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Yanaka Ginza shopping street in Yanesen.
Yanaka Ginza shopping street in Yanesen.
foooomio/Flickr

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Where to Find a Time Machine in Tokyo

A Japanese expert's guide to dining in the city's most under-the-radar neighborhood

While the Yanesen area is a mere 15-minute train ride from Tokyo Station, its dense streets, barely the width of a car and still lined with prewar homes, may leave you wondering if you’ve left the city, and 2017, far behind. Yanesen — the collective name for Tokyo’s Yanaka, Nezu, and Sendagi neighborhoods — may not be as loud or flashy as Akihabara or Asakusa, but there’s no better place to go for a laid-back walk through one of Tokyo’s traditional working-class districts. It’s also notable for the recent wave of shops occupying renovated homes that survived the U.S. firebombing during World War II, from a 1917 restaurant that’s been recognized as a bunkazai (a national Cultural Property) to a sake bar with a decidedly old-Tokyo vibe.


Hantei (Kushiage)

Hantei occupies a three-story Japanese home that was built in 1917. The wooden house is charming but also officially recognized as a Cultural Property. Hantei's carefully deep-fried kushiage skewers comprise various meats, fish, seasonal vegetables and even rare delicacies, like Pacific cod milt, Kyoto carrots, and tofu skin. The lightly fried meat skewers come with tonkatsu sauce — Worcestershire-like, but sweeter and thicker — while the fish and vegetable skewers are served simply with salt. There's no ordering à la carte here — just a course menu where the skewers keep coming until you tell the chef to stop. Lunch costs between ¥3,000 and ¥4,000; dinner, ¥6,000 to ¥8,000.

2-12-15 Nezu, Bunkyo-ku
+81 03 3828 1440
www.hantei.co.jp

Yorokobi (Sake and Udon)

Yorokobi serves the same udon noodles as its sister restaurant, the Michelin Bib Gourmand-winning Kamachiku in Asakusa — but without the constant line and hard-to-get reservations. The extensive sake menu is comprised of bottles from around the country, and the employees are happy to guide you from one selection to the next. If you're in the mood for more than udon, there's a menu of smaller dishes as well. Closing time isn't until 3 a.m. which is a rare yet welcome amenity in this area. At dinner, prices run up to ¥5,000, but at lunch you can skate away for ¥1,000 or less.

1-2-14 Yanaka, Taito-ku
+81 03 5834 2440
www.kamachiku.com

Kushi-age Hantei | Photo: Jun Seita/Flickr

76 vin (Yakitori and Organic wine)

Red wine may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you are searching for a drink to pair with yakitori, but Yukiko Hirano makes the combination work at 76 vin. This restaurant is known for its chicken skewers, cooked over hot charcoals and seasoned with wine-based tare (sweetened, thickened soy sauce), French rock salt, spices such as cumin and herbes de Provence — unusual flavorings for yakitori. As much a wine bar as a yakitori joint — even in its decor — 76 vin offers a comprehensive lineup of domestic and international organic wines, as well as a menu of clever side dishes. Dinner runs between ¥6,000 and ¥8,000 ; also take note that no yakitori is served on Wednesdays.

2-13-8 Nezu, Bunkyo-ku
+81 03 6451 0575
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Nezu-no-ya (Vegan)

Aside from shōjin-ryōri (Buddhist vegetarian cuisine) establishments, fully vegan restaurants are fairly uncommon in Japan. Founded in 1978, Nezu-no-ya offers offers traditional Japanese home cooking, made with organic vegan ingredients. Daily specials like deep-fried tofu cakes and yam burger patties come with brown rice, miso soup, and side dishes, and make for an excellent healthy lunch for between ¥1,000 and ¥2,000. There's no dinner, but you can also drop by mid-afternoon for a piece of the day's cake and a cup of coffee or one of the daily teas like persimmon or loquat. An attached store sells an assortment of Japanese vegan ingredients.

1-1-14 Nezu, Bunkyo-ku
+81 03 3823 0030
www.nezunoya.web.fc2.com

Beer Pub Ishii (Craft Beer)

Of all the craft beer stores that have popped up in the Yanesen area recently, Beer Pub Ishii, located on Yomise-dori street, is the one to check out. This pay-as-you-order pub has three rotating taps with a focus on high-quality Japanese craft beers, substantial meals, including fish and chips (with three options for the fish), and a constant crowd. Sunday is roast day, where you can order the owner's hearty cuts of meat. It's worth a visit — especially if you're already walking down the long-standing Yanaka Ginza shopping street nearby.

3-19-5 Yanaka, Taito-ku
+81 03 3828 7300
www.beerpub-ishii.com

Imojin (Japanese Sweets)

Sit down and relax with traditional Japanese sweets such as anmitsu (agar jelly cubes and sweet bean paste with toppings) or oshiruko (sweet red bean soup) at Imojin. It's common for customers to get something from the takeout menu, which features aisu monaka (ice cream wafer sandwiches) in the summer and Showa-yaki (red bean cakes) in the winter, then stroll around the area. If you have time, though, the indoor seating is just as recommended.

2-30-4 Nezu, Bunkyo-ku
+81 03 3821 5530
No website

Aoko Umi is a Tokyo-based writer who covers food and culture.
Translated by: Ko Ransom


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