I am heading to Tokyo next year; haven’t been since 2014. I’ll be there for 5 days and 5 nights, followed by a split of 5 days and nights between Kyoto and Osaka. Would love to get any recommendations from folks.
On the sushi side, last time I went I did the fancy sushi thing, and while I enjoyed it, I was often a little underwhelmed in the end. So I plan to do just one omakase sushi dinner and blow it out. In that regard, would love to get people’s thoughts on where to do that now. I’ve been to Kyubey, Jiro, and Yoshitake. Oddly liked Kyubey the most of those when I went, and am considering a return visit. I’ve also learned that Sawada no longer takes reservations from foreigners, even through hotels, so that is a bit disappointing.
I would really love some recommendation for fun, excellent izakayas. I think for at least two of the dinners we’d like to have a wide array of skewers and cooked dishes along with great sake and beer, in a lively environment.
On the noodle front–I will return to Rokourinsha, which I loved, and also have Fuunji on my list. Would love any soba or udon recs.
Finally, open to any and all recommendations in Kyoto. We are doing one night at a very nice ryokan that does a kaiseki dinner, so I don’t think we need another meal like that, but again open to all.
“I heard directly from Sawada San in person, just last week, that he dislike and no longer accept reservation approaches from Hotel concierge!”
I ate at Sawada recently, and booking was secured via a hotel concierge. Maybe this has changed, but if so that would mean that he is no longer accepting foreign visitors at all, since he is also not working with any third party booking services.
My understanding is that he is still working with hotel concierges, but very much limiting which hotels he accepts bookings from.
We used concierges from both the Ritz Carlton and Prince Gallery Tokyo Kioichi to help us out with Sawada at least a month ago but without luck.
Last week we happened to bump into him and his wife in Motoyoshi. My friend, approached him to say ’ Hi ’ and ask him about the hotel concierge reservation question and that was his reply!
For Kyoto, I would recommend the following that I’ve been to:
Hachidime Gihey - good donburi place, where you can get the likes of oyako-don or sashimi on rice
Ryuhei Soba - extremely well made soba done via a course menu (a bit of a schlep from where you are likely staying)
Menya Hiro (ramen) - Among the best if not best bowls of noodles I’ve ever had - their specialty is a clear crab broth ramen (also a bit of a schlep)
Hyotei Bekkan (Annex) - the main building serves a full on Kaiseki meal, but at the Annex, you can go for breakfast (which is what I did) and get the their asagayu (porridge) course, or go at lunch at get a premium bento box
Godan Miyazawa (kappo, for lunch) - I went to Jiki Miyazawa for lunch, and the mid course at the time was JPY 5000 per person; the chef has since opened Godan Miyazawa and left Jiki to an apprentice; this is kappo food that is high quality but seems pretty homey as well
Hitomi (yakitori) - never been but a friend went and liked it
I know you mentioned that you’re having dinner at a ryokan (I assume at the likes of Hiiragiya or Tawaraya). I’ve never eaten at a ryokan in Kyoto, but I’ve eaten a few times in ryokans in Hakone. I can say that the meals at the ryokans were definitely a step below dedicated Kaiseki restaurants. In case you are open to eating at Kaiseki restaurants in addition to your night at the ryokan, I think Mitsuyasu is excellent QPR (for a two Michelin starred Kaiseki restaurant) and serves world-class food. Ifuki is also great because it’s different (the focus is on grilled dishes).
Gonokami Seisakusho: For ramen, given the Rokurinsha and Fuunji mentions, it looks like Tsukemen is up your speed? One other suggestion is Gonokami Seisakusho - instead of pork or chicken, their Tsukemen dipping sauce is a shrimp bisque-like concoction. This place was a favorite of Silverjay on the old board; I went based on his posts and really enjoyed it
For ramen, non-Tsukemen, Ginza Kagari has the most ridiculous, rich, silky tori paitan (chicken) ramen I’ve ever had, by a long shot
Udon Maruka - the specialty here is this thick white udon noodle called Sanuki udon; delicious
If you’re interested in $$$$$$ A4/A5 wagyu, Shima and Dons De La Nature were great experiences; I would argue DDLN has the “better” pure steak, but Shima will be a more fun and casual experience, their non steak (seafood) is great, and you can order wagyu sandwiches to go; I’ve also been to Ukai-Tei Omotesando and recommend that if you want high end teppanyaki
Elevage (wine bar) - if you’re into Burgundy (or really any wine), this bar in Nishi Azabu is amazing; the owner/bartender speaks great English; make sure you call beforehand to make a reservation before going; it’s more of a cozy, quiet wine lounge than a happening bar however
For sushi, I’m surprised @od_sf (aka the Sushi Geek ) didn’t give you more recs, but I would suggest for following for experiences different from what you can get in the US:
Sushi Kimura (aged sushi - people either love it or hate it; I loved it)
the Sushi Sho mafia, which includes Sushi Sho Yotsuya (the OG), Takumi Shingo, Sushi Sho Saito, and Sushi Sho Masa, and maybe one or two I’ve missed. This rec makes a little less sense now because you can go to Honolulu and eat with the master (Nakazawa-San) but the combination of many many pieces of otsumami with nigiri is pretty enjoyable and not commonly found in the US. I’ve only gone to the Yotsuya location (when Nakazawa was there, but not sitting in front of him) - I hear that Takumi Shingo’s probably the best of the rest. Sushi Sho Masa is perhaps the most foreigner friendly (sent a friend there, and he really enjoyed it).
Sushi Nanba Hibiya - I really enjoyed the execution of the otsumami and nigiri here
Finally, regarding izakayas, I haven’t had a chance to go to many in Japan myself (read: I prioritized other restaurants ), but I found a lot of good leads in the below article when I was trying to put together a to-go list. Our resident sake expert @beefnoguy has some quotes in it as well. For me, Ukyo seemed to stick out among others.
These are great. Thank you so much. Re: Kaiseki, it’s an interesting question. I am staying at Tawaraya, which is supposed to be the nicest or one of the nicest ones, with a great meal. But I hear your point and will look around. My experiences with kaiseki have been mixed in general; ranging from out of this world great to kind of ordinary and not even close to worth $300+.
In Japan, it’s always more respectful to call and make a reservation for an eatery (or at least notify them, even if you are already on your way there as a last-second decision). In general, only casual takeouts, yatai (food stalls) and ramen-yas won’t frown at all on walk-ins.
Culturally, think of going to a restaurant in Japan (sushi-ya, tempura-ya, yakitori-ya, etc.) as going to someone’s house for dinner: It’s just polite practice to notify your hosts ahead of time. That way, they can properly prepare for your arrival so at least no one loses face. Heck, even some of the more upscale izakayas (usually thought of in the West as a gastropub) would be very appreciative of reservations made ahead of time.
Also, a lot of the time, you’re paying for museum - quality plates and the large private rooms! My recs for Hyotei at breakfast / lunch and Mitusuyasu hopefully have a bit more QPR but one dinner at Tawaraya (which I’d expect to be a great experience) might be enough! I’m also the wrong person to ask, because I ate kaiseki 5 times on my last trip lol.
If you want to go here for the special, I would recommend making a reservation and asking your hotel to specify the lunch special (and of course go only at lunchtime). Their normal offering at dinner is an omakase (30k+ JPY), and there’s even one at lunch (20k+ JPY).
My experience with yakitori in Tokyo is pretty limited (having mostly visited many “sitting on a plastic beer crate under the train tracks” type shops, which can be very enjoyable yet not worth mentioning here) so keep that in mind.
My favorite shop for now is still Fuku in Yoyogi Uehara. Somewhere between high-end and low-end in pricing and atmosphere, priced around Y5,000 pp with drinks. Incredibly tasty yakitori, friendly staff, a wonderful night out. Reservations strongly recommended.
I really enjoyed my dinner at Mashiko in Shimbashi - but visited with a Japanese friend and have heard that they don’t always allow foreign customers on their own. No reservations accepted, must lineup a few minutes before opening time to get a seat at the counter as it is a very popular shop. The owner/chef is a bit grumpy but his excellent yakitori more than makes up for it.
Jidoriya is another pretty good yakitoriya in Shimbashi, and walk-ins are fine.
Takechan is an old school mom and pops yakitori joint in Ginza 4-Chome. This place has been here for a long time (since the 1950s I think) and so has the head chef / owner, Take-san. As with most yakitori-ya the food is very affordable; the 8-course menu is priced at Y3,000. The yakitori is decent enough, exactly what you’d expect from a typical, slightly better-than-average neighborhood spot. The staff is friendly, and I really enjoyed the Showa period vibe. Certainly not a destination spot, but good enough for a satisfying bite when in the area.
My current “must-try” list, which I haven’t visited yet:
This might be too late, but for both Osaka and Kyoto, I highly recommend Takuya Yanagisawa. @CiaoBob will back me on this.
Takuya-san has given us Osaka and Kyoto experiences not typically available to foreigners. I’ve been stopped at the entrance of a izakaya joint in the Osaka train station only to go back with Takuya and breeze right in. He’s not inexpensive and requires payment upfront from new clients, but you’ll save on how reasonable the locals pricing is. Never mind the goofy website. A day/night with Takuya will make your trip and dining experiences unforgettable.