Tokyo is one of the world’s great culinary cities, so be prepared to eat. A lot. And often. Seriously, you need to forget Lost in Translation, because in this city, you’re far more likely to be lost in digestion.
Street food is delicious and cheap, while at the other end of the dining spectrum there are more Michelin stars in Tokyo than any other city in the world. And if you prefer food with a side order of crazy, themed restaurants are all the rage with diners that are a little wacky, often bordering on the inappropriate, rarely about actual food, and heaps of fun.
With so many local eats to sample it’s hard to know where to start! But whatever your culinary desire, Tokyo’s tendency to compartmentalise means there’s bound to be a food street or neighbourhood devoted to it.
From sushi to sweets, here are our top 11 must visit specialty food streets in Tokyo to satisfy your every craving.
1. SUSHI CENTRAL – Tsukiji
Despite the famed Tokyo Central Wholesale Fish Market’s recent move to the outskirts of Tokyo, the outer market shops and restaurants remain at Tsukiji and it is still the best place to enjoy the freshest spoils of the sea, with loads of little restaurants serving up sushi and kaisen-don (rice bowls topped with sashimi). The last sushi meal I ate in Tsukiji haunts me with its perfection and I’ve not been able to find sushi that even comes close since.
2. TEMPTED BY TEMPURA – Tokyo Bay
Crispy, fresh and fabulous, Tempura is a popular Japanese dish consisting, mostly, of seafood and vegetables that have been battered and deep fried. Back when Tokyo was still known as Edo, the abundant seafood in Tokyo Bay made Tempura a popular snack food sold at street stalls. The streets of the Bay area are still one of the best places for a traditional tempura experience at tempura bars, many of which still retain their original Edo atmosphere.
3. RAMEN RAMPAGE – Tokyo Station & Shinigawa
For the best Ramen in town, head to Tokyo Ramen Street. Although technically its not actually a food street, rather a haven of ramen shops located within the labyrinth of passageways, shops, and restaurants underneath the heaving behemoth that is Tokyo Station. Join the queues of Salarymen waiting to slurp the city’s best soup noodles. The longest lines are at Rokurinsha, famous for its thick noodles served tsukemen-style with dipping sauce. There’s more ramen to be devoured at Shinigawa Shinatatsu. Less touristy than its Tokyo Station equivalent, Shinigawa’s Ramen Lane is another Tokyo food street boasting an astounding selection of ramen shops all in an aromatic row.
4. SPICE UP YOUR LIFE – Minato
Some like it hot. Eye-wateringly hot. If you’re like us and have a high tolerance for the spicy stuff, Minato’s Shiba shopping street is the ultimate hot spot, if you’ll pardon the pun! The spicy strip has earned itself the title of Geki-kara Street (super spicy street) for its cornucopia of restaurants using tear-inducing bhut jolokia, the world’s hottest chilli pepper, said to be 200 times hotter than tabasco. If you’re not as fearless as my spice-mad crew, most restaurants will allow you to alter heat levels to suit!
5. STONE COLD SOBA – Kanda
Not just one Tokyo food street, the entire area around Kanda Station is Soba noodle central, with dozens of tiny wooden restaurants run by sixth-generation noodle specialists serving up the popular Japanese buckwheat noodle, both hot and ice cold. We tried several and they were all superb, but top marks have to go to Kanda Yabu Soba for their Kamo-nanban soba, a dish of classic handmade noodles topped with generous slices of rare duck.
6. SUMO STEW – Ryogoku
Ryogoku in The Sumida Ward is the home of Tokyo’s sumo stadium, sumo stables, and other sumo related attractions including chanko eateries. Chanko, a type of stew best known as sumo food, is chock full of meats and vegetables and healthy when eaten in moderation. As opposed to the colossal servings sumo scoff to maintain their measurements.
7. YES TO YAKITORI – Shinjuku
Omoide Yokocho, or Memory Lane, in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo, is the place for cheap Yakitori (skewered meat). Try not to let its nickname, “Piss Alley,” scare you off. The title dates back to a time when the area was better known for its lack of restrooms and sozzled black-market traders. Sanitation is much improved these days and public urination is no longer part of its charm, but meat on a stick is. There are 60 or so tiny bars and restaurants (and I mean two to three seats tiny), but the food is good. If you’re feeling adventurous visit Asadachi where you can nosh on skewered horse meat and pig testicle amongst other Japanese delicacies. Or not!
8. MAKE MINE A MONJAYAKI – Tsukishima
Monjayaki is a signature must-try Tokyo dish, similar to Okonomiyaki, but runnier! Made of flour and water mixed with sliced cabbage, seafood and meat, Monjayaki are cooked by and eaten directly off a hot grill. Monjayaki Street in Tsukishima is the best street in town to find and eat this dishy dish.
9. HOLY CREPE – Harajuku
Harajuku’s Takeshita Dori street is a popular walking street, better known for its youth culture and out there fashion. But it’s also the sweet spot for Japanese crepes that are equally over the top. Piled with whipped cream, ice cream and fresh fruits, these crepes are works of edible art. Try one, every calorie-laden mouthful will be worth it!
10. FRENCH CONNECTION – Ginza
In Ginza explore an abundance of western style luxury sweet and dessert shops. Nibble daintily on macarons at the ridiculously extravagant Ladurée, scoff Crêpe Suzette at Henri Charpentier Ginza Maison and join the massive queues at Hidemi Sugino, a patisserie whose namesake chef is one of the greatest pastry chefs in the world. And while you’re there grab some extras for me.
11. I WANT CANDY – Ueno
At the other end of the sugar spectrum is the cheap and cheerful Ameyoko (Candy Alley) a busy, colourful shopping street in downtown Tokyo lined with stores selling traditional Japanese sweets and cakes like karinto (sugar coated, deep fried cookies) and red bean cakes. Sweet!