Restaurants in Tokyo are known for shokunin, the people who focus on a single skill to the point of obsession. These chefs dedicate their lives to the smallest details of a cuisine: the optimal temperature for the oil when frying tempura, the perfect texture for sushi rice, the ideal sear on grilled unagi. This long-term commitment separates Tokyo from the other great dining cities in the world, and it has fostered a lot of continuity in the restaurant scene; some of the earliest restaurants in Tokyo also served sushi, tempura, and unagi, along with oyakodon chicken and eggs over rice, soba, sukiyaki, tonkatsu, and other specialties still represented in restaurants today. Though Tokyo is infamous for a few highly regarded spots that are impossible to get into without an introduction by a regular, visitors will find more than enough to love across the massive dining metropolis.
Updated, July 2023:
Following Japan’s decision to reopen its borders to visitors in 2022, tourists are back in record numbers. They’re here — just as they were before the onset of the pandemic — for the food. Alongside Tokyo’s renowned decades-old culinary institutions, contemporary chefs from around the world are making an impression, especially Daniele Cason at the Pizza Bar on 38th, Santiago Fernandez of Maz Tokyo, and Daniel Calvert at Sézanne. Meanwhile, locals are queuing up with out-of-towners for comfort food dishes like ramen, udon noodles, onigiri (rice balls), and sandwiches made on tender white bread.
The biggest struggle for visitors remains with reservations at smaller restaurants. Outstanding hotel concierges are helpful for making these bookings, as are booking apps such as Pocket Concierge and Table All. At the same time, a weak yen also makes dining out and hotels more affordable; cheaper food and a cheaper bed for a post-feast nap are all the reasons you need to squeeze in yet another meal.
Yukari Sakamoto is the author of Food Sake Tokyo and offers guided tours to markets in Tokyo. She is a graduate of the French Culinary Institute, a sommelier, and a shochu advisor.Read More