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Jason Perlow

Tokyo Restaurants: Reviews & Recs

416 posts in this topic

For moderately priced sushi, the standard answer is probably to look for a busy kaiten-zushi place. Anything that isn't kaiten-zushi is not going to be moderately priced, at least in Tokyo. Anything that isn't busy is likely not to be as fresh, due solely to turnover.

The unlimited JR pass depends entirely on how much you plan on being in transit. It's about $110-130 to take the hikari or nozomi train between Tokyo and Osaka (one way).

Because you easily can find flights in that price range (and sometimes cheaper, like the $90 Skymark flight) as well, consider flying instead, if that leg is your major reason for getting a rail pass. Haneda and Itami airports are the most convenient inside the city, unless you're planning to spend time in Narita itself or somewhere like Wakayama in Kansai. For domestic flights, it's almost as quick to get on an airplane as it is to get on a train, save for an extra 5 or 10 minutes for security checks.

Although you can use the slightly slower, slightly less expensive hikari, You can't use the nozomi speed class with the unlimited pass, as far as I recall. You may also find bundled hotel accommodations that make that more attractive.

For train and standard (non discounted) airfares, check your travel routings on:

http://www.jorudan.co.jp/english/norikae/

If you plan on making 3 long trips within a 7 day span, the 7 day ticket may be worth it; if most of your train usage will be in-city and your only destinations are Tokyo and Osaka, it will not really help much. I don't use JR nearly as much as the subway lines when I'm in Tokyo.

I've used the rail pass twice, on my first two trips to Japan. These were trips with aggressive travel itineraries, and I don't generally travel like that anymore. For example, on trip 1, I was in Japan for 23 days and traveled from Tokyo to Ogouri near Fukuoka to visit a friend in Ube/Yamaguchi; this is a 6 hour trip which is about $220 each way. in the middle of that trip, I needed to go back to Kobe/Osaka for one day (about $100), then Kyoto ($30 because I took the shinkansen) the next day, then back to Osaka for dinner ($30), and returned to Ogouri again ($100). A few days later I went back to Tokyo ($220). I made side trips to Mashiko ($45-50 round trip), Nikko (another $45-50), Takayama ($160 round trip). This trip made the 21 day pass worthwhile, and I could use it for small in-area trips when JR was available, reducing the complexity of going to somewhere like Kamakura, Yokohama or other Kanto area places.

On a subsequent trip I had the rail pass and made the equivalent of two round trips between Fukuoka and Tokyo, but I found myself making odd decisions that I wouldn't normally have made without the rail pass, like going back to Tokyo for a few days when a friend got called away from Fukuoka on business. Now I'd rather fly than take a roughly 6 hour rail trip, and shave off the 2 or three hours in favor of a better meal and a more relaxed days.

So there are ways to get good value out of the rail pass, but you really need to be expecting to be traveling long stretches fairly often. While I was generally in most spots at least 3 days, I certainly remember spending a lot of time in the trains. I'm not sure you'll really want that kind of memory.

Thank you so much for all the great suggestions, JasonTrue and thelobster! I'll definitely check out Tsukishima and Umeda (the izakayas sound especially tempting).

BTW thanks for pointing me towards bento.com, thelobster - its a great resource.

Do you have any recommendations for a great moderately priced sushiya as well?

Also, kinda OT for anyone who would know - would it make sense for me to get an unlimited JR pass from the US or are there more economic alternatives?

Thanks again!

-CC


Jason Truesdell

Blog: Pursuing My Passions

Take me to your ryokan, please

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For me, the trouble with kaiten sushi is that there seem to be a lot more of the _really_ cheap places around than there used to be. I feel the same way about kaiten that I do about the plastic-display restaurants. If I need to _eat_, I might choose a kaiten. If I need to eat _sushi_, I prefer non-kaiten places. There are plenty of affordable ones, 3000-6000 yen is about all I ever spend, and usually at the lower end of that range. At that kind of price level, it would be a pity to pass up good sushi to eat in a Genki-chain. Though I'm sure there are some very good kaiten places too.


Edited by Ohba (log)

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Thanks, JasonTrue, for such a thorough and informative answer. We are going to be using the rail to go from Tokyo to Osaka and back (with side excursions to Kyoto and Nara). Perhaps it might not be a good idea to get the unlimited JR Pass in this case. I will look more into other options to see if that makes more sense for us.

Ohba, do you have the names of any of the affordable sushi places that you would recommend in Tokyo or Osaka?

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Ohba, do you have the names of any of the affordable sushi places that you would recommend in Tokyo or Osaka?

Nothing for Osaka, sorry. You can probably find good, affordable sushi almost anywhere in Tokyo. The only place I can mention by name is Bikkuri Sushi, having visited quite a few times. I have seen some criticisms, but I've never been disappointed. There's one in Ginza, another in Ebisu (the exterior is a fright, but don't be put off), and there are a few others around. It's open very late, 4 am I think, which is a bonus, and pretty cheap. I've also tried some places around Tsukiji. I'd recommend hitting that area first, in fact. I'm not much interested in the places where you need to wait in line for an hour to get in and then sit elbow to elbow with everyone else, so I just hunt around until I see somewhere I like and that isn't bursting at the seams. I can't remember the name of the place, but my last meal there, in a group of four or five, was around 3000 yen a head for a lot of very good sushi. Beer was drunk.

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Bikkuri Sushi lived up to their name the last time I was there - I was totally ripped off. I would not recommend walking into any strange sushi restaurant in Tokyo without an introduction, as pricing policies can be completely arbitrary.

For moderately priced sushi I'd recommend Kakiya, an upscale kaiten-sushi shop. Prices are higher than the average kaiten, but not outrageous, and the quality is good. Also, places near Tsukiji Market like Zanmai have good value for money.

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It's probably worth noting that sushi, while available nearly everywhere in Japan these days, is essentially a Tokyo food. (The invention of kaitenzushi might be traceable to Osaka).

Similarly, it's probably not worth trying to find Tokyo's best okonomiyaki, a task better left for a trip to Osaka or Hiroshima.

Not that there's anything wrong with eating either food elsewhere; it's just that, if you're going to the trouble to be in both places, you might as well focus on the local strengths. If you can, do yuba or some kind of kaiseki meal in Kyoto, okonomiyaki, takoyaki and maybe oshizushi or udonsuki in Osaka, and the monja and sushi in Tokyo.


Jason Truesdell

Blog: Pursuing My Passions

Take me to your ryokan, please

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Bikkuri Sushi lived up to their name the last time I was there - I was totally ripped off.  I would not recommend walking into any strange sushi restaurant in Tokyo without an introduction, as pricing policies can be completely arbitrary.

I see that they also have many kaiten shops. All the ones I've visited were non-kaiten.

http://www.bikkuri.co.jp/tenpo.html

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when are you going ? if you are going round a holiday period a lot of the parks have food stalls in them to get things like octopus balls, sweet potato chips etc, yakitori. they're great fun.


www.diariesofadomesticatedgoddess.blogspot.com

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Thank you all for all the great suggestions. I can't wait to go to Japan and eat! I am actually leaving this friday and will stay there for a week. I love food stalls (cause I get to eat and gawk at all the different food) so that is great news for me!

Blissful Glutton - WOW, your account of your trip is amazing! Love the pictures. And I am actually going to HK after Japan too! Thanks for the link, that tempura looks irresistible.

:)

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I don't mean to hijack this thread - but I did not think it was worth it to start a new thread just for one entry.

I added a side trip to Tokyo to my visit to Hong Kong earlier this month. I have been to Kyoto and Osaka - but this was my first time in the Capital. I loved the trip! What a great city - so full of energy but it never felt exhausting. Went all over the place but one of the biggest highligts for me was the fish market - absolutely amazing.

I am CBC and don't speak a lick of Japanese - but everyone was friendly and tried to be helpful when I had questions.

Had a great lunch at the lunch at Toufuya Ukai beneath Tokyo Tower. Best tofu and soya milk I have ever had in my life - and this is after living in HK and Shanghai. Great value for money to boot.

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Otherwise kept the eating very low key - ramen, tempura, and visited the first curry house Japan. Add the french style bakeries and a visit to Pierre Hermes - and I didn't really have a bad meal while I was there.

Looking foward to my next visit.


Edited by canucklehead (log)

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Hiromi and I had our first dinner together at Tofuya Ukai (the Kawasaki/Saginuma branch) September 19, 2003, just before things became complicated, and we were planning to have our wedding dinner there for our Japanese ceremony, which was postponed due to my mother's health until next year.

Anyway, I remember that place fondly, even though Ukai was a bit tough for a vegetarian (lots of duck and duck stock on the night we were there). It's worth seeking out.


Jason Truesdell

Blog: Pursuing My Passions

Take me to your ryokan, please

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Otherwise kept the eating very low key - ramen, tempura, and visited the first curry house Japan.  Add the french style bakeries and a visit to Pierre Hermes - and I didn't really have a bad meal while I was there.

Looking foward to my next visit.

Good gracious, man! Those are beautiful pictures! I wouldn't mind at all if you posted pictures from the rest of your eats! (Especially the bakeries and Pierre Herme :smile:)

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Great photos indeed! I went to Tofuya Ukai about two weeks ago. Really nice meal. The shirako I had there was the single best mouthful of food I had during a week in Tokyo.

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Thanks for the compliments on the photos! Very much appreciated. I'll see if there are other pictures I can post. Usually - I've wolfed things down before I snap the pictures. Ha!

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I didn't want to start a new topic since I'm only in Tokyo for a short time, but I like Tokyo a lot more than I remember liking it 10 years ago!

It's a good thing I don't live here...very reasonably-priced tempura last night, treats from Henri Le Roux for breakfast...what more could a girl want? :biggrin:

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Hi,

I'm going to be in Tokyo from June 4 to 17, staying in a hostel in Ikebukuro area - I would welcome any all suggestions for cheap eats and must-do splurges :) Also, I'm debating whether I should go to Osaka, too ( already booked hostel for the entire trip in Tokyo, so I'd be loosing money on hotel in Osaka) - I know it's known for food, but am I going to miss out on anything that would justify the extra $100 I'd have to spend for lodgings there?

thanks!


Edited by Gruzia (log)

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If it's your first time in Japan, then I think a trip to Kyoto would be a better choice than Osaka. (Ignore my advice if you've already been to Kyoto.)


Baker of "impaired" cakes...

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If it's your first time in Japan, then I think a trip to Kyoto would be a better choice than Osaka. (Ignore my advice if you've already been to Kyoto.)

I think we're probably going to spend a couple of nights in Kyoto, too :) And this would be my first trip to Japan, so I'm definately super excited and ready to eat my way through the country!

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Just a thought......

Kyoto is quite close to Osaka in terms of transport, so it is possible to stay in one and see the other to some extent, without the hassle of changing lodgings (which may or may not cost money, but will definitely cost time).

Osaka is also quite a bit less expensive than Tokyo (it felt that way to me) so you may save enough in day to day to offset the extra cost in lodging.

Plus, Osaka is fun.

Just a thought.

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I spent three great days in Tokyo last week, and had a fabulous time!

I arrived by Shinkansen at 11am and made my way to Ogikubo where I was to attend a speech contest with a student. I sussed out the area before I arrived, and found a French bakery called Le Coeur Pur. They had another place called Nos Ancetres de Demain, and since it was closer to where I exited the station, I went there instead. It was very small, and had a very limited selection of sandwiches and breads. There was a roast pork meal that was in a take-out container, which you could get with soup, but I went for a sandwich instead.

Smoked turkey croissant and cafe creme. I've always believed cafe creme was just a cooler name for cafe au lait, but this was really a latte. I much prefer cafe au lait to latte, so I was a bit disappointed, the sandwich was pretty good.

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What I really liked was this...for all those wondering what to do with the little cards, wrappers, etc. you pick up from restaurants around the world, this is a great idea!

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I passed by Le Coeur Pur, and that was really where I should have gone! It was much larger, and had much more variety. Plus they had pastries and cakes! Oh well, next time!

After the speech contest (students from my school placed 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, so the school won a special education prize, as well!), I was starving, so I went straight to my hotel, dropped off my stuff, and did a quick check of bento.com. I decided on tempura, and ended up at Tsunahachi. I wanted to go to Tsunahachi Rin, the higher-end branch, but I was hungry and wanted to eat fast!

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I was lucky enough to snag a seat at the very small non-smoking counter, and was greeted by a basket of fresh vegetables.

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I ordered the middle dinner set, the name of which I vowed to remember, but have since forgotten. It was relatively cheap, given that it was just slightly more than Ten-you's (my favourite tempura place in Kyoto) cheapest lunchtime kaiseki set.

They have three types of salt, in addition to the usual daikon oroshi and tempura dipping sauce. Clockwise L to R: yuzu, ume, and regular.

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The kuruma ebi were still wiggling around when their heads were pulled off. I think the scallop may have been alive, too.

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The first course was fukinoto, ika, and kuruma ebi (with the heads fried separately).

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The second course was ayu, hotate, and a shell filled with stuff and fried.

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The scallop was almost perfectly cooked (I prefer it to be a little less cooked than this).

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The filling of the shell--I remember mushrooms, and I think small scallops or clams. They were marinated in the tempura sauce, dipped in batter, then fried. I enjoyed this dish, though I thought it was a bit salty.

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And the vegetables--nanohana and what the chef called a "small cabbage". My neighbour's small cabbage was dipped, fried, then cut in half. It looked like a cross between a green strawberry and an avocado. I wish I knew what it was.

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Before the final dish, a palate cleanser of aojisai? and nagaimo was served.

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I was asked if I wanted kakiage or anago. I was pretty full at this point, and my neighbour's anago looked like the perfect finishing dish for me. Unfortunately, I didn't realize my neighbour had ordered the cheaper set, which meant his anago was much smaller than mine. I got the whole frickin' anago! But I couldn't let it go to waste, so I ate the whoooooole thing!

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Here's my chef. Not only do their name tags have their names on them, but they also have their hometowns! My chef was from Iwate-ken, from a town called Nibe or Nido or something like that (二戸).

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After dinner I dropped by Isetan to browse through the depachika. If Isetan's depachika were a man, I'd marry it. I loved it that much! :wub: No pictures, since they have a sign with a camera and a big "X" through it, but I definitely bought stuff!

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I can't seem to edit my previous post, so I just want to add something before moving on to the next day.

I checked Tsunahachi's website (English here), and I had the Kodawari set which was Y5250, and that's actually cheaper than my favourite high-end tempura place's lunch kaiseki.

Because Ten-you and Tsunahachi are so different (Tsunahachi is a mid-range place, while Ten-you is definitely high-end), it's not really fair to compare the two, but I wanted to mention a couple of points that I noticed.

First, Tsunahachi had much thicker batter than Ten-you. I've seen both places make new batter (not really new, because they both just add ingredients to whatever batter is leftover), and Tsunahachi will crack open some eggs to add to whatever is left, add some flour from a big bucket (which has a filthy bottom, but the bottom doesn't touch anything important, AFAIK, so it's all good), then add a bit of water. The resulting batter is a bit thick--thicker than I usually associate with tempura. And their tempura is cooked a bit darker and crispier.

At Ten-you, they have a huge container of beaten eggs, and another container of what I think might be flour and water (it's already batter-like). They add the two to whatever batter is leftover in their dipping bowl. The resulting batter is not very thick, nor is it very thin.

Neither place measures--the chefs just pour whatever amount of additional ingredients that will give them the desired consistency.

I love tempura (anything fried is good!), so I'd like to try a high-end tempura place in Tokyo one day. Maybe the one Blissful Glutton went to would be a good choice! Or the original Ten-ichi (I haven't been that impressed with the Kyoto-ten, though, so I think I'd rather try another place).

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Thanks for the report.

I remember you recently posted a photo of your tendon somewhere in the Japan Forum, and I almost responded then. The tempura in your bowl was much lighter in color than the type of tempura I usually see in Kanto.

Maybe I'm a little biased in favor of Kanto tempura, but I think that Tokyo (or Edo) is the home of tempura. I think that Kansai people will agree with on this.

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I remember you recently posted a photo of your tendon somewhere in the Japan Forum, and I almost responded then.  The tempura in your bowl was much lighter in color than the type of tempura I usually see in Kanto.

So the darker colour is standard for Kanto tempura? Do you know of any other differences between Kanto and Kansai tempura? I don't go to the Kanto-area very often any more, so I have few chances to have tempura there.

I've actually never posted any pictures from Ten-you, because I never take pictures there. :sad: I love the shop, but I feel very self-conscious taking pictures there. Something about the atmosphere tells me "No pictures" though they probably wouldn't mind so much if someone did take pictures. The pictures may have been tendon from somewhere else, though. I like tendon a lot!

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I found it. It was Peter, not you, who posted it. :sad:

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For one thing, in Tokyo, sesame seed oil is used to give tempura that distinctive flavor and color. Tane (ingredients) also differ. I hear that in Kyoto, they use more vegetables as tane than in Tokyo.

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