If you’re anything like us, the first thing you do when planning a trip—perhaps even before booking a plane ticket—is figure out where you’re going to eat while you’re there. Museums, sightseeing, and shopping are all well and good, but food is often the main attraction. To make trip planning a little easier, we’re compiling lists of our can’t-miss pit stops in some of our favorite places. JBF Award winners, hole-in-the-wall favorites, America’s Classics, and one-hit wonders—we’ll give you a quick rundown of our absolute must-eats in each featured location.
If food travel were an Olympic event, our own Mitchell Davis would easily be a top contender. Not only has he been everywhere, but when he's on a trip he leaves no stone unturned, no baguette un-tasted, no crazy, tomato-only restaurant untried. Recently back from a two-week visit to Japan, Mitchell wrote about his love for Tokyo's food culture and detailed the trip's culinary highlights on his personal blog, Cook and Eat Better. Here are some of the new finds and old favorites he thinks fellow travelers shouldn't miss:
Tofu Cuisine Sarano
Sakuragaokacho 4-17, Shibuya
"This unexpectedly lovely restaurant across the tracks from a train station serves a wide variety of tofu dishes that are reasonably priced and delicious. Thematic appetizers include yuba (tofu skin) sashimi, yuba gyoza (pan-fried dumplings), and a chunky vegetable salad tossed in a dressing made from tofu dregs (which tastes better than it sounds). Salty yuba chips were so addictive we contemplated starting a company to produce them in America. During the course of dinner, soy milk heats with nigari (potassium chloride) in a vat on the table to coagulate into a delicate tofu right before your eyes. In another vat, yuba forms on top of soy milk as it simmers. You pluck the film on the surface of the milk with your chopsticks every three minutes. Two yummy rice dishes, one with fresh tofu and the other with fresh yuba, concluded our meal. To drink, don’t miss a fresh soy milk lassi with mango."
Ginza 4-10-3, Central Bldg, 1F
"Even with a second restaurant in New York, it’s virtually impossible to get into Ippudo to enjoy their superior Hakata-style ramen. Luckily, this top ramen chain has branches all over Japan and several in Tokyo. In Fukuoka, where the chain originated, we went to one of these joint ventures between Ippudo and the Japanese drum troupe TAO. Drumsticks are part of the décor, as are noisy videos of the troupe’s drumming performances. The menu includes a few special noodle dishes said to signify the drumming tradition. Everything we had was delicious, especially the tonkotsu ramen in pork bone broth, as well as two different cold noodle specials that helped take the edge off the oppressive heat."
3-5-6, Kachidoki, Chuo-ku
"The first time I went to Japan, I visited the Tsukiji fish market early on our first morning. Our visit ended around 8am with an amazing breakfast at Sushi Dai. We went to the market again this trip, but now the line to get one of the eight stools at Sushi Dai can be three or four hours long, so a meal there is out of the question. Luckily, an alum has opened his own restaurant, Sushi Kurami, not too far from Ginza. We began with appetizers of seasonal vegetables, including raw vegetables to dip in miso, braised eggplant, and grilled peppers with bonito flakes. A beautiful arrangement of sashimi was part of the appetizers, and then the flow of perfect and delicious sushi began to arrive. The experience was incredible. Going with a Japanese speaker will help you make the most of this experience. If you just say omikase in most sushi restaurants, you’ll get the chef’s selection of sushi, but none of the delicious appetizers that might be available."
Takashimaya Times Square, 14th Floor
5-24-2 Sendagaya, Shibuya,
"It’s amazing how many ways you can consume tonkatsu (breaded and fried pork cutlet) in Japan: on its own, on top of rice, in a sandwich, even on a stick. (So much for dieting in Japan.) Maisen is widely considered the best, and it’s hard to argue [but] my other favorite tonkatsu place is Katsukura, which has several branches around town, though I always go back to the one atop the Takashimaya Times Square department store in Shinjuku. There’s a certain finesse to some of the accoutrements—yuzu in the cabbage dressing, barley in the rice, freshly ground sesame to mix with the tonkatsu sauces. They also fry a mean prawn."
4-15-3 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku
"Years before anyone was talking about Portland or Brooklyn, Tokyo was home to elaborate and expensive coffee. I recall my first experience in 2000 (already old news by then): the freshly roasted beans were weighed and ground to order for each cup, transferred to a linen filter, and saturated with hot water dribble by drop. Yes, it cost $15, but you could sit in a lovely garden and enjoy it all afternoon. It was so exotic. Who could have imagined that would become a norm in certain parts of the U.S.?
Now there’s a new new wave of beautiful little cafés in Tokyo that take their cues from America’s West Coast, but they do it up with Japanese attention to detail and style. Perhaps my favorite coffee experience this trip was this beautiful, tiny coffee shop off of the fancy shopping street Omotesando Dori. It was a pop-up in a little tea house that is now permanent. The coffee is lovely, the setting is charming, and the little square canelés they serve are delicious."
Read the rest of Mitchell's Tokyo food recommendations, plus insider tips for traveling in Japan, at Cook and Eat Better.