I thought it was worth writing up this information, after having travelled to Japan several times we have been able to accumulate a list of places to eat for a variety of different food. This information has been updated after each trip and has been sent around to numerous friends planning their own trip to Japan. Below is a compilation of the places that we have tried during our travels. Bon Appetite!
For food recommendations in Japan, its best to use the Tabelog website as the Japanese tend to use this website for restaurant reviews. This means you will be able to find places that the locals really love going to. The Foursquare app works well in Kyoto and Tokyo.
Katsu Don and Katsu Curry
Zuicho Katsudonya, Shibuya: a small family run restaurant famed for its Katsu Don. It is a popular place, so you may have to wait in line.
Ouroji Tonkatsu Don, Shinjuku: this restaurant is located near the shopping centre in Shinjuku. The Pork Katsu Curry here is fantastic with a spicy kick! It is a fuss free meal of fried pork served in a rich curry with rice.
Tare Katsu, Shibuya: A small bar style restaurant specialising in Tonkatsu Katsu. You can order a Katsu Don or Katsu Curry. Both these dishes can be ordered with vegetables.
Ichiran, various locations: a chain restaurant famous for its Ramen especially amongst foreigners. Its a good place to start for your first ramen meal in Japan. Beware though, the spicy ramen definitely has a kick! At Ichiran, each seat is its own private booth where you can sit and truly savour the amazing flavours of your ramen!
Afuri, Tokyo: a different type of ramen, they have a selection of Shio and Shoyu ramen and add Yuzu to the broth. This gives it a subtle citrus flavour and is worth trying if you want something different.
Menya Syo, Shinjuku: this was another chain ramen restaurant that specialised in Shio style ramen. The ramen broth here was a light Shio base and was salty, rich and fragrant. This ramen-ya served their ramen bowls with daikon radish.
Ippudo Ramen, various locations: This was our first meal in Japan on our first trip to Japan. I remember sitting at the table, just absorbing the beautiful aromas from the ramen bowl. A Japanese friend has said to me that this is one of the chain ramen restaurants that the Japanese do visit.
Kameya, Shinjuku: This is a small noodle stall selling hot bowls of silky udon and soba noodles with tempura. The restaurant sits 7 people and targets the business lunch crowd. There is always a line at this place so as soon as you are finished eating, quickly clear your seat for the next customer. Both the udon and soba noodles are fantastic here!
Iwamoto Q, Shinjuku: This is a 24 hour noodle joint selling soba noodles in Shinjuku. Get the mixed vegetable tempura with noodles on your first try. The jammy soft boiled egg is also amazing!!
Yomoda Soba, Ginza: this place looks like a hole in the wall noodle joint, however the hot soba noodle soup is fantastic here! The shop is also famous for their Japanese curry on rice. At this shop, a vending machine is placed at the front entrance where you can choose and pay for your meal.
Sushi Nomidori, Shibuya Station – This restaurant is a little hard to find, its located on the 4th level of Shibuya station. You will need to take a ticket to wait for a seat. It is important to wait as they will skip you if you are not there when your number is called out. We got the sushi omakase platter and it was great. They also have a takeaway window which is definitely worth trying if you don’t want to wait for seat in the restaurant.
Top Sushi restaurants, Tokyo: The below list of restaurants were recommended to us by a Japanese chef specialising in omakase sushi in Melbourne. All of these restaurants require booking ahead of time.
Hashiguchi, Akasuka: We ended up going to this sushi ya located in Tokyo. This restaurant is rated second best in Tokyo on Tabelog. The omakase set menu was very expensive but without a doubt one of the best meals we have ever had! You have the option of choosing the sashimi and nigiri omakase or just the nigiri omakase.
Satei Hato, Shibuya: This is one of the best old style coffee shops which are known as Kissaten’s in Tokyo. This coffee shop is one of the only places in the world that does fermented/aged coffee named as ‘5th Avenue’. It takes 20 minutes to prepare the coffee. Also don’t forget to order a chiffon cake with your coffee, they make each part of it from scratch and its amazing!
Roasted Coffee Laboratory, Shibuya: This was a new age coffee shop specialising in filter coffee using aero press and drip filter methods. The coffee is served quickly and can be ordered to take away. There are also cafe style eating options available for a quick bite or breakfast.
Hachigatsu No Kujira, Shibuya: The English translation for this bar’s name is “Whale of August,” it is famous for its cocktail menu, where the inspiration for the mixed drinks and their names, comes from international movies. All of the elements making up the cocktail, including garnishes are attributed to an aspect of the chosen movie. The bar has a menu, however you are also able to suggest a movie to the bar tender and they may be able to create cocktail for you based on the movie.
There are so many good izakayas and sake bars in Kyoto which are situated in the newer area located near the river. Definitely go visit Gion to see the Geishas but don’t eat there as there are a lot of tourist traps.
Shomin Izakaya: super small izakaya and sake bar with food. Only standing room and you literally have to squeeze yourself in. Definitely a memorable experience. You will enjoy the food if you like to try some strange but tasty dishes.
Shinme Izakaya: another small izakaya in a quieter part of Kyoto. Very friendly, family owned and run, very authentic. Not many tourists go here but great place for fresh sashimi, sushi and some interesting vegetable dishes. At this restaurant it’s a good idea to look around at what other people are ordering and ask for the same as all the dishes aren’t necessarily listed on the menu.
Beer Komachi: an amazing small bar/eatery that specialties in craft beers. The beers are fantastic and they have a small menu offering some really great beer food as well. only a few tables so might have to wait or eat at the bar.
Masuya Saketen: This is a modern sake bar where they specialise in a huge range of sakes and cocktails. They have lots of different types including cloudy (unfiltered) sake and even pink sake. To go along with all this drinking they have a fantastic variety of drinking snacks. The staff all speak English and can explain about the different sakes available to try. Masuya Saketen is the original bar, however it is small and becomes booked out quickly. They have recently opened up another location in Kyoto which is ideal for big groups; Sake Hall Masuya. If you can’t get a seat at the original then go to the sake hall.
Bar Rocking Chair: This is a whiskey bar and they are famed for their whiskey cocktails. Once you enter into this bar, you are transported into a green oasis filled with antique furniture and rocking chairs. The servers are incredibly knowledgeable and will be sure to point you to the right drink. Our friends all ordered whiskey, I managed to get my hands on a yuzu cocktail though.
Gyoza Chaochao: This is a good quality gyoza restaurant that specialises in all different types of gyoza. They have locations throughout Japan including in Kanazawa. It is a very popular destination for tourists and also offers plenty of vegetarian options. When we visited this restaurant there was a very long line to get in. We had to wait 1.5 – 2 hours to get a seat.
Ramen Street, Kyoto train station: On the top floor of Kyoto train station, there is a whole section dedicated to regional styles of ramen. The ramen stalls specialise in ramen from different regions of Japan. We tried the Kyoto style ramen. Broth was really flavourful, the meat was a little tough. Its a nice way to stop off for a decent lunch whilst you are travelling.
Taka: This is a small yakitori joint, that is a standing room only restaurant. They have a fantastic mix of food options including tempura, sashimi and drinking snacks. The yakitori skewers here are amazing! Definitely try the chicken liver skewers here, they were some of the best yakitori skewers we had during our trip to Japan. The restaurant also grates fresh wasabi for its chicken and wasabi skewers.
E-fish lounge: We stumbled on this cafe, following a late night of partying. We were tired, needed caffeine and food. We sat on the second floor of the cafe overlooking the Kyoto river eating the cafe’s famed beef and okra curry on rice. The cafe also does decent coffee and has a selection of snacks on offer.
Murmur Coffee: A fantastic little coffee shop situated on one of Kyoto’s canals. They serve food along with their coffees and teas. We ordered some of their honey toast for breakfast.
Nishiki Market, Kyoto: This is the local market in Kyoto. It is a packed full of stalls serving lots of snacks, seafood, vegetables and cooking ingredients. There are also great snack/lunch options available to purchase that are freshly made. Not as crowded as Tsukiji market in Tokyo and much easier to navigate. Try the savoury omelette – its fantastic.
Whilst in Kyoto, definitely try a matcha latte and matcha ice cream. There are a plethora of shops serving these in the Gion district.
Service station snacks
Purchasing quick meals and snacks at the local service station is a must in Japan. At places like 7-11, Family Mart, Lawsons you can find a range of quick and tasty snacks to eat on the go. Stopping off at these places becomes essential as a tourist in Japan. You can pick up bread, fruit, vegetables, yoghurt etc. Here is a list of some of the items that are must try whilst you are travelling around Japan:
- Iced coffee
- Onigri rice snacks
- Mochi filled with cookies and cream flavoured ice cream (family mart)
- Melon buns
- Michelin starred instant ramen noodles (7-11)
- Pocari sweat (electrolyte replacement drink)
- Waffle ice cream sandwich