We all love Tokyo, simply from its great Japanese cuisine and the incredible vibe the city offers. While I do find Tokyo extremely congested, fast pace (even more so compared to Singapore) and a relatively cold society where everyone you see in the train stations were too engrossed in their phones than to care about the world, the often impeccable service and food culture are just some of the reasons I return almost yearly in recent years. Contrary to popular belief that it is an expensive city to dine in, you actually do not need to spend a bomb to enjoy some of the best food in central Tokyo. Don’t drool as I share some of the amazing and value for money dining experiences in Tokyo – Maisen Tonkatsu, Tempura Tsunahachi, Toritake, Matsurokuya, Uoriki Kaisen Sushi, Sakura Sushi, Kaneko Hannosuke, Yoshihashi and Ichiran Ramen.
(1) Maisen Aoyama
Mention the best Tonkatsu in Tokyo and many would recommend Maisen, which has a couple of outlets in Tokyo. However, the best outlet in my opinion has got to be the original store Maisen Aoyama, which is merely a short walk from Omotesando Hills. We managed to dine in the main area, which used to be a traditional bathhouse and I really like how the old setting is retained here.
The main draw of Maisen to me is the fact that it is so specialised in Tonkatsu that it offers many varieties of Tonkatsu which I have never encountered in any other restaurants before, such as the normal pork, kurobuta from various region such as Okinawa or Kagoshima as well as various cuts such as filet, shoulder loin or loin. I had the most prized kurobuta from one of the region and it was as good as before. The melt in the mouth taste was unforgettable and I will definitely return to Maisen in my next Tokyo trip. Prices are fairly reasonable, which starts from 1500 Yen up to 4000 Yen, depending on the cut and type of Tonkatsu you order.
The Verdict: One of the best tonkatsu restaurant in Central Tokyo, a must try at least once.
Budget: Tonkatsu set from 1,500 yen
Where: 4 Chome-8-5 Jingumae, Shibuya, Tokyo 150-0001, Japan
(2) Tempura Tsunahachi
It was not my first time to Tempura Tsunahachi, but I was still very much look forward to it in my visits to Tokyo after being so impressed by the tempura standards here. There are two outlets in Shinjuku, with the modern restaurant located in Takashimaya Times Square and the original one located at a back alley street just behind Oioi department building. I would recommend going to the original restaurant for a quainter dining ambience as it retained much of the old setting, which made me feel like I was in the old Japan era.
The best time to visit Tsunahachi is definitely lunch time, as it offers tempura lunch sets from 1200 yen up to 2700 yen, depending on the type of tempura you feel like having. The same set would probably cost 4000 or 5000 yen during dinner time, so there is much truth that lunch sets offer the most value for money meals, especially in Tokyo.
I had the 2000 yen tempura set, which included sea eel and the usual ebi tempura. Ask for counter seats if possible, as it was an absolute joy to watch the chefs prepare the tempura and place them individually on your plate once it was done. Needless to say, the quality of the ingredients was very fresh, while the tempura was cooked to such perfect degree that I had to keep asking for more. I have not had such good tempura in Singapore yet unfortunately.
The Verdict: Head here for the lunch set for an authentic Japanese tempura experience which would not disappoint.
Budget: Tempura lunch set from 1,200 yen
Where: 3-31-8 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 160-0022, Japan
Shibuya has no lack of affordable and good restaurants and Toritake happens to be one of the most well-known Yakitori restaurant in this part of Tokyo. Located at a small road Junction just beside Mark City, Toritake is a two storey Yakitori restaurant which is frequented mainly by locals. The dining atmosphere was casual and slightly smoky from cigarette and the food, so be prepared to reek of smoke after eating.
We were massively ordering and trying the various types of Yakitori here, the famous one being the Chicken Yakitori. The price of the yakitori ranges between 300 yen to 500 yen, which was quite reasonable by Tokyo standards.
The portions were quite huge as well, at least much more than the ones here in Singapore.
The Verdict: Yakitori lovers should not miss out checking out this casual and affordable restaurant in the heart of Shibuya. Be prepared for an air freshener after your meal.
Budget: Yakitori from 300 yen
Where: 1-6-1 Dogenzaka, Shibuya, Tokyo 150-0043, Japan
I was on the hunt for the most value for money wagyu beef meal in Tokyo, which was quite a challenge as wagyu beef meals are typically from 4000 Yen onwards in Tokyo. I managed to find Matsurokuya, a small and quaint Japanese setting restaurant located in a small road in Roppongi. The restaurant opens at 11.30am but there was already a long queue of about 20 people when I arrived at 11am, which I was not very surprised as Matsurokuya offers an extremely value for money lunch A5 Wagyu lunch set at only 1500 Yen; with only 45 sets of the wagyu meal is served daily.
Without a doubt, I ordered the famous A5 Kuroge Wagyu lunch set (1500 Yen). I was thrilled by the generous wagyu beef portion, which was cooked medium-rare. There was a recommended procedure to enjoy the wagyu beef, which was to first have it raw, then try it with some of the condiments provided such as the sesame. Halfway through my meal, I was further surprised (and thrilled) by more cooked slices of beef in the middle of the don, at which point the staff served me a hot tea soup pot, which I was supposed to add to the don and have it in the half soaked form. The taste was surprisingly good as well with the relatively cooked beef, which brought my taste bud to a whole new level.
The Verdict: One of the most value for money restaurant offering A5 wagyu lunch set. A real gem in central Tokyo for all wagyu beef lovers. This is one restaurant I would definitely return on my next visit.
Budget: A5 Wagyu beef lunch set at 1,500 yen
Where: 4-10-2 Roppongi, Arakawa Building 1F, Minato 106-0032, Tokyo 106-0032, Japan
(5) Uoriki Kaisen Sushi
Word has it that there is an awesome sushi restaurant at the basement of Tokyu department store beside Shibuya station, which we simply had to check out since we were also staying in Shibuya during this trip. It was not difficult to located Uoriki Kaisen Sushi at the basement within the supermarket area, a small sushi restaurant which serves some of the freshest sushi and sashimi comparable to the Tsukiji market.
The sushi and don sets were fairly reasonably priced as I am sure I can’t find such deals in Singapore. My travel mate had the Tekka Don (~1700 Yen) while I had the Tuna Sushi Set (~1080 Yen). It was not hard to tell how experienced the chefs were, as they prepared each sushi deftly within seconds. We concluded that the quality of the tuna and sushi was one of the best we had this trip.
The Verdict: This is a great alternative to squeezing with the throngs of crowd at Tsukiji market for fresh sushi and sashimi. What’s more, it does not burn a big hole in your pocket. A true hidden gem in Shibuya.
Budget: Sushi set from 980 yen onwards
Where: 3 Chome-14-5 Kotobashi, Sumida, Tokyo, Japan
(6) Sakura Sushi
We happened to be in Ikebukuro one evening as we went to check out the world’s first Kit Kat boutique within Seibu basement. I came across Sakura Sushi from my prior food research, which was recommended as one of the best value standing sushi bar concept – a very small space with space for at most ten people at any one time. We had some difficulty locating it within Tobu Hope Centre as the basement mall did not have the most helpful floor directory.
There is no English menu and we were the only foreigners around, which made me conclude that it is a local sushi paradise. I love it that the restaurant is not too commercialised yet. The chef near us was able to speak minimal English thankfully, as we struggled to read the Japanese menu. However, I was clear that I wanted to try the famous Otoro set (600 Yen), which was really a steal and a must order. It literally melted in my mouth as it was so fresh.
There are many other types of sashimi or sushi as well, which were all very fresh such as salmon belly, ebi, scallop and horse mackerel, ranging between 100 yen to 300 yen per sushi. Due to its standing concept, most diners typically leave once they were done eating, so it was not a place to linger around once you are done as we were hinted by the restaurant to leave due to the long queue.
The Verdict: Fuss free, casual and authentic, this is the place for some really good quality sushi at without burning a hole in your pocket
Budget: Otoro sushi set at 600 yen, sushi from 100 yen onwards
Where: Tobu Hope Center, 1-15-9 Nishi-Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo, Japan
(7) Kaneko Hannosuke
We were recommended by a fellow foodie to Kaneko Hannosuke. Braving the rain and long queue (of 2 hours), what awaits us was this bowl of Edo tendon. No need to fuss about what to order, since they only serve this, the Edo Tendon is something you must have at least once. The bowl includes tempura prawns, eel, cuttlefish, vegetables and my favourite tempura egg!
The Verdict: The 2 hours queue may be unbearable for many, but you will find it all worth it after having this.
Budget: 950 yen for each bowl of awesomeness
Where: 1-11-15 Nihonbashi Muromachi,Chuo-ku, Tokyo, Japan
Another restaurant that starts serving their lunch sets at 1130am, with snaking queues forming up before that. Do make every attempt to be there before Yoshihashi opens, and be mindful that the service staff here does not speak English – although it is very possible to make your order without much hassle. Yoshihashi set lunches are way more affordable that its dinner menu, with the 2 highlights being their Sukiyaki (2100 yen) and the Wagyu Beef Bento (2100 yen, with only 10 sets per day).
*Editor’s Update: Unfortunately, Yoshihashi has been permanently closed.
The meats here are so juicy and well seasoned, you may never view Sukiyaki the same way again. If you are there with a partner, get one each of our recommendations – you will not regret it!
The Verdict: This might just be our top recommendation on this list.
Budget: 2100 yen for each lunch set
Where: 1-11-15 Nihonbashi Muromachi,Chuo-ku, Tokyo, Japan
(9) Ichiran Ramen
This is predictable, but you cannot visit Japan and not have it. The Kyushu ramen chain is so popular that Ichiran Ramen has expanded beyond Japan to countries such as Hong Kong. Focusing purely on Tonkotsu ramen with its signature red sauce, the dining concept of Ichiran is to focus on enjoying your customised bowl of ramen as each diner sits in their own private cubicle with minimal distraction. There are multiple outlets within Tokyo and across most parts of Japan. The most convenient locations within Central Tokyo would be the outlets in Shibuya and Shinjuku.
The Verdict: One of the best tonkotsu ramen to dig in while in Tokyo.
Budget: Ramen from 700 yen
Where: Various chains across Tokyo
Ranted by the Ranter & Rantee