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10 Chef-Approved Restaurants in Tokyo

Where to go for seriously soigné tasting menus, perfect ramen, and elegant sweets

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Chefs — they're just like us. They dream about going to Tokyo, and when they get there, they obsess over where to eat. And while Eater is here to help — our massive guide to Tokyo can point you to essentials; to the new and hot; to the best coffee, ramen, and affordable sushi — there's nothing like restaurant recommendations from chefs who are particular and passionate.

Eater asked 10 American-based chefs for their top Tokyo picks. On the map is a super-small tasting-menu temple (Takazawa), an eel-focused bonanza (Ichinoya), and a tempura shop that will have you questioning what hard work means (Tempura Kondo). There's also a serene dining room and tea salon tucked away in a residential neighborhood (Yakumo Saryo), a lunch destination where rice is king (Ohitsuzen Tanbo), and a noodle shop with a thing for Michael Jackson (2-Chome Tsukemen Gachi).

Without further ado, and in geographical order, here's where chefs eat in Tokyo:

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Yakumo Saryo (八雲茶寮)

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Cortney Burns (Motze, formerly of Bar Tartine, San Francisco): "Dining at Yakumo Saryo is not only about eating a truly nourishing and satiating meal; its serene grace and elegance creates a relaxing experience for the entire soul. Set back in a residential neighborhood, the setting is quiet and unassuming. When you step through the white noren curtain, however, you'll be greeted with a full sensory experience. I had the tea pairing with my omakase lunch, beginning with a sparkling green tea perfumed with ume. Each dish, presented in the most perfect vessels, was balanced and refined — surprising and comforting at the same time. We were ushered into the tea room after the meal for matcha and sweets. I had hoshigaki (dried persimmon) stuffed with salted butter and a white bean paste bite with chestnut and puffed millet. Pure heaven."

Quintessence (カンテサンス)

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Niki Nakayama (N/Naka, Los Angeles): "Quintessence is a wonderful example of French/Japanese cuisine. Chef Shuzo Kishida does a fantastic job of blending Japanese flavors into traditionally French dishes. The dinner is light, delicious, and still filling."

Ichinoya (いちのや 神泉店)

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Nick Kim (Shuko, New York City): "Doyo-no-ushi-no-hi is a seasonal tradition in Japan built on the belief that eating unagi (eel) gives you stamina during hot, tiring summer days. It's even considered a holiday. Ichinoya is located on the outskirts of Shibuya, with unusual cartoon eel drawings all over the place, but don’t let that discourage you. They serve straight up unagi many different ways: pickled, grilled, as fried bones or liver, etc. Even the tamago has unagi in it. The menu comprises several courses of unagi, finished off with a whole grilled unagi over rice, which is my favorite. The grilled meat with sweet soy and a hit of sancho pepper make for a perfect summer bite. FYI: It did give me more stamina!"

Ohitsuzen Tanbo (おひつ膳 田んぼ 代々木本店)

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Melissa King (Co+Lab, San Francisco): "I make a stop here for lunch every time I’m in Tokyo. You won't notice it’s a restaurant from the street — until you see the line of people queued up to go downstairs. It’s a small, cozy space with shared seating and an open kitchen. The offerings are very simple yet perfectly executed: The restaurant is known for expertly polished grains of rice from Niigata, steamed in a wooden box, topped with items like grilled salmon or eel. I order the grilled salmon topped with a generous amount of ikura (cured salmon roe). The rice sets are served with a small side of miso, nori, and a kettle of green tea that you can pour into your rice to create a tea porridge for a different experience."

2-Chome Tsukemen Gachi

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Katsuya Fukushima (Daikaya, Washington, DC): "I knew I loved this spot as soon as I walked in: The music was loud and only Michael Jackson! I ordered a highball that was, surprisingly, the best I've ever had. The tsukemen was generously portioned and delicious. It also had long, thin tempura-battered young bamboo shoots... bonus! Can't wait to go back."

Takazawa

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Mike Bagale (Alinea, Chicago): "Grant Achatz encouraged me to go here and I was amazed. Takazawa is a fine-dining experience unrivaled in style in Tokyo. Yes, Tokyo has DEN, endless Michelin-starred sushi counters, mind-blowing izakaya, ramen, yakitori, tonkatsu, udon, and kaiseki (though mainly in Kyoto) — I had educational and mind-blowing meals at all, and I wouldn't call any of them a dime a dozen. But the opportunity to even stumble upon great sushi, ramen, and yakitori is there in Tokyo. Takazawa has a mere 10 seats. With a menu showcasing extreme technique and the best of Japanese ingredients, the experience is at once traditional and untraditional. A real gem."

Ginza Ichigo (銀座一期)

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Dominique Ansel (Dominique Ansel Bakery, New York City): "Ginza Ichigo is a kaiseki-style restaurant but it’s focused on oden, a traditional Japanese stew with fishcakes in dashi broth that’s quite popular during winter months. I visited on my last trip to Tokyo and was blown away by the quality and the presentation — the kitchen takes something that’s usually served in more casual settings, like street food carts or izakayas, to a whole new level. When you enter the restaurant, you’ll see the oden in a steaming shallow pot, simmering away in dashi. The chef is an oden master, and his team makes all of the oden fresh from scratch. You also have to try the goma tofu (sesame tofu) that they grill tableside over binchōtan charcoal, and the soft-boiled tamago eggs, perfectly cooked with rich and creamy yolks, bright red because the chickens feed on paprika."

Hidden #Oden temple in the streets of #Ginza. #

A video posted by dominiqueansel (@dominiqueansel) on

Tempura Kondo (天ぷら 近藤)

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David Bouhadana (Sushi on Jones, New York City): "It's still up for debate, but some say that tempura is even harder to master than sushi: The chef must always keep watch on the temperature and timing; the batter should be cooking, rather than what's actually inside. The finished pieces should be hot and steamy, not heavy and oily. A tempura omakase shouldn't leave you feeling heavy after. At Tempura Kondo, the namesake head chef is at one with the oil. He is always looking down, one hand wet, one hand dry. He is constantly adjusting the flame like a musical instrument, and the oil is his own custom blend. His dedication is unparalleled — the heat, the bent posture, the hard work is incredible. He effortlessly serves a counter of 12, commanding his five other chefs while still keeping perfect time on each piece."

Kagari (銀座 篝)

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Michael Tusk (Quince, San Francisco): “This was the first paitan ramen that I ever had in Tokyo, and it wasn’t what I was I was expecting at all. The broth was creamy, not clear. But it exploded with flavor, and the chicken was beautiful and tender. You also have the option of adding garlic butter, egg, and green onion. It was so good I ate here two times that trip.”

Higashiya Ginza

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Kyle Connaughton (SingleThread, Healdsburg, California): "Higashiya combines all of the elements of classic wagashi with new and innovative techniques and flavors. Owned by a design company, Higashiya has not only a beautiful space but the dishware, service, pieces, and packaging to match the beauty and aesthetic of the food. Some of my favorites include thin, crispy rice confections in the shape of binchōtan charcoal that you fill yourself with different pastes such as sesame, persimmon, or sweet white bean. I also love the hitokushigashi, or one bite wagashi, which comes in a variety of flavors such as date, purple sweet potato, and sesame with millet. This is one of my favorite places to visit in Tokyo as well as my go-to for gifts to bring home."

Yakumo Saryo (八雲茶寮)

Cortney Burns (Motze, formerly of Bar Tartine, San Francisco): "Dining at Yakumo Saryo is not only about eating a truly nourishing and satiating meal; its serene grace and elegance creates a relaxing experience for the entire soul. Set back in a residential neighborhood, the setting is quiet and unassuming. When you step through the white noren curtain, however, you'll be greeted with a full sensory experience. I had the tea pairing with my omakase lunch, beginning with a sparkling green tea perfumed with ume. Each dish, presented in the most perfect vessels, was balanced and refined — surprising and comforting at the same time. We were ushered into the tea room after the meal for matcha and sweets. I had hoshigaki (dried persimmon) stuffed with salted butter and a white bean paste bite with chestnut and puffed millet. Pure heaven."

Quintessence (カンテサンス)

Niki Nakayama (N/Naka, Los Angeles): "Quintessence is a wonderful example of French/Japanese cuisine. Chef Shuzo Kishida does a fantastic job of blending Japanese flavors into traditionally French dishes. The dinner is light, delicious, and still filling."

Ichinoya (いちのや 神泉店)

Nick Kim (Shuko, New York City): "Doyo-no-ushi-no-hi is a seasonal tradition in Japan built on the belief that eating unagi (eel) gives you stamina during hot, tiring summer days. It's even considered a holiday. Ichinoya is located on the outskirts of Shibuya, with unusual cartoon eel drawings all over the place, but don’t let that discourage you. They serve straight up unagi many different ways: pickled, grilled, as fried bones or liver, etc. Even the tamago has unagi in it. The menu comprises several courses of unagi, finished off with a whole grilled unagi over rice, which is my favorite. The grilled meat with sweet soy and a hit of sancho pepper make for a perfect summer bite. FYI: It did give me more stamina!"

Ohitsuzen Tanbo (おひつ膳 田んぼ 代々木本店)

Melissa King (Co+Lab, San Francisco): "I make a stop here for lunch every time I’m in Tokyo. You won't notice it’s a restaurant from the street — until you see the line of people queued up to go downstairs. It’s a small, cozy space with shared seating and an open kitchen. The offerings are very simple yet perfectly executed: The restaurant is known for expertly polished grains of rice from Niigata, steamed in a wooden box, topped with items like grilled salmon or eel. I order the grilled salmon topped with a generous amount of ikura (cured salmon roe). The rice sets are served with a small side of miso, nori, and a kettle of green tea that you can pour into your rice to create a tea porridge for a different experience."

2-Chome Tsukemen Gachi

Katsuya Fukushima (Daikaya, Washington, DC): "I knew I loved this spot as soon as I walked in: The music was loud and only Michael Jackson! I ordered a highball that was, surprisingly, the best I've ever had. The tsukemen was generously portioned and delicious. It also had long, thin tempura-battered young bamboo shoots... bonus! Can't wait to go back."

Takazawa

Mike Bagale (Alinea, Chicago): "Grant Achatz encouraged me to go here and I was amazed. Takazawa is a fine-dining experience unrivaled in style in Tokyo. Yes, Tokyo has DEN, endless Michelin-starred sushi counters, mind-blowing izakaya, ramen, yakitori, tonkatsu, udon, and kaiseki (though mainly in Kyoto) — I had educational and mind-blowing meals at all, and I wouldn't call any of them a dime a dozen. But the opportunity to even stumble upon great sushi, ramen, and yakitori is there in Tokyo. Takazawa has a mere 10 seats. With a menu showcasing extreme technique and the best of Japanese ingredients, the experience is at once traditional and untraditional. A real gem."

Ginza Ichigo (銀座一期)

Dominique Ansel (Dominique Ansel Bakery, New York City): "Ginza Ichigo is a kaiseki-style restaurant but it’s focused on oden, a traditional Japanese stew with fishcakes in dashi broth that’s quite popular during winter months. I visited on my last trip to Tokyo and was blown away by the quality and the presentation — the kitchen takes something that’s usually served in more casual settings, like street food carts or izakayas, to a whole new level. When you enter the restaurant, you’ll see the oden in a steaming shallow pot, simmering away in dashi. The chef is an oden master, and his team makes all of the oden fresh from scratch. You also have to try the goma tofu (sesame tofu) that they grill tableside over binchōtan charcoal, and the soft-boiled tamago eggs, perfectly cooked with rich and creamy yolks, bright red because the chickens feed on paprika."

Hidden #Oden temple in the streets of #Ginza. #

A video posted by dominiqueansel (@dominiqueansel) on

Tempura Kondo (天ぷら 近藤)

David Bouhadana (Sushi on Jones, New York City): "It's still up for debate, but some say that tempura is even harder to master than sushi: The chef must always keep watch on the temperature and timing; the batter should be cooking, rather than what's actually inside. The finished pieces should be hot and steamy, not heavy and oily. A tempura omakase shouldn't leave you feeling heavy after. At Tempura Kondo, the namesake head chef is at one with the oil. He is always looking down, one hand wet, one hand dry. He is constantly adjusting the flame like a musical instrument, and the oil is his own custom blend. His dedication is unparalleled — the heat, the bent posture, the hard work is incredible. He effortlessly serves a counter of 12, commanding his five other chefs while still keeping perfect time on each piece."

Kagari (銀座 篝)

Michael Tusk (Quince, San Francisco): “This was the first paitan ramen that I ever had in Tokyo, and it wasn’t what I was I was expecting at all. The broth was creamy, not clear. But it exploded with flavor, and the chicken was beautiful and tender. You also have the option of adding garlic butter, egg, and green onion. It was so good I ate here two times that trip.”

Higashiya Ginza

Kyle Connaughton (SingleThread, Healdsburg, California): "Higashiya combines all of the elements of classic wagashi with new and innovative techniques and flavors. Owned by a design company, Higashiya has not only a beautiful space but the dishware, service, pieces, and packaging to match the beauty and aesthetic of the food. Some of my favorites include thin, crispy rice confections in the shape of binchōtan charcoal that you fill yourself with different pastes such as sesame, persimmon, or sweet white bean. I also love the hitokushigashi, or one bite wagashi, which comes in a variety of flavors such as date, purple sweet potato, and sesame with millet. This is one of my favorite places to visit in Tokyo as well as my go-to for gifts to bring home."

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