How to Navigate Tokyo's Restaurant Scene like a Local
Nohara is the guy who shows Anthony Bourdain where to dine when he’s in town. A couple of months ago, Nohara escorted Momofuku honcho David Chang around on an epic eating adventure that included everything from pristine sushi to the legendary steak sandwiches at Shima. You get the point.
With invite-only establishments and restaurants notorious for not serving foreigners, Tokyo’s dining landscape can seem daunting. But understanding how to navigate the city’s culinary scene like a local will help.
Here, Nohara offers 10 expert tips.
① Look for establishments that are either above or below street level—extra points if the venue is on a side street or back alley. Less-accessible places are often cheaper, meaning the owner can save on rent and spend on higher-quality ingredients.
Charm of tokyo : The collection of small Shinjuku bars evocatively called Piss Alley ('Shonben Yokocho') or Memory Lane ('Omoide Yokocho'), as the authorities would rather you call it is a sliver of post-war Japanese culture a few minutes walk from Shinjuku station. The cramped alley of restaurant and bar stalls offers a 'nostalgic' experience, which means something like visiting a decrepit shantytown. Place taken : Shinjuku #my_and_tokyo2017
② Avoid restaurants with flashing signs and pictures on the menu. On the flip side, if all you see is Japanese lettering, go with it.
③ Smaller is better. In Tokyo, a 30-seat restaurant is considered large. Don’t be surprised to find that many offer 10 or fewer seats; those are your best bets. Small restaurants, which are usually family owned, will offer better food than their larger, likely corporation-backed counterparts.
Curated: Ginza Masunaga "A small sushi restaurant in Ginza with an eight-seat counter and a Chef's choice only menu with ¥16,000 or ¥20,000 options. Watch one of the best sushi craftsmen prepare it all in front of you while providing authentic traditional service with the finest ingredients. A true masterclass in process and execution" - @akinokocafe editor Photo by @nvdg81 #tokyo #japan # #ginza #sushi #master #finedining #travel #traditional #culture #photography #picoftheday #city #poweredbytokyo
④ In Japan, very few restaurants have websites, and even fewer accept reservations. Some of the best use Pocket Concierge or Voyagin, but since so few people in Tokyo speak English, it’s still wise to stay at a hotel with a great, well-connected concierge. They’ll help you score the more coveted reservations.
⑤ Take cash. Many Tokyo restaurants, including those with three Michelin stars, don’t accept credit cards. ATMs aren’t always easy to find; if you need one, look for a 7-Eleven or post office.
⑥ It’s likely you’ll want to eat ramen, and many ramen shops will require that you order and prepay (in cash) via a push-button machine. If you find yourself unable to decipher the all-Japanese buttons, just remember that the top-left button is usually the shop’s most famous dish. When in doubt, press that one.
⑦ Always have a backup plan. Tokyo can be a tough city to navigate. It’s a rare foreigner who can read the language, making the simple process of even locating a restaurant akin to searching for Waldo without his hat. Buildings look similar; many establishments are tucked behind unmarked doors; restaurants may or may not be visible from the street. But there’s great food everywhere, meaning that even your second choice is likely to impress.
⑧ In Japan, counter or bar dining is always the way to go when it’s available; you’ll land near the chef and enjoy a front-row seat to the action. Be sure to communicate with the chef, show an interest in what he or she is doing, and express satisfaction and enjoyment when you like what you’re eating. It’s likely you’ll receive a better meal just for putting in the effort.
⑨ Use this hand signal to alert your server that you’re done with your meal: Simply cross your right index finger over your left index finger to form an X. That’s the Japanese way of expressing, “Check, please!”
⑩ Lines: Don’t be afraid of them. Japanese culture values patience, and locals have no problem queuing up for great food. If you see a line outside a restaurant, it’s likely something delicious lies within. In fact, pretty much all the great ramen restaurants will make you wait—most of the time, for about half an hour.
After waiting in a 45 minute line at 11am, we squeezed into a tiny 8-person bar to try one of Tokyo's most celebrated bowls of #ramen. This is #Kagari's house-special chicken broth ramen, which the restaurant calls tori-paitan soba. Unlike any ramen I've ever tried, the soup is rich, creamy and topped with perfectly cooked chicken breast and seasonal vegetables. It has a nostalgic flavor that is simple yet complex. Well worth the wait!
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