Tsukiji is divided into two areas: the outer and inner markets. The outer market is the network of streets and alleys packed between the intersection of Shin-Ohashi-dori and Harumi-dori and the northern edge of Tsukiji’s actual fish market.
It’s filled with restaurants, grab-and-go snack stands, and vendors of wares ranging from value-priced dishware to luxury-grade seaweed. Tsukiji’s inner market — the market proper — is the area where the business of commercial seafood transaction actually takes place. Within the inner market, adjacent to the airport terminal-sized structure where all the butchering, buying, and selling goes down, is another, much smaller cluster of restaurants and vendors.
Tsukiji’s abundance of choices can be overwhelming; these 10 excellent options — five in the outer market; five in the inner market — won’t fail you. Even at these spots, you may well have to wait in line for a while, but in every case it’ll be a fraction of the time you’d spend waiting at the more tourist-famous spots — even faced with the longest lines, you could hit up fully half of these restaurants and stalls in the time you'd spend just waiting to dine at Daiwa or Dai.
In all of Tsukiji, Kitsuneya is the most attention-grabbing stall. This is for two reasons: the rich aroma of beef stew wafting from its open-air cauldron, and the famously irascible elderly woman who usually oversees it. The menu runs to three items: horumon-don (offal stew over rice), gyūdon (simmered beef and onions over rice), and nikudofu (tofu and beef; no rice). The miso-enriched horumon-don, flecked with bits of konyakku (yam cake) and garnished with a pile of sliced negi greens, is Kitsuneya’s signature dish and particularly unique among Tsukiji’s many offerings.
4-9-12 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
TEL: +81 03 3545 3902
Situated in a quiet spot toward the back of the outer market, Kagura is uniquely renowned for aburi sushi, with toppings that have been seared or grilled. Their showcase aburi set includes seven pieces of nigiri (standard bite-size sushi) for around ¥2,700; the selection varies daily, but might include kinmedai (splendid alfonsino), akamutsu (blackthroat sea perch), kinki (shortspine thornyhead), anago (sea eel), sake (salmon), and an especially outstanding mekajiki (swordfish). Kagura’s delicious rice, seasoned with tart akazu (red vinegar), is no second fiddle to the fish it’s matched with.
4-14-13 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
TEL: +81 03 3541 4180
Tsukiji Itadori Uogashi Senro
There are countless places at Tsukiji to eat chirashizushi (raw seafood scattered over a bowl of rice), but the most unique experience has to be at Tsukiji Itadori Uogashi Senro. There, you can get its signature Ganso Kaisen Hitsumabushi, a mixed bowl filled with tuna, salmon roe, uni (sea urchin) and a variety of other rotating delicacies, which the staff will help you turn into a three-course meal — all in the same bowl. For your first course, sequester most of the uni to the side and eat the rest of the seafood in the bowl with some rice. Next, whip the uni into whatever rice and fish remain, effectively dressing it in an uni sauce. To finish it off, a server will appear with a kettle of dashi to pour over the very last of the bowl’s contents, turning it into a bowl of ochazuke, a traditional rice soup.
4-10-14 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
TEL: +81 03 5565 5739
Chuka Soba Inoue
A couple stalls down from Kitsuneya is Chuka Soba Inuoe, where a ramen master and his lieutenant turn out bowls of a light shoyu chicken broth ramen, layered with slices of lean pork. You should always expect to wait in line at Inuoe, but it’s worth it to watch the two-man team stack and fill bowls in a process that is as quick and efficient as it is fluidly choreographed.
4-9-16 Tsukiji, Chuo-Ku, Tokyo
TEL: +81 03 3542 0620
It’s hard to walk 15 feet in the outer market without running into a street-snack opportunity, whether it be tamagoyaki (rolled omelet), broiled scallop in its shell, or a jumbo-sized onigiri rice ball. Among the less common snacks in the outer market are the various fish cakes for sale at Ajino-Hamato, a shop that’s been around for more than 80 years and does especially great things with minced seafood and frying oil. The corn fritter is one of its most popular offerings, and the fried fish cake stuffed between slices of renkon (lotus root) is also an excellent choice.
4-11-4 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
TEL: +81 03 3542 2273
A wholesale poultry company founded in 1907, Torito also operates two restaurants in Tsukiji that promote its products on their menus. Seek out the ramshackle charm of the inner market location, and order the excellent oyakodon (a rice bowl topped with simmered chicken and egg). When it arrives it will compete for your attention with the cup of excellent, collagen-rich chicken broth that’s served alongside it.
4-10-18 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
TEL: +81 03 3542 7016
Indo Curry Nakaei
Since the British introduced their version of curry to Japan in the Meiji Period (1868-1912), karē raisu (curry over rice) has become a beloved staple of the Japanese diet. Indo Curry Nakaei, which opened in Tokyo’s Nihonbashi fish market in 1912 and later moved to Tsukiji, serves up two types of curry — karakuchi (spicy) and amakuchi (sweet) — as well as one stew, tomato fumi hayashi (the sweetest of all). The pro move is to order a half-and-half plate, with your choice of two of the three options ladled over rice, perfectly divided down the middle of the dish.
5-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
TEL: +81 03 3541 8749
Don't let the name mislead you: Nobody in the know squeezes into Tonkatsu Yachiyo for the tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet). Rather — as befits a stall in the world’s largest fish market — Yachiyo is renowned for fried seafood. If you’re overwhelmed by the wealth of choices, you can’t go wrong with the dai kuruma ebi (large tiger shrimp), hotate (scallop), and aji (horse mackerel) set.
5-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo-ko, Tokyo
TEL: +81 03 3547 6762
You don't have to go all the way to Tsukiji to eat at Yoshinoya, Japan's largest gyūdon chain with countless locations throughout the country — as well as a few in the United States — but you should. The cramped Yoshinoya in the inner market is the international chain’s flagship, a location that’s been open in Tsukiji since 1926. Find a spot along the horseshoe counter, order the gyūdon, and garnish it generously with the beni shōga (red pickled ginger) sitting out in boxes on the counter.
5-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo-ko, Tokyo
TEL: +81 03 5550 8504
Tempura Tenfusa is a small, beloved fried seafood stall that, unlike many of its neighbors, has a few tiny tables in addition to its wall-hugging counter. Combined with the measured pace at which the chef prepares each order, it’s one of the less rushed-feeling dining options in the extremely rushed-feeling inner market. The tendon bowl, a mixed daily selection of battered seafood and vegetables served over rice, offers the best variety, and their anago tempura (a personal favorite of Tsukiji aficionado Yukari Sakamoto) and shrimp tempura are popular choices.
5-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo-ko, Tokyo
TEL: +81 03 3547 6766
Tom Kretchmar is a New York City divorce lawyer with a passion for Japanese cuisine. He loves discussing it on Twitter and Instagram, and he blogs about his own Japanese-influenced cooking at www.discordandthyme.com.