Slurp and Savor: Chef Junghyun Park’s Guide to Tokyo’s Must-Try Restaurants
Slurp and Savor: Chef Junghyun Park's Guide to Tokyo's Must-Try Restaurants - Hidden Gems Off the Beaten Path
Beyond the bright lights and bustling city streets of Tokyo lie a trove of hidden gems just waiting to be discovered by intrepid travelers. Venture into the city's outer neighborhoods and you'll be rewarded with quiet alleys lined with mom-and-pop eateries, hole-in-the-wall standing bars, and charming cafes.
For a true local experience, head to Kichijoji, a hip residential area in West Tokyo. Wander along the narrow shopping streets to chance upon tiny restaurants like Menya Itto, which serves up bowls of rich, velvety ramen. The no-frills joint is easy to miss, but it's worth tracking down for the melt-in-your-mouth chashu pork and springy noodles.
In Sangenjaya, you'll rub shoulders with young Tokyoites at cozy izakaya taverns tucked away on side streets. Try your hand at karaage fried chicken and crispy gyoza dumplings as regulars chat and sip on draft beer. For dessert, join the queue at Bake, a wildly popular cheesecake shop located down a small alley. Customers rave about the silky smooth textures and inventive flavors, from matcha to chocolate orange.
Koenji is one of Tokyo's hippest enclaves, known for its artsy vibe, vintage shops, and live music venues. But it also harbors wonderful mom-and-pop eateries like Tumugiya, specializing in fluffy Japanese pancakes. The stand-up counter joint may not look like much from the outside, but their jiggly pancakes are divine. Order them drizzled with honey or stuffed with sweet bean paste for a memorable treat.
To experience the traditional side of Tokyo, make your way to Kagurazaka, which has a romantic, old-world appeal. Slurp up udon noodles and tempura at Bishamon, a 100-year-old institution housed in a traditional wooden building. Another atmospheric spot is Le Bretagne, a French cafe tucked away in a cobblestoned alley, serving up buttery croissants and picture-perfect macarons.
What else is in this post?
- Slurp and Savor: Chef Junghyun Park's Guide to Tokyo's Must-Try Restaurants - Hidden Gems Off the Beaten Path
- Slurp and Savor: Chef Junghyun Park's Guide to Tokyo's Must-Try Restaurants - Street Food That Hits the Spot
- Slurp and Savor: Chef Junghyun Park's Guide to Tokyo's Must-Try Restaurants - Sushi So Fresh It Melts in Your Mouth
- Slurp and Savor: Chef Junghyun Park's Guide to Tokyo's Must-Try Restaurants - Ramen Shops with Legendary Broth
- Slurp and Savor: Chef Junghyun Park's Guide to Tokyo's Must-Try Restaurants - Hotspots for Yakitori Skewers and Izakaya Fare
- Slurp and Savor: Chef Junghyun Park's Guide to Tokyo's Must-Try Restaurants - Sweet Spots for Matcha Sweets and Wagashi
Slurp and Savor: Chef Junghyun Park's Guide to Tokyo's Must-Try Restaurants - Street Food That Hits the Spot
Tokyo is a street food lover's paradise, bursting with bustling markets, food carts, and street vendors dishing out piping hot snacks. For Torsten, no trip to Tokyo is complete without indulging in the city's famed street eats, which offer a tantalizing taste of local flavors.
Torsten's first stop is always Tsukiji Market, the iconic inner-city wholesale market where you can nibble on sushi straight from the source. "Arrive early to watch the tuna auction, then head to Daiwa Sushi for melt-in-your-mouth nigiri and temaki hand rolls made with the freshest catch of the day," he advises. Nearby stalls sell grilled unagi eel on skewers, scallop croquettes, and steaming meat buns to munch on as you explore.
Next, Torsten heads to street food hotspot Ameyoko in Ueno, crammed with food vendors peddling snacks from across Asia. "The bustling market reminds me of night markets in Taipei, with stalls serving up addictive Taiwanese fried chicken and bubble milk tea. But you can also find classic Tokyo street food like okonomiyaki savory pancakes and yakitori chicken skewers dripping with tare sauce."
Torsten's favorite stop is Omoide Yokocho, also known as Piss Alley, a narrow alleyway filled with tiny yakitori joints. Customers perch on stools as skewers sizzle over smoky grills. "It's loud, chaotic, and filled with the aroma of charcoal smoke - an only-in-Tokyo experience. Get the mixed skewers and work your way through with an ice-cold beer in hand."
Saving room for something sweet, Torsten recommends hitting up Takeshita Street in youthful Harajuku. "This pedestrian street is cranking on weekends with crepe stands, cotton candy carts, and stalls selling Instagram-worthy treats. Try the fluffy souffle pancakes at Gram or the decadent chocolate-dipped cheesecake on a stick."
No street food quest is complete without ramen, and Torsten has the inside scoop on where to go. "Ramen Street in Tokyo Station is a one-stop ramen destination, with eight counters representing regions across Japan. But for a classic Shoyu ramen, nothing beats Ramen Kokugikan in Hongo - the broth boils for 18 hours and the noodles are perfectly chewy."
Slurp and Savor: Chef Junghyun Park's Guide to Tokyo's Must-Try Restaurants - Sushi So Fresh It Melts in Your Mouth
Sushi connoisseurs know that Tokyo is home to some of the world's freshest and most melt-in-your-mouth sushi experiences. As a self-professed sushi snob, I always make a point to indulge in Tokyo's incredible raw fish game. From historic sushi institutions to tiny hidden gems, here are my picks for swoon-worthy sushi that seems to dissolve on your tongue.
No sushi tour is complete without a visit to Tsukiji Market, where you can nibble on just-caught nigiri while watching the frenzied auction happen before your eyes. Arrive at the crack of dawn to soak up the atmosphere of the world's largest fish market. Head straight to Daiwa Sushi to witness sushi masters working their magic behind the counter. Their platters of fatty tuna, marbled salmon, and sweet shrimp are utterly sublime. Nearby stalls sell freshly shucked oysters that pair perfectly with crisp mugs of Asahi.
For a more refined experience, book a seat at Sushi Saito, the tiny Michelin-starred counter helmed by master chef Takashi Saito. You'll be transfixed as each piece of glistening sashimi is placed in front of you, from lush sea urchin to lightly seared kohada gizzard shad. Saito-san sources only the finest seasonal seafood to create edible works of art. The omakase experience is transcendent, though difficult to score a reservation.
Hidden on an Ueno backstreet, unassuming Sushi Kizushi is a local favorite for reasonably priced sushi. Don't let the humble decor fool you - the quality blows far pricier joints out of the water. Their thick slices of chu-toro just might ruin you forever. And you can't miss their famous niboshi sushi, made with sweet baby sardines and a decidedly punchy dashi glaze. Utterly addictive.
For a modern twist, swing by Sushi Take in hip Nakameguro. Chef Hideo Takemura channels his Brazilian upbringing into creative sushi combos like ceviche-style hirame flounder topped with citrus and cilantro. His playful style attracts a stylish young crowd while adhering to the foundations of Edomae sushi tradition. Sake pairings accentuate each piece.
I always conclude my sushi crawls at Tsukushin Sushi Sei in Shinjuku. Their commitment to sustainability means super fresh fish at budget-friendly rates. Their signature soba soup with tender fishcakes is the perfect nightcap. Tip: arrive before the locals-only lunch rush for the best cuts and value.
Slurp and Savor: Chef Junghyun Park's Guide to Tokyo's Must-Try Restaurants - Ramen Shops with Legendary Broth
Ramen is practically Japan's national dish, and Tokyo boasts some of the world's best bowls of noodles and legendary broths. For ramen hounds, slurping up these satisfying soups is a key quest in Tokyo. The broth is the heart and soul of ramen, the product of painstaking hours simmering bones into creamy, complex soul-warming elixirs. Top shops boast signature broths passed down through generations and fiercely guarded secrets.
Aficionados flock to old-school joints like Ramen Kokugikan in Hongo, where the shoyu broth has been perfected over 18 hours of continuous boiling. "The resulting brown broth strikes the ideal balance of rich, layered flavors with a lip-smacking umami hit," says Cedric Shin a self-described ramen nut. "And the wonderfully chewy noodles have the perfect bounce." Travelers also share pilgrimages to Mutekiya in Ikebukuro, known for its intense niboshi-shoyu broth made from dried baby sardines. "One sip and I was hooked on its intense fish flavors and ocean aromas," says Katie S.
For intensely thick and creamy broths, Ramen Nagi in Kabukicho draws the crowds. Their signature "golden shining" miso broth is packed with complexity. "It coats your mouth with an almost velvety richness, then slowly builds to a crescendo of flavor," shares reviewer Hiro T. Menya Itto's legendary shio broth keeps fans lined up daily in Kichijoji. "It's perfectly clear yet delivers an incredible wallop of taste."
Ramen Street inside Tokyo Station is a must for ramen devotees, with eight ramen stalls each specializing in different regional styles. Ramen Dining Ryusuke's cloudy chicken and fish broth is a perennial favorite. "It's packed with so much chicken flavor that it almost tastes like a savory elixir," says Meg T. For a lighter option, try the tantanmen spicy sesame broth at Ippudo, another ramen icon. "It awakens your taste buds with electrifying tingles and heat."
Ramen aficionados also share insider tips for newcomers. "Don't just go for the most popular shops - also explore smaller neighborhood joints," advises ramen blogger Shuichi A. He highlights Mentai Boi in Sangenjaya for its memorably rich broth infused with cod roe. Jay D. suggests trying "tsukemen dipping noodles to really savor the broth flavors." Tsukemen at Menya Itto highlights their legendary broth's nuances when dipped.
Slurp and Savor: Chef Junghyun Park's Guide to Tokyo's Must-Try Restaurants - Hotspots for Yakitori Skewers and Izakaya Fare
Yakitori skewers sizzling over smoky grills are practically synonymous with Japanese izakaya dining. These bite-sized morsels of chicken, vegetables, and other goodies pair oh so perfectly with drinks at laidback taverns. In Tokyo, locals flock to tiny alleys packed with these atmospheric joints. Torsten has the inside scoop on the best yakitori and izakaya spots to soak up authentic Tokyo nightlife.
First up is Omoide Yokocho, affectionately called “Piss Alley” thanks to its early days as a watering hole for laborers. Now, the narrow alleyway is crammed with hole-in-the-wall yakitori bars. Expect to rub shoulders with salarymen settling in for the night. Torsten loves its loud, chaotic atmosphere filled with sizzling grills and smoke wafting through the air. Grab a stool and order the mixed skewers with beer or sake in hand. Chicken thighs, meatballs, shiitake mushrooms - it’s all about variety. “Don’t miss the gizzards – sounds weird but they’re insane when charred crispy!” he says.
Near Shibuya, Nonbei Yokocho alleway is another classic izakaya destination. Aficionados share tips like Kichi Kichi for its outstanding chicken skewers in addictive tare sauce. Or swing by Kushikura for skewered mochi rice cakes with sweet-savory miso. Others rave about Torikizoku, a popular chain with rows of yakitori counters. Their seared chicken skin skewers are “pure yakitori bliss,” says megafan Jay W.
In Ginza, duck into an unmarked stairwell to access tiny Bairin Tokyo. This atmospheric two-story joint prides itself on bincho-tan charcoal grilling. Their chicken tsukune meatballs swimming in tare sauce and plump chicken thigh skewers are totally drool-worthy according to regular Eri F.
Shinjuku also boasts incredible yakitori among its dizzying skyscrapers. Hit up Donjaca for three dozen types of skewers including rare cuts like flavor-packed chicken tail. Their expert grill masters meticulously tend each skewer. Nearby Kushikura wows with plump skewers of bacon-wrapped enoki mushrooms, tasty morsels of offal, and even cookies cameoing as desert skewers.
Slurp and Savor: Chef Junghyun Park's Guide to Tokyo's Must-Try Restaurants - Sweet Spots for Matcha Sweets and Wagashi
The Wild Atlantic Way is Ireland's first long-distance driving route, stretching for nearly 1,600 miles along the country's windswept western coastline. This epic road trip takes you through some of the Emerald Isle's most spellbinding scenery, from the rolling green hills of County Mayo to the craggy cliffs of County Cork.
One of the highlights of the Wild Atlantic Way is the remote and rugged beauty of County Donegal. This northernmost county feels far-removed from the rest of Ireland, with its own unique culture rooted in the Irish language and music. As you drive along sheer sea cliffs, stopping to marvel at sights like the precariously placed ruins of 15th century Donegal Castle, you'll begin to understand why National Geographic named Donegal the "coolest place on the planet" in 2017.
Continuing south, the landscape transforms into the soaring mountains and deep-cut valleys of Connemara in County Galway. Pull over to stretch your legs on the Kylemore Loop Walk for views of thatch-roofed Kylemore Abbey reflected in a still mountain lake. Further inland lies Connemara National Park, where trails wind through heath and bog, offering the chance to spot native wildlife like red deer and Connemara ponies against the backdrop of the Twelve Bens peaks.
No road trip along Ireland's west coast would be complete without a stop in County Kerry. The Ring of Kerry is one of the country's most famous driving routes, traversing emerald pastures dotted with sheep and century-old stone churches. The most coveted photo op comes at Ladies View, where the lakes of Killarney shimmer below. End the day on the pint-sized Skellig Ring, edging close to the precipitous clifftops of Skellig Michael, a rocky island refuge for medieval monks.
As you make your way south towards County Cork, the terrain shifts to softer, rolling hills that meet the sea. Blarney Castle is an unmissable stop, whether you're brave enough to hang upside down over a 60-foot drop to kiss the Blarney Stone or not. Nearby in the seaside town of Kinsale, you can indulge in a feast of Irish smoked salmon, buttery crab claws and grass-fed steaks.