MaiSen is one of the best known of Tokyo’s tonkatsu joints, and certainly has the biggest range. Choose your cut (loin, fillet etc.) from six different breeds of pork (from prime Okita-Kurobuta to MaiSen’s own Amai-Yuwaku), and it’ll arrive crumbed and deep-fried with a side of shaved cabbage. Tonkatsu and other sauces are already on your table for dipping.
Food writer Dani Valent was taken to Katsukura by a friend who’d made it her mission to find the best tonkatsu in Tokyo, and passed on this recommendation to us. Located on the 14th floor of the Takashimaya department store, there are less options for deep-fried pork than at MaiSen, but the crumb is lighter, the meat juicier, and the condiments more plentiful.
The tonkatsu here is less refined that the others we tried, but for flavour and atmosphere, Tonki wins hands down. The only thing served here is tonkatsu, and there are just two options – the rosu-katsu (fatty) and the hire-katsu (lean). Both are delicious, both are the same price and both come with the same sides, like tonjiru (pork and miso soup), shaved cabbage, a wedge of tomato and a blob of fiery mustard.
To try: Butagumi for high-end tonkatsu.
The ramen at Ichiran is delicious, but what this joint is best known for is its booths.
The story goes that when owner Mr. Yoshitomi was a student, he noticed that many of his female friends were ashamed to be seen eating ramen, and would hide their mouths while doing so. When Yoshitomo set up Ichiran, he installed individual booths so that his customers could eat in private. Whether or not it adds to your enjoyment of the ramen itself, eating here remains an interesting experience.
It was almost 15 years ago that the original Afuri opened, bringing its trademark yuzu-infused ramen to the streets of Ebisu. And although multiple locations have spawned since, it remains one of the city’s most popular bowls. Choose either the shio (salt) or shōyu (soy sauce) base to your yuzu ramen, and enjoy it topped with half an egg, a thick slice of grilled chāshū pork and a smattering of yuzu peel.
The original opened in 1954 in Kanda-Tokyo, but we ate at the brand new outlet high up in the Tokyo Midtown complex. Sitting around the bar, we watched the chef slip thick white asparagus, eggplant crescents, baby onion halves and chunks of lotus root into a light tempura batter, frying it to crisp perfection before placing each piece, one at a time, on a metal grate in front of us, ready for dipping into a mixture of dashi, mirin and soy sauce and a sprinkling of salt. Yamanoue isn’t cheap, but there are few meals as luxurious. Do it. Order the champagne.
Japan does everything better, and that includes pizza. Two pies are available at Seirinkan – margherita and marinara – and although there are sides and antipasto available, the pizza is so good that it’s all you’re going to want. David Chang agrees… Seirinkan features in his pizza episode of Ugly Delicious.
Another star in Tokyo’s natural wine scene is Ahiru Store, but if you want to go you’ll need to go early or be seriously prepared to queue. Once you’re in, it’s mostly standing room at this tiny, neighbourhood bar, unless you’re lucky enough to nab a spot around one of the two wine barrels. A blackboard displays the day’s food menu, and empty bottles displaying the available wines are lined up on shelves. Absolutely worth a visit, but you must go early.
This wine bar is even smaller than Ahiru Store, with standing room only for about eight patrons. Its owner is Yasuhiro Ooyama, known locally as “the wine professor”, who serves an eclectic mix of Japanese and European natural wines from his Ebisu bar. A great, pre-dinner spot.
This gem sits smack-bang in Shibuya, right near the station, and is the sort of place you’d walk by without a thought unless you knew what it was. But, stop, for inside you’ll find one of the city’s best old world wine lists – think Gevrey Chambertin, Chambolle Musigny and Champagne de Sousa. The food is French, ranging from smaller dishes like pate on cognac-infused figs to larger dishes like duck confit, but served in very Japanese setting.
Owner Motohiro Okoshi has worked as a sommelier at some of Tokyo’s best, so it follows that the wine at his restaurant Ân Di is going to be pretty spectacular. Like lots of eateries in Japan the space is small, and industrial in vibe. The food is Vietnamese, but with Japanese influence, seen in dishes like horse meat banh xeo with fermented garlic, citrus, and kaffir lime.
This wine bar and bistro in Shibuya is a key player in Tokyo’s natural wine scene. There’s no wine list; instead the sommelier will ask you what you want to drink, and once your glass has been poured the bottle will be left on the table. The menu is French bistro classics: think rillettes with cornichons, bowls of mussels or pipis, fresh oysters and grilled sardines.
Path is a very cool all-day cafe-cum-diner, renowned for brunch up until about 2pm before it transforms into an Italian-leaning bistro dishing up pastas and fried gizzards alongside natural wines and craft beer. Seating is limited, with just a few tables up the back and along the bar, although there’s standing room near the front. Tasting and a la carte menus are available.
This tiny 10-seater only serves fresh pasta with truffles, red wine and only plays Led Zeppelin on the stereo. It’s by Australian restaurateurs David Mackintosh and Tom Crago, who, inspired by one of their own dinner parties, decided such a niche concept could only work in Tokyo. It does.
Another Australian export, Longrain is the second restaurant owner Sam Christie has opened in Tokyo (he also owns the Apollo which he opened in Ginza in 2016). If you’re a fan of Longrain, you’ll be pleased to see the same Australian take on Thai cuisine at the Ebisu iteration as you will at either Melbourne or Sydney, but this time it’s delivered 39 floors up with stunning views over Tokyo. We know what we prefer.
To try: Bill’s and Fratelli Paradiso are also by Australian restaurateurs… we definitely recommend you hit them up if you’re in need of a taste of home while you’re away.
Convenience stores (or conbini, as they’re known in Japan) are located on literally every block in Tokyo. There are three major players – FamilyMart, Lawson and 7-Eleven – and while they are (at least superficially) similarly stocked with onigiri, lollies and sweets, instant noodles, canned coffee, whiskies, beer and sake and so on, each chain has different specialties.
In Australia, you’ve got to be pretty desperate to buy fried chicken from a convenience store. But at Lawson, where it’s cooked on-site and served as either honetsuki (fried bone-in chicken), honenashi (fried boneless chicken) or kara-age (deep-fried chicken nuggets), it’s something you’ll seek out with purpose. Grab an Asahi Style-Free beer to drink with it.
With over 20,000 locations across Tokyo, 7-Eleven is the largest of the convenience store chains. As it’s generally considered to have the best food overall, it’s the best place for conbini staples like onigiri (if you can’t read Japanese choosing onigiri is a fun, delicious lucky dip), Ippudo-brand instant ramen, bento boxes, sweets and ice cream.
All of Tokyo’s conbinis do sandos (sandwiches) well, but the best (in our opinion) can be found at FamilyMart. The egg sando – rich, creamy egg cushioned between pillowy triangles of white, crustless bread – is essential; but they also do a mean katsu (deep-fried pork) sando, too.
DON'T JUST TAKE OUR WORD FOR IT!
Navigating your way around a city like Tokyo is all about understanding where you are, when and how to get to the next place. Thankfully, this city is built on easy and affordable public transport with legendary punctuality.
Below is a map (with a few other places!) put together by our good mate Carl from Wine Diamonds. He’s lived in Tokyo for a couple of decades now and here is his hit list of amazing places all mapped our thanks to our other good mates, Alpaca.
Carl says …
Most of the interesting things going on in Tokyo are in the inner ‘burbs (where rents are cheaper). These places are often pulled together using old furniture & fittings to create an interesting atmosphere. The new generation of chefs differ from the last in the following – in the 1980’s young Japanese chefs would go to Europe and learn the art of French/Italian cuisine then come back and painstakingly repeat it here in Tokyo.
The new generation still study, but they return and use the skills to do something interesting and new with Japanese classics and ingredients. This fusion makes for some great meals. Arguably at the top of the selection is Organ, with the Holy Trinity of Tokyo cuisine currently Organ, La Pioche & Ahiru Store.
These are the three that started Tokyo’s new wave, organic food revolution. These on-trend Bistros serve innovative and delicious food from organic Japanese ingredients. Thanks to them, there’s now a plethora of outstanding wine bars and wine bars to explore.