Tokyo Tastes: Explore the Best Food of Tokyo

UNESCO has registered Japanese cuisine as one of its cultural heritages for high artisan quality and drawing out rich, authentic flavors. Here’s a look at some of the most popular eateries in Tokyo.
Tokyo Tastes: Explore the Best Food of Tokyo

Tokyo is renowned for its myriad of local and international cuisine. A fine-dining hub, the city has amassed more Michelin stars than both New York and Paris. Yet that’s not all, as the city caters to all types of palates. It offers upscale dining experiences like traditional kaiseki, plus a range of street foods and vegetarian dishes at varying prices too.

UNESCO has registered Japanese cuisine as one of its cultural heritages for fresh and high artisan quality and drawing out rich, authentic flavors. If you’re a lover of Japanese cuisine, foods like tempura, yakitori (skewered grilled chicken), sushi, and udon noodles may already be among your favorites. However, nothing quite beats the unique experience of relishing these at a Tokyo restaurant or street food stall. So what food is Tokyo famous for? Here’s a look at some of the city’s most popular eateries.

Tsukiji Fish Market – what shaped Japanese culinary scenes

Fish Market – what shaped Japanese culinary scenes

Japan is one of the world’s top seafood consumers and producers. An archipelago surrounded by abundant marine life, it ranked third in the world for its total catch in 2020. It has numerous fishing ports and fish markets that have helped shape the Japanese food scene. One of these fish markets is the Tsukiji Fish Market, which began operating in 1935. The market is also a gathering place for food professionals who buy their ingredients there.

You can learn how to cut fish and shop for wares at Tsukiji Fish Market. You can enjoy a sashimi rice bowl, sushi, and other Japanese dishes. You can also sample iconic Japanese teas like green tea, sencha, matcha, or have a cup of coffee at one of the market’s charming tea rooms or coffee shops. 

In October 2018, Tsukiji Fish Market closed its doors and relocated to Toyosu Fish Market. The new location is some 2.3 kilometers from Tsukiji Fish Market, in the new food complex located in Toyosu’s inner market. Aside from restaurants, there are also various attractions, including Japanese traditional craft products and a hot spring facility.

If you’re coming directly from Narita International Airport, take the Skyliner to Nippori Station, then get on the Yamanote Line and ride until Tokyo Station. From Tokyo Station, ride the JR Yamanote Line to Yurakucho. From Yurakucho, ride the Yurakucho Subway Line to Toyosu. From Toyosu, take the Yurikamome line to Shijō-mae Station at the center of Toyosu Market.

Authentic culinary experience – Kaiseki cuisine at Geisha restaurants

Authentic culinary experience – Kaiseki cuisine at Geisha restaurants

You should visit a Geisha restaurant if you’re looking to experience haute cuisine like traditional kaiseki with some Geisha entertainment like music and dance. The best Geisha districts in Tokyo include Asakusa and Kagurazaka. 

Kaiseki cuisine was originally served to royalty and embodies omotenashi or hospitality. A kaiseki meal comprises several courses, including sakizuke (appetizer) presented with some sake. It also comprises a simmered dish, a sashimi dish, a grilled dish, and some hanmono (rice). Conclude your courses with delicious matcha tea and dessert while a Geisha entertains you. 

To get to Asakusa from Narita Airport, you will have to travel to Oshiage Station via the Keisei Narita Sky Access Line. From Oshiage Station, take the Toei Asakusa Line to get to Asakusa Station. To get to Kagurazaka, travel from JR Tokyo Station to Shinjuku Station. Then head for Kagurazaka via the Tokyo Metro Tozai Line.  

Vegetarian options – Shojin Ryori cuisine

Vegetarian options – Shojin Ryori cuisine

Tokyo, with its vast range of rich, flavorful meat dishes, offers equally scrumptious vegetarian and vegan dishes too. Buddhist cuisine or Shojin Ryori is often served when dining in a vegetarian or vegan Tokyo restaurant. 

The term Shojin Ryori refers to the traditional dining style of Buddhist monks in Japan. The dining style became popular when Zen Buddhism spread in Japan in the 13th century. This type of cuisine is strictly vegan, as it comprises no animal derivatives.  The cuisine is enjoyed by both vegans and vegetarians, though. Most of the eateries near Tokyo's traditional temples offer Shojin Ryori. 

Many of these dishes offer simple ingredients such as pickles, rice, and miso broth. A Shojin Ryori meal may also include a traditional Japanese salad like shiro-ae. This comprises mashed tofu and vegetables decked with sesame and soy sauce.  

A great restaurant serving Shojin Ryori is Tera Cafe, located at the Buddhist temple in Daikanyama, Shibuya. Travel from JR Tokyo Station via the JR/Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line to Daikanyama Station. Walk for about two minutes until you reach the restaurant.

Department store underground food halls – find all the food in one place

Department store underground food halls – find all the food in one place

Whether you’re looking for sushi or tempura (a Japanese concoction of batter-fried meat, vegetables, and seafood), Tokyo’s underground food halls have it all. So where can you find these spots? Well, that's easy, as almost all of Tokyo’s department stores have one.

One of Tokyo’s most popular food hall is located at Shinjuku Takashimaya department store. Here you can find an array of Japanese and international delicacies, away from the bustling streets of Tokyo.

Underground food halls are usually divided into delis and departments comprising food from all over the globe. Make your selection from an array of yakitori, salads, curries, and French or Italian pastries. These underground food halls also have a wealth of food gifts, including beautifully wrapped boxes of biscuits and chocolates, and wine. You’ll also find wonderfully fresh produce here. 

You can reach Shinjuku Takashimaya department store by traveling from JR Tokyo Station to Shinjuku Station. Travel here via the Oedo Line, Keio Line, or Odakyu Line. The department store is a minute's walk from Shinjuku Station.

Street foods in Tokyo – Ramen Street at Tokyo Station

Street foods in Tokyo – Ramen Street at Tokyo Station

Ramen, also known as Japanese noodle soup, consists of egg noodles, scallions, and pork. Ramen Street, a one-stop noodle hub, forms part of Tokyo Station’s underground mall. It comprises eight inviting ramen restaurants. Its top three ramen restaurants include Rokurinsha, Ikaruga, and Oreshiki Jun.

When you go to Rokurinsha, you can enjoy tsukemen, which is a dipping noodle dish. This restaurant is known to truly extract the flavors of their ramen as they simmer their seafood broth and port for hours. This eatery is popular, so you may have to stand in line to get in, but the wait is definitely worth it.

Tokyo Station, with its underground mall, is reached via several JR trains. These include the Chuo Line, Yamanote Line, Keihin-Tohoku Line, or the Sobu Line. If you prefer using Tokyo Metro lines, you could travel to Tokyo Station via the Marunouchi Line. 

Izakaya bar alleys in Tokyo 

Izakaya bar alleys in Tokyo 

These alleys are informal Japanese bars, serving a range of decadent snacks and drinks. They're similar to pubs, U.S. saloons, or Spanish tapa bars and ideal for sundowners. Many of these venues play music, making it great if you want to go pub crawling in Tokyo. That being said, the food at these hubs is a must-experience on your travels to Tokyo. The Izakaya bar alleys in Shinjuku are renowned for their scrumptious meals and perfect for when you've worked up an appetite after combing the streets.

Omoide Yokocho (Memory Lane)

One of the best bar alleys in Shinjuku is Omoide Yokocho. This translates to "memory lane" in English. It comprises a myriad of little alleys that evoke a sense of nostalgia. It's been around since 1946 and boasts a range of eateries offering traditional foods like yakitori. This decadent Japanese dish consists of lip-smacking chicken pieces on a skewer. This dish forms part of casual dining in Tokyo and is perfectly paired with sake.  

You can reach this area in Shinjuku by taking the Keisei Line from Narita Airport to Nippori Station. Then take the JR Yamanote Line to get to JR Shinjuku Station. The restaurant is located a few minutes' walk from the station. Walk towards the brown Uniqlo building. Then, when you see an underpass, head right until you see the restaurant.

Food variety at its best

If you're a food lover, you probably love exploring a variety of cuisine. Tokyo allows you to do this, as it offers food for all types of palates. Explore local culture and shop at a fish market, or dine like royalty at a Geisha restaurant; the list is endless.

Enjoy a wide, delicious variety of cuisine when you travel to Tokyo.

Getting There