Tokyo is a megacity of close to ten million people. While the city is known for offering an eclectic mix of entertainment towering buildings, neon lights, and colourful characters, it also offers an eclectic mix of food.
There are endless choices for deciding what to eat in Tokyo. You can enjoy traditional Japanese fare such as sushi along with creative dishes that incorporate influences from other regions. It’s also home to the world’s largest fish market.
You can even find restaurants that’ll change the way that you think about ramen.
Is your stomach starting to rumble? Try some of the foods in this complete Tokyo food guide…
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Tokyo food guide: 8 must-eat dishes
Every Tokyo food guide mentions sushi as a must-eat dish—and with good reason. Tokyo is the seafood capital. While you can find sushi in any city throughout the world, Japan is the sushi homeland and Tokyo has innumerable sushi options.
Start with kappa maki, which is a standard cucumber sushi roll. If you want to try squid, order ika nigiri. It’s thinly sliced raw squid served on top of a dollop of rice.
Where should you go to get your sushi? Try Tsukiji Fish Market. Not only is is one of the largest fish markets in the world (and one of the top places to visit in Tokyo), what better place to try raw fish than right where the fishermen come to sell their fresh catch? You’ll find numerous vendors and restaurants within the market serving up every variety of fresh sushi.
Ramen gets a bad reputation in other parts of the world, especially in North America, where it’s considered cheap food for poor college students. However, even though its origins are Chinese, ramen is a signature dish and typical Tokyo cuisine.
Many restaurants specialize in crafting mouth-watering ramen meals. The thin noodles are often served in chicken broth and topped with various ingredients (like tempura or tofu). You can get also get ramen with spinach, eggs, pork, and all types of seafood.
Ramen is a common Tokyo dish that you can find just about anywhere in the city. There are even vending machines that serve hot, steaming bowls for those who wish to eat on the run.
If you want to try the best the city has to offer, visit Tokyo Ramen Street at Tokyo Station. Here you’ll find a variety of ramen options and can even sample small bowls of noodles before digging into a full meal.
Yakitori (“grilled chicken”) is both a traditional Japanese dish and a common Tokyo street food. When passing through crowded markets or public areas filled with vendors, you’ll see plenty of these grilled chicken skewers.
Yakitori is often cooked on charcoal grills and seasoned with salt or tare sauce. You can also eat just about any part of the chicken including chicken tails, gizzards, hearts, and cartilage.
While you can buy yakitori from street vendors, especially around Yurakucho Station near the cool Ginza District, there are also many popular restaurants that serve this dish. It’s commonly served with beer and grilled vegetables. Doromamire is a top recommendation. If you are set on checking it out, it’s best to reserve a spot as the restaurant only seats 30 guests at any given time.
If you’re a spaghetti lover, you need to try soba. Even if you’ve already tried these noodles made from buckwheat flour, you should try them in Tokyo.
You’ll find many variations of this dish throughout the city. It’s typically, however, served with toppings such as vegetables, shrimp, or other seafood. You may also find it served with a soy sauce and a variety of small side dishes.
Soba noodles are also served either hot (cooked in tsuyu) or cold (with tsuyu on the side). In fact, cold soba noodles are a common lunchtime meal.
For handmade soba noodles and great sides, visit Yabu Soba. It’s a busy restaurant but worth the wait.
You cannot pass up Japanese beef during your stay in Tokyo. Instead of your typical Western steak or burgers, you might want to try go for sukiyaki.
It’s a traditional dish served hot pot style. The “pots” are shallow iron pots with a base of soy sauce, sugar, and mirin. Served raw alongside the pot are tofu, vegetables, negi, soba or udon noodles and beef that are placed in the pot and cooked at the table, fondue-style.
Due to the hot broth, it’s a common wintertime dish, but you can find it year-round at many fine establishments throughout Tokyo, including Ishibashi. This small restaurant specializes in sukiyaki.
Introduced to Japan by Portuguese missionaries hundreds of years ago, tempura is another Japanese food that can be found everywhere from fancy restaurant & fast food chains to street vendors & food trucks.
It’s typically a deep-fried mixture of veggies and seafood. The batter is often made with eggs and a special flour and then fried in oil until the exterior is nice and crispy.
While you can eat tempura by itself, it’s commonly served with dishes such as udon or soba noodles.
As it’s a popular specialty, there is no shortage of tempura restaurants. The top spot is Tempura Kondo. It’s a crowded destination during the lunchtime rush. In fact, you may want to arrive a little before it opens at noon to ensure that you get a table.
Seafood and noodles are not your only options in Tokyo. Okonomiyaki, a typical Japanese comfort food, is a flour pancake filled with a mixture of cabbage and sliced pork. As with most dishes, however, you can find dozens of variations (okonomiyaki translated loosely means “as you like, grilled”).
It’s also a popular meal to prepare at home. Most Japanese households have their own favorite okonomiyaki recipes.
If you want to try a wide variety of okonomiyaki dishes, head to Monja Street in Tsukishima. This street houses over 60 different restaurants that sell monjayaki, which is a slightly watery version of the pancake.
For traditional okonomiyaki, Tokyo Station includes many great options. You just need to walk around and let your nose direct you.
Convenience store onigiri
Onigiri is a common snack in Japan and can be found in almost every convenience store throughout Asia. It’s simply a rice ball pressed into a triangle or cylinder, sometimes wrapped in seaweed, and often stuffed with various ingredients.
These small rice balls were originally made as a convenient handheld snack that you could eat on-the-go.
If you are feeling adventurous, you might even want to try “surprise” onigiri which can be found at almost any 7-11 in the city (unless you arrive after lunch). These triangle-shaped snacks contain a mystery filling!
It’s a cheap and portable snack that you can easily throw in your bag or pocket and eat between different attractions.
Where to stay: The best hotels in Tokyo for foodies
One of the best parts of visiting Tokyo for foodies is that whichever area you choose you’re never far away from a superb meal. As always though, I’d recommend narrowing down your search to the most popular central areas. My favourite areas for Tokyo accommodations include Shinjuku, Shibuya, Ginza, Asakusa, and Chiyoda.
- Red Planet Asakusa Tokyo: Quite possibly the best budget-friendly pick in the city, this 3-hotel sits just 5 minutes from Asakusa and offers ultra clean and modern rooms.
- Hotel Rose Garden Shinjuku: Another hotel that won’t break the bank, this simple property delivers rooms in the buzzing district of Shinjuku that are spacious by Tokyo standards (especially considering the price point). Some of the best places to eat in the city, including Omoide Yokocho and Golden Gai, are within quick walking distance.
- Mitsui Garden Hotel Ginza Premier: One of the best hotels for mid-range travellers in the city, this contemporary and sophisticated hotel hangs out in the hip Ginza area where you’ll find more than your fair share of superb food options. The skyline views from the rooms here are simply stunning!
- Park Hyatt Tokyo: If you’ve got the funds, there’s no more splurge-worthy place stay in Tokyo than this 5-star hotel in Shinjuku. From its world-class amenities like its spa to enjoying a meal & a drink at its elegant Peak Bar, this is an accommodations experience worth its weight in gold. (As an added bonus, cozying up with the concierge at this luxury hotspot can help you get reservations at well-known Tokyo restaurants that would otherwise be impossible for the average traveller.)