9-7-1 Akasaka, Minato
Nestled into the forty-fifth floor of the Ritz-Carlton Tokyo, Hinokizaka Sushi is one of four restaurants at the hotel, each specializing in a different Japanese cuisine. While you can also enjoy some of the best teppanyaki, tempura, and kaiseki in the city there, the sushi counter—a twelve-seat slab of Japanese lacquer with breathtaking views of the Tokyo skyline—is where you want to be. Of course, if you feel like adding anything from the other restaurants to your dinner (or lunch, which is arguably an even better deal), just ask—the staff will gladly help create the perfect pan-Japanese meal.
If you remember only one thing, remember this: Go straight here. Sushi Sawada is tucked away in a third-floor office location that’s not easy to find, but good God, is it worth the hunt. The six-seat restaurant has two seatings, one at lunch and one at dinner (so get your hotel concierge to secure a reservation). Guests will be hosted by chef Sawada and his wife, no one else. While chopsticks are offered, the Sawada-san’s preferred method for eating his sushi is with your hands. The twenty-course omakase will take you somewhere around two and half hours to complete, but the experience of eating quite possibly the finest sashimi and sushi in the world will stay with you for all your days.
Japan may be synonymous with both sushi and ramen, but what you really need to try is the tempura. Specifically, the tempura at Tenko. A miniature restaurant (and former geisha house) run by two generations of the same family, it’s the kind of place where the chef’s mother will pour your green tea as soon as you walk in. Sit cross-legged at the bar and watch the chef individually fry each piece of fish in light, silky, pale tempura batter. Then enjoy every single bite.
BYOB is not all that common in Tokyo’s sushi restaurants. And while you’re likely coming for the fish, not the drinks, the staff at Sushi Takahashi is happy to open whatever you bring along for a corkage fee. For diners who aren’t all that psyched to bring a bottle of wine with them, chef Jun Takahashi is a sake connoisseur. The bar is generously stocked with unusual varieties of room-temperature and ice-cold sake that go well—almost too well—with the sushi or the chef’s especially good otsumami plates (Japanese bar snacks). Image courtesy of tabelog.com.
Don’t let the fetish bar next door to Sushi Ya confuse you. You’re in the right place. This is another tiny eight-seater in the buzzy Ginza neighborhood, so come early to snag a seat. Chef Takao Ishiyama speaks near-fluent English, which means plenty of friendly chatter as he slices and plates course after course. Sushi Ya’s main event is, of course, the fish, but the rice—so much more than filler—is just as important for the perfect bite. Ishiyama’s shari (sushi rice) strikes that perfect balance between suppai (sourness) and amai (sweetness). Each mouthful is at room temperature with a touch of vinegar to complement the fish. For a splurge, commit to the tasting menu. Locals, however, generally take over the counter at lunchtime, where up to fourteen pieces of nigiri will set you back less than fifty bucks.
Eating out in Tokyo comes with its own set of historical rules The raw-fish-and-rice combo that we now call sushi, originated during the Edo period, when it was considered a quick snack, and it was often eaten in silence. Sushi Jiro has built the traditions of Edo-style sushi into his omakase menu, which means that in thirty minutes, you will consume around twenty-three courses of small bites—quietly—with a green tea on the side. The omakase changes daily depending on what’s freshest at Tsukiji market that morning. Each piece of fish is brushed with soy; dipping the fish into bowls of the salty sauce we’re so accustomed to is frowned upon. Think of this meal as a ritual. Each bite has been carefully architected by the chef and paced out for maximum flavor. Chef Sukiyabashi Jiro is so world-famous that there’s an entire Netflix documentary devoted entirely to his ability to raise sushi to an art. Naturally, booking months in advance is highly advisable. (A look at the website lays out all the dos and don’ts.)
5 Chome-2-1 Tsukiji, Chūō
Sushi Dai is located at Tokyo’s famed Tsukiji Fish Market, where chefs and tourists show up at the crack of dawn to get their hands on the freshest fish in the world. You can either get up at 4 a.m. to get there by 5 a.m., or just let your jet lag work for you and stay up all night (sake and beer help in this effort). For around $40, you can have an omakase meal of the freshest sushi anywhere. Afterward, tour the market and watch the auctions for tuna, salmon, and other cuts of fish. Also be sure to check out the Aritsugu knife shop around the corner. But move fast—Tsukiji is scheduled to be relocated starting in the fall of 2018.
2-10-19 Nakameguro, Meguro-ku
Were you hoping for a themed restaurant dedicated to Broadway star Patti LuPone? We’re sorry. But we’re not that sorry because what you’re going to get here is some of the most legit pizza anywhere (we’re looking at you, Da Michele). Il Lupone is part of the global federation of Vera Pizza Napoletana, which means it’s been blessed by OGs in southern Italy as being the real deal, down to the kind of stones used in the oven. Mozzarella is flown in twice a week from Italy and makes for the perfect margherita pie. Additional menu items include all kinds of pasta, assorted antipasti, and a top-shelf Italian wine list. Buon appetito, gaijin.
You think you’ve had tempura. You’ve ordered shrimp tempura and vegetable tempura as a placeholder—something to eat while you wait for the main course. You haven’t actually experienced tempura so good that it is the main course until you’ve had it here. Chef Fumio Kondo guides the staff at his restaurant to make tempura that’s lighter, crispier, more delicate than any deep-fried appetizer you’ve had before. Only the highest-quality vegetables and fish are used, and they are cooked in a symphony of oil and heat that is conducted by a living legend. Image courtesy of nippon.com.
For nearly a hundred years, this Roppongi restaurant has been considered the go-to place for soba. Each day, buckwheat is ground on the premises and mixed to create chewy, flavorful noodles that are hand-cut by the chef and owner, Koichi Kobari, who took over the restaurant after his father died in 2007. You don’t have to spend a lot here to experience great soba—the most basic menu option, Seiro Soba (plain noodles with cold dipping soup), is one of the most popular and will cost you less than $10. Toward the end of your meal, you’ll be presented with a yu-toh, a red lacquered pot containing the water your noodles were boiled in. Drink some straight up, or add some to your dipping sauce to complete the full soba experience.