Until you touch down in Tokyo, it is impossible to grasp the sheer size and density of the city — or the depth of its food culture. It is one of the largest conurbations on the planet, with well over 100,000 restaurants to feed its huge, hungry population. And there is so much more to eat than just sushi and ramen. From rarefied kaiseki (Japan's traditional and often highly formalized cuisine) and French haute cuisine to hearty izakaya taverns and mom-and-pop diners, the sheer variety is breathtaking.
There are two approaches to eating your way around Tokyo. Pick an area to explore — say, Ginza and the Imperial Palace one day, Asakusa's temples the next, and Harajuku with its kawaii culture next to the solemn Meiji Shrine after that — and then look for the best eating options close by. Alternatively, first choose your restaurant, making sure to book well in advance, and then find out what the surrounding neighborhood has to offer.
Either way, a number of things will be obvious: First, you will not even scratch the surface of Tokyo. Second, what they say is true: It is very hard to get a bad meal. And third, you will start planning your next visit before you even head to the airport for your flight home.
January 2019 Update
Change is the only constant in Tokyo’s ever-restless dining scene. Restaurants close, open, rebuild, relocate, morph into new identities… From one year to the next, it’s hard to keep current. RyuGin has relocated to new, grander digs, and so has Kagari. Otafuku is rebuilding its 100-year-old premises and is now operating out of temporary digs. And while Sushi Tokami has closed, chef Hiroyuki Sato’s metamorphosis in the new Hakkoku makes it one of the hottest entries in this year’s Heat Map.
Refreshing the list, we have traditional wagyu at Ningyocho Imahan; superb, contemporary skewers of chicken and more at Yakitori Imai; the best udon noodles in all of eastern Japan at Maruka; and a mixology bar that is truly one of a kind. Among the upheaval, one thing remains unchanged: Tokyo’s uncontested status as the world’s greatest city for dining out.
$ = Less than ¥5000 (50 USD)
$$ = ¥5000 - 10000 (50 to 100 USD)
$$$ = ¥10000 - 20000 (100 to 200 USD)
$$$$ = ¥20,000 (200 USD) and up