Establishment neighborhood
Robot Restaurant
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.
162-0825, Shinjuku
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.
151-8580, Shinjuku
This is a fantastic department store (check out the Hall of Roses on the fourth floor for a dazzling floral display), but the main attraction is down in the basement, in what’s called the depachika, the food courts for which many Tokyo department stores are famous. Takashimaya’s Shinjuku store has one of the larger food courts in Tokyo, and is replete with both Japanese and Western delicacies, including a Kit Kat store that’ll amaze. As part of a larger Shinjuku development, the store is also adjacent to a Tokyu Hands, and includes a Kinokuniya book shop.
3-Chome-14-1, Shinjuku
What started as a kimono shop in 1866 has become one of the most influential department stores in the world. The store is spread over two buildings, with a men’s wing larger than most entire department stories. Small designers and bigger labels happily coexist throughout, as does a formal kimono section on the seventh floor that should not be missed. The service is said to be the best in Tokyo (which is saying something). Also, don’t miss: Below the food hall, on the lower level, is a natural-beauty and health food section that is the envy of the world.
Golden Gai
160-0021, Shinjuku
This is not a bar; it’s a neighborhood of bars. A few alleys intersect to create a district of drinking: hundreds of small bars, each separately owned and distinct from the others (one is leopard themed, one is themed on the band The Who, another is full of troll dolls—there’s really something for everyone). These are seriously small venues, some seating only or four or five people. At each, it’s quite likely the owner will come over to chat with you (or, in some cases, serenade you). Some of the bars are less welcoming to tourists, so check for signs that say, “OK English.” Expect to pay a cover charge of around $5 per person and make friends with whomever is sitting right next to you
Tenko Tokyo
162-0825, Shinjuku
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.
New York Grill
3-7-1-2, Shinjuku
You already know about this place. Here’s how you do it: Make a reservation well in advance because, let’s be honest, you want a table by the window. When you arrive, order a Matured-Fashioned, which is the Grill’s optimized version of an old-fashioned, although in this case the whiskey is Woodford Reserve Double Oaked, the bitters are a resurrected formula from more than a century ago, and the sugar is wasanbon, the highest grade of Japanese sugar, made only on Shikoku island. Then order a classic Caesar salad, followed by either a Kagoshima Satsuma sirloin or, if you really feel like splashing out, the Kobe sirloin. Add the duck fat potatoes and the mixed mushrooms, a bottle of one of the 1,800 (mostly American) wines the Grill keeps in its cellar, and finish with a Kougyoko apple pie that will blow the doors off any state-fair winner.
Yayoi Kusama Museum
107 Bentencho, Shinjuku
This new museum—it opened in the fall of 2017—is dedicated to works of Yayoi Kusama, perhaps the most famous living artist in Japan. Kusama is known for her “infinity rooms,” which play with space and perspective in ways that are both delightful and disorienting. Some of those are on display in this new five-story building in Shinjuku, as are many of Kusama’s polka-dotted paintings, which come from a history of hallucinations Kusama says she has experienced since she was ten years old. You must buy tickets online in advance, and only fifty people are allowed in the museum for a ninety-minute session, so plan accordingly. To be frank, few museums in Tokyo are worth the trip, but this one most certainly is.
31 Nakazatocho, Shinjuku-ku
Yes, you want to get a hamburger in Tokyo, particularly if Eliot Bergman is making it. Born and raised in New York, Bergman is a graphic designer by day and a Tokyo hamburger purveyor by night. His restaurant, Martiniburger, is his attempt to bring a little of NYC to Japan’s megalopolis. Everything is made on-site, from the freshly baked buns to the house-ground beef. The standard offering, the Martiniburger, is a beef patty on an English muffin served with béarnaise sauce. It will blow you away, but don’t let that stop you from exploring the rest of the burger menu, which includes versions named after New York neighborhoods, including the Bronx (chili and cheese), the 6th Street (spicy curry, onions, coriander), and the Long Beach (salmon, avocado, tartar sauce). Finish with a house-made egg cream, and then remind yourself you’re still in Tokyo.