If you’re visiting Japan in the coming months and are at a loss of where to start your search for delicious eats, here is my winter collection of restaurants in Tokyo and foods to warm you up this season. Apologies in advance for the lack of photos this time around.
Nabezo – Website
Address: There are locations all over the Tokyo area, but the one I go to is in Shibuya. Humax Pavilion Shibuya Koen-dori 8F, 20-15 Udagawa-cho, Shibuya-ku (東京都渋谷区宇田川町20-15 ヒューマックスパビリオン渋谷公園通り8F)
Recommendation: Beef and Pork Course with Kimchi and Sukiyaki broth
Notes: Nabe is Japanese for pot and therefore is known as Japan’s version of hot pot. Nabezo is one of many affordable chain restaurants where people flock to warm up in winter. If you want to go for dinner, it’s best to make a reservation and round up a few friends, as nabe for one isn’t very common. There is a time limit so when you sit down, you’ll have to choose between a 1.5 hour or 2 hour course. Afterwards, you can head to the vegetable bar where you pick and choose the veggies you want and how much (free refills available). Once you’ve got all your desired ingredients, you throw all of your vegetables, tofu, selected meat/seafood into the pot together to let it cook and eat at your leisure thereafter. Nabezo is a great place to eat slowly and enjoy each other’s company. Also, don’t forget to try the ice cream for dessert.
Hyakuna Hyakumi (百菜百味) – Website (Japanese Only)
Address: Nougakudou Building 3F, 6-5-15 Ginza, Chuo-ku (東京都中央区 銀座6-5-15 能楽堂ビル3F)
Notes: When you dine at Hyakuna Hyakumi, you know you’ve become an adult. Dim lighting even by night provides great ambiance for a date, multilingual staff, matching decor, and sophisticated but delicious food. This isn’t like the Chinese takeout food I’m accustomed to in America. It’s authentic, and rich in spice instead of overcompensating with sauce. The menu goes one for ages so it’s best to go with a friend and order 3-4 things to share between you for variety is the spice of life, is it not?
Malay Asian Cuisine – Website
Address: Sanwa Aoyama Building 2nd Floor, 2-9-9 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku (東京都渋谷区渋谷2-9-9 SANWA青山ビル2F)
Recommendation: Mee Laksa or Beef Black Pepper (牛肉の黒胡椒煮)
Notes: I don’t have much else to say about Malay Asian Cuisine other than the food is really good and I wish I had discovered this place sooner. In general, I think S.E. Asian food is really underrated and under-appreciated by much of the world. The food is made with so much love, hard work, recipes passed down from generations, and fresh ingredients that cannot be produced all year round in many parts of the world. To me, Malaysian food in particular is simple in nature but dynamic in taste. At Malay Asian, dinnertime is more expensive but there are more food options available. The chicken satay skewers covered in peanut sauce are a good starter and are known to pair well with beer. For the main dish, I recommend Beef Black Pepper, soft, chewy, subtle in flavor, very filling, and without the need for side dishes. No flare, just flavor.
Aroyna – Website (Japanese Only)
Address: Uchikanda 3-8-7 2F Uchikanda, Chiyoda-ku (東京都 千代田区 内神田 3-8-7 2Ｆ)
Recommendation: Spicy Fried Noodles (パッキーマオ)
Notes: There are 3 key ingredients to a good meal: the food, atmosphere of the restaurant, and the company with whom you’re eating. At Aroyna, I had the trifecta. With my friend, Mengshan, we sat at a plastic table made to look like silver metal and wobbly chairs. The black walls made it look like it could be a spot for a DJ and a rave by night with the Thai flag sporadically placed throughout. Mengshan said she goes to Aroyna at least once a week, and as a fellow foodie, I’ve come to trust her opinion on the best eats in the city she has called home for the last 7 years. We splurged on spicy fried noodles, papaya salad, and a seafood and tofu combo dish. All 3 key ingredients considered, it was a great meal.
Genki Sushi – Website
Address: Leisure Plaza Bld. 1F, 24-8 Udagawacho, Shibuya-ku (東京都渋谷区宇田川町24-8レジャープラザビル１階)
Notes: This is a kaiten sushi restaurant (回転鮨屋) where you order sushi from a computer screen and it comes out on a conveyor belt. The menu is available in English, Korean, and Chinese and there are a lot of different sushi rolls to choose from. That said, I didn’t list any particular recommendations, but a few of my favorites are kappamaki (cucumber roll), egg/omelette roll, grilled salmon, and pork. Miso soup, basic ramen, soft drinks, and a limited selection of desserts are also available for purchase. Genki Sushi is good for a quick and fairly healthy lunch in between daily tasks without breaking the bank. Each small plate of sushi is roughly ￥200 ($2) or less.
La Jolla – Website
Address: Oyasu Building 2F, 5-16-3 Hiroo (東京都渋谷区広尾5-16-3 小安ビル 2F)
Recommendation: Chicken Quesadilla
Notes: La Jolla is a small, casual joint near Hiroo Station with limited seating, an open kitchen, friendly bilingual staff where even the chefs greet customers, and the portions are quite big. It’s best to go for a late lunch between 1-2pm to avoid the crowds. I ordered the chicken quesadilla which came served on a plate bigger than the size of an astronaut’s helmet. What was set before me was a pizza sandwich-like crisp, toasted tortilla cut into 8 slices with stringy melted cheese and grilled veggies in between with a side of guacamole and salsa to provide a dynamic range of flavors and textures. If anything, it was more reminiscent of Italian food than it was Mexican but tasted fantastic nonetheless.
Saigon Restaurant – Website (Japanese Only)
Address: 1-7-10 Higashiikebukuro Toshima-ku (東京都豊島区東池袋1-7-10鳥飼第一ビル３Ｆ)
Recommendation: Beef Pho Tai
Notes: Though located on a main street in Ikebukuro, this place can be hard to find if you’re not on the look out because it’s on the 3rd floor of a standard looking apartment building. The interior is a bit dark due to the lack of windows and unlike many of the newer more modern restaurants, Saigon Restaurant isn’t decorated to impress. They let the food speak for the quality of their business. Free water and iced tea are available and though I cannot verify that they come with every meal, free Vietnamese spring rolls were offered to me during my lunchtime visit. For the main meal, I went with beef pho tai, and it was delicious. The noodles were soft and easily slurpable, the broth oily and greasy without a lot of salt. My only complaint was that I would’ve liked more meat and bamboo shoots. Otherwise, it tasted like it was fresh off of a street food cart in Vietnam.