Chome-14-３ Nagatacho, Chiyoda
From the second you arrive at this discreet Chiyoda doorway, you’re in ninja land. The restaurant is an underground prohibition-style bar/ninja hideout, which you reach by being led through what feels like a never-ending series of doors, guided by, naturally, a ninja—in head-to-toe black. The food is pretty good (the Wagyu beef is beyond tender and buttery), but the real entertainment is watching the ninjas perform their magic tableside.
1 Chome-7-７ Kabukicho, Shinjuku
Much of the dining scene in Tokyo is a measured, civilized, indoor-voices only affair. Robot is the opposite. Located down a flight of steps in the heart of busy, Technicolor Shinjuku, this dinner-meets-dance-performance rivals the best of Las Vegas. Inside, the music pounds, the neon lights flicker, and the dancers—in their outlandish, elaborate costumes—move around the stage, acting out a futuristic cabaret. Eating at Robot is more an experience in snacking than a full meal. Yes, there are sushi bento boxes and some meat dishes, but honestly, a bowl of popcorn and a Japanese beer is the way to go as you watch the robots battle it out to the grand finale.
1 Chome-14-１Sugamo, Toshima City
Get to Tsuta early. And by early, we mean before noon if you want to secure the precious ticket that guarantees your seat. (You then come back later in the day, around thirty minutes before your allotted seat time.) There are only nine seats, so plan your day around this event. Not only is this silky, rich, Michelin-starred ramen inexpensive; the noodles are made in-house, the salt comes from Okinawa, and even the soy sauce is cedar-cask-aged. All the ingredients down to the herbs are world-class. The chef’s winning formula is to infuse his broths with truffle oil or dust. While this may sound weird, the truffle brightens the flavor of the ramen and adds an extra layer of umami punch.
2 Chome-24-9 Nishiazabu, Minato City
The pork at Butagumi is out of this world. Tonkatsu—breaded, deep-fried cutlets—are the specialty here, and the experience is an exercise in thoughtfulness. The pork comes from heritage breeds from the world’s best purveyors (Spanish Iberico, Hungarian Mangalica, and domestic breeds from Hokkaido, Chibo, Okinawa). Sides of cabbage, smooth miso, rice, and sharp pickles complement the heavy fried cutlets perfectly. The setting—inside a traditional Japanese home in the quiet Nishi Azabu district—doesn’t hurt either.
2-2-15, Minami Aoyama
The friendly master Shingo Takahashi apprenticed for Sushi Sho chef Keiji Nakazawa before opening his own place behind this discreet sliding bamboo door on a small street near Aoyama Park. It’s omakase only here—and it does not disappoint. From fresh-as-possible cuts of familiar fish to creamy baby shrimp and sweet uni to the intense flavor of in-season horse mackerel and sea eel. There are also offerings you rarely see, like caviar seaweed to start (the seaweed has little bubbles on the outside that pop when you crunch down), raw eggplant (ever so slightly pickled, though you can’t really tell), and so much more. Takahashi kindly requests no snaps inside the small, pale, minimal space so that you can focus and enjoy your meal. Image courtesy of Tabelog.com.
Down a street that looks like a movie set of Old Tokyo, and with no sign indicating its presence, Ishikawa is a subtle gem specializing in the traditional multicourse kaiseki dining tradition. The restaurant is divided between small rooms and a kitchen-side counter. If you get one of the rooms, it’ll be just you and your kimono-clad server—as private an experience as you’ll ever find (but a seat at the counter will allow you to witness the knifework and alchemy taking place at the hands of chef Ishikawa). In keeping with kaiseki tradition, dinner consists of a progression of small plates, including ingredients like snow crab, scallops, and signature rice dishes prepared tableside by the chef himself. An impressive selection of sakes and wines rounds out the experience.
While not strictly a vegetarian restaurant, Nagamine offers a “vegetable kaiseki” that’s not to be missed.
4 Chome-18-20 Nishiazabu, Minato
While the sushi here is some of the finest you’ll get in Tokyo, don’t sleep on the appetizers either. Whether it’s the grilled scallop with dried seaweed or the bottarga sandwich made with rice paper, you will be dazzled before the first piece of sushi is presented. Oh, but when it is… Chef Shintaro Suzuki is a master of traditional-style sushi, which means generous slices of fish atop properly vinegared warm rice. And while the vibe is serene, Sushi Shin is still one of the friendliest places for out-of-towners to visit.
Tucked inside a nondescript building in Ginza, Sushi Yoshitake is a small-scale affair: only seven seats at the sushi bar, plus a private room that seats up to four people. Yoshitake is always in high demand, so try getting a reservation from your hotel’s concierge (and do it well in advance—everybody wants to go here). Once inside, you’ll be in the warm care of chef Yoshitake, who will graciously guide you through a series of sushi dishes that, in a more French-like tradition, are as much about saucing and seasoning as the slices of fish themselves. Finish with a dense tamagoyaki (egg omelet) that does to eggs what Krug does to fizzy grape juice.
5 Chome-7-8, Roppongi
If you’re seeking a more casual sushi experience than the temple-like atmosphere of other sushi palaces, head to Fukuzushi in Tokyo’s bustling Roppongi district. In business for more than a hundred years, Fukuzushi is one of the most accessible (and affordable) places to get seriously great sushi. Sit at the counter where chef-owner George will chat you up while delivering you piece after piece of fatty tuna and Hokkaido sea urchin, as well as dishes that rotate with the seasons. When you’ve finished your main course, you will be escorted to the restaurant’s lounge area, where you can finish up with desserts and drinks.