before arriving in Japan, I had high expectations. From all the research I did to literally everyone and their mothers telling me how great it was, I was expecting greatness. Coming out of this trip, I don’t just understand everyone’s hyperbolic sentiments, but I 100% agree with them. Take me at my word or don’t, but my first Japan experience was humbling, and weeks later, I am still blown away by its magnificence.
I did not have a singular bad meal in Tokyo, nor was I ready stop trying the city’s myriad of offerings. Most restaurants don’t have any trace of English, yet I was able to bank on the fact that it would be of high quality. Skeptical? Think of Tokyo like that boyfriend that melts your hardened heart and breaks your trust issues because he’s just that great.
Because this was my first time in Tokyo, and Japan for that matter, I don’t claim to be an expert on the city. But I do think this list I’ve created will be a perfect one for any first timer’s wanting to try the classic establishments, as well as some hidden gems. This list is a result of extensive research and nitpicking, with a desire of finding some of the best culinary experiences. This guide also largely has “quality for price” in mind. As a solo traveler, I wanted to make sure my money was both going a long way and worth the spend. Many say Japan is expensive, and if you want to go to all the Michelin starred restaurants, you will dish out a fortune; but you can easily spend less than $50 a day on fantastic meals. So here it is: the places I think you cannot miss when in Tokyo for the first time.
- You can find this Ramen brand all over Tokyo, so just choose one closest to you, order the Afuri Signature Yuzu Shio Ramen (w/Chashu), and be blown away. The broth is simultaneously rich with umami yet light from the distinct citrus flavor. The chashu is nicely charred and beautifully tender. Think of this as the ramen you wish you could find in the states on those cold, gloomy nights.
- Note: You order from the vending machine and then sit down.
TYO📍: It's #NationalPastaDay in the states, but when in Japan, ramen will have to suffice 😏 and my oh my was this one SPECTACULAR. Recommended by @davidchang and @dominiqueansel as some of the best Ramen in Tokyo, and it certainly was. The Yuzu Rantanmen was perfectly spicy, fatty yet clean, and had that lovely citrus flavor in every bite. Plus the Chashu was super tender, and the egg was perfectly cooked 🙆🏻😍 They have a bunch of different locations around Tokyo, and you order from a vending machine! #befatbehappy #bfbhtokyo #afuri #ramen #shinjuku #tokyo
- For about $8, this will be the best Tonkotsu Ramen you’ll ever have, partly because it is simply fantastic, but partly because you get to customize it from start to finish. Everything about this ramen will be exactly how you desire, which is why you’ll love it so much. If you go with someone, please also order the Simmered Pork Belly w/ Dried Seaweed as an appetizer. It is absolutely melt-in-your-mouth, and it is glorious.
TYO📍: Whether it's salty, spicy, thick, thin, has an egg or not.. It doesn't matter what kind – Japan simply has the best (ra)men, and they're all in the form of a bowl 🍜 Have a special place in my heart for @ichiranjp, aka the fully customizable, very popular, and purely amazing Tonkotsu Ramen 🙆🏻#befatbehappy #bfbhtokyo #ichiran #ramen #ichiranramen #shibuya #harajuku
- This is the famous Michelin starred ramen in Japan, and if you have time, GO. It’s expertly made, but it also wasn’t my favorite. It was very clean and French-like in execution, and each ingredient on it’s own was excellent. However, as one dish, it lacked something to bring it together. If you go, I’d recommend ordering the Char Siu Ajitama Shoyu Soba (with all the fix ins: the charsiu, the wontons, and the egg).
TYO📍: Such a hopeless ramen-tic that I woke up at 7AM just to go get a ticket at Tsuta, to then come back at 2PM to wait on line, and then finally try this Michelin-starred Ramen 🍜😂 Worth it? The soy sauce, black truffle based soup was very clean and perfectly comforting for the rainy day. Each ingredient was expertly prepared having its own distinct place in the bowl, with my favorite being the Wonton. Was it the best ramen in Japan that I've had? I'd have to say no, but it was definitely worth experiencing it once 🙆🏻🙌🏼 #befatbehappy #bfbhtokyo #tsuta #ramen #ramennoodles #tsutaramen #michelinstar
- Go here in Shinjuku for an amazing Omakase lunch, but make sure you go at lunch because it’ll be half the price ($33). A note about omakase in general: go and splurge on it at least once on your trip. You’ll notice the difference is in execution and creativity, not in the quality of the fish.
Sushi Zanmai at Tsukiji Market
- This is one of the most popular spots in Tsukiji without the ridiculous line, and it’s also really good. A piece of Fatty Tuna (Toro) is $3USD. Rest on that fact for a moment and then book your trip immediately.
- Note: Go around Tsukiji in general and sample a bunch of different things.
TYO📍: Made it to Tsukiji Market for the first time, and it was a religious experience. Being able to handpick some of the freshest and most delicious pieces I've eaten was definitely one for the books 🍣🙆🏻 Plus, had a fantastic time goofing off with @theninabobo, @hungrytokyo, and Nick 🙌🏼 Peep our IG stories to see our insanity 😂 #befatbehappy #bfbhtokyo #tsukiji #tsukijimarket #sushi #toro #uni
Tokyu Food Show (below Shibuya Station)
- This is a huge supermarket underneath Shibuya Station, and you will feel both overwhelmed and excited about all the options here. Their supermarket sushi is quality and something you should try at least once while in Tokyo.
TYO📍: How is it possible that even supermarket sushi is this good? Man, I love #Tokyo 😂❤️Also, this Food Hall underneath #Shibuya station is definitely something to pass by. Overwhelming with the amount of people and stands, but totally worth going to, especially if you're in need of a snack before or after traveling on the subway 😉 #befatbehappy #bfbhtokyo #sushi #sushisunday #sushilover
- This is a wagyu-focused spot in Shinjuku. It can be expensive, but if you go for lunch, you’ll pay half price. Regardless, the food is so worth it. I got the Wagyu Beef Sukiyaki lunch set, and it’s the best I’ve ever had.
TYO📍: 100% the BEST Sukiyaki I've ever had. The meat was premium grade Wagyu Beef. The broth was perfectly sweet. The noodles were fantastic and soaked up all the flavors. I really have nothing but praises for Kisoji in Shinjuku. BUT definitely go for lunch instead of dinner because it gets pricey otherwise 🙆🏻Btw when you get there, get on the elevator to the 5th floor 😉 #befatbehappy #bfbhtokyo #sukiyaki #shinjuku #kisoji #wagyu #tokyo
- At Ikinari Steak, you’ll find cheap and quality grilled pepper steak with garlic and rice. You order the type of beef you want, how much of it you want, and how you’d like it cooked. After ordering, you’ll return to your table, but you have to eat standing up. Getting to burn calories while eating outstanding steak? Count me in everyday.
TYO📍: Couldn't leave Tokyo beef-ore trying the famous @ikinariofficial, and it 100% lives up to the hype 😍🙌🏼 Super affordable, flavorful and quality, all served on a sizzling hot platter with some onions, corn, and a side of rice 🙆🏻Also I can cry a little less as I leave Japan knowing I can get this bad boy in NYC #befatbehappy #bfbhtokyo #ikinari #steak #shinjuku #ikinaristeak #dryaged
- This is a local Izakaya in a basement near Shibuya station. This place has super amazing Yellowtail with Daikon and a killer beautiful Sashimi Platter. No one speaks English here at all, but you can just ask for what they recommend and trust that you’ll have a great experience.
TYO📍: Walked into a basement where it was all locals, no one spoke a word of English, and I just had to trust my meal was going to be good. While that may freak some people out, I love things like this. 🙆🏻 Sangyodo was a fantastic Izakaya experience, and I got to sit right in front of the chef where I saw him expertly prepare this beautiful Sashimi plate. Swipe left and you'll see simmered Yellowtail with Daikon 🙌🏼 #befatbehappy #bfbhtokyo #shibuya #sangyodo #sashimi #yellowtail #sushi
- This is a fun and creative Okonomiyaki spot in the Shinjuku Red Light district. I’d recommend going to this basement spot with a group of friends for a late night bite.
- Google “Piss Alley” and it’ll lead you to this area with a bunch of cheap restaurants. Go here late at night with a few people and choose to eat pretty much anywhere.
- This spot specializes in high-quality grilled meats. This place is quite expensive, but the Japanese grilled meat is worth the price tag. However, I would recommend eating a real dinner beforehand and ordering a small portion here just to try it.
- If you’re into cocktails and alcohol, this is about as speciality as you can get. You have to make an appointment at this 8 seat bar, which has a Seasonal Cocktail Tasting Menu only. The experience is quite unique and quite delicious. You’ll pay about $65USD for 6 cocktails, and they may be the most eclectic and fresh you’ll every try.
- I know that Dominique Ansel wasn’t created here, and you can get it in many major cities. BUT, if you’re in Ginza, just stop by this specific location for the Black Sugar DKA. It’s delicious, and they only sell it here.
TYO📍: Sweet dreams are made of this 🎵🙆🏻 I already LOVE @dominiqueansel's DKA but in Ginza, they are putting out a Black Sugar DKA exclusive to that location, and boy was it absolutely fantastic. I actually like the DKA more than the very hyped Cronut, which in NYC, you can get without waiting on line for the cronut 😉 #befatbehappy #bfbhtokyo #dominiqueansel #dominiqueanselbakery #dka #tokyo #ginza
Sadly, that’s it for now. Tokyo is a life-changing city, and if you get to go, you’ll know why. I hope you get to try at least one of these spots because they are all truly superb.