15 places for vegetarians to enjoy a meat- and fish-free feast
DevaDeva Cafe Yogi Burger
‘Is shrimp okay?’ Being vegetarian in Tokyo, you get used to hearing questions like this all the time – the well-meaning but rather clueless attempts of restaurant wait staff to comprehend how and why someone would choose not to eat meat or fish. Yet life has improved for the capital’s long-misunderstood herbivores: as diners get increasingly health-conscious, we’ve seen farmers’ markets become a regular feature on the urban landscape, and Yoyogi Park now even hosts a dedicated festival each year, Tokyo Vegefood Festa. On the restaurant scene, more places are indicating which dishes on their menus are suitable for veggies, while the floor staff seem to be getting savvier (even if there are still plenty of exceptions). Still, sometimes you just want to go somewhere you can enjoy your meal with having to triple-check about whether there’s bacon in the salad or katsuobushi flakes on the tofu. Read on for 15 restaurants that are guaranteed to satisfy even the strictest Tokyo vegetarians.
Deva Deva Cafe
A very reasonably priced vegetarian café with a vegan menu that includes their particularly popular ‘Yogi Burger’, a soya sausage topped vegetarian pizza, some excellent ‘chicken’ nuggets (made from soya beans), various drinks (including a latte coffee made with soya milk) and a range of vegan desserts. Vegetarian or not, you won’t be disappointed with the food here. Plus with Inokashira Park located only a short walk away this is a great spot to grab some takeaway for a bite to eat outside. They also offer various homemade cakes that can be made to order.
Vegetable Sushi Potager
You don’t need fish to make exquisite sushi, as Potager proves. The selections at this elegantly appointed sushi shop – an offshoot of Nakameguro’s equally herbivorous Patisserie Potager – are entirely vegetarian, with vegan meals also available by reservation. Much of the fun comes from working out what everything on your plate actually is: what looks like maguro is really a sliver of tomato topped with mozzarella; a mock-scallop is made with fried eringi mushroom; and the ‘uni’ turns out to be a sauce of carrots, spices and cream. Mercifully, it’s not just about novelty value, and even hardened fish fans might be forced to admit – albeit grudgingly – that most of the offerings are really rather tasty. Expect to pay the same as you would in a relatively upmarket sushi shop, with lunch sets from ¥1,575 and dinner courses from ¥5,250.
Well worth seeking out, this intimate vegan café in Koenji serves a varied menu of meat-free grub at a decidedly leisurely pace. Meu Nota occupies a second-floor perch opposite a branch of the Seiyu supermarket chain, but it’s easy to forget the outside world once you’ve settled in amongst the antique furniture and dark wood floorboards. Even traditional vegetarian staples are given an interesting twist – as with the black bean hummus (pictured) – while you can also try nifty inventions like the mock taramasalata, actually potato salad with added amaranth. It’s not just tapas, either: there’s also plenty of heartier fodder on offer, including salads, pastas and a killer vegetarian taco rice. If you’re planning on going at the weekend, note that they often hold concerts in the evenings, for which you’ll need to pay an additional charge.
Set in the heart of Tokyo’s fashionable Aoyama district, Pure Cafe melds its health-conscious, near-vegan principles with a bright, contemporary interior (it’s part of the glass-fronted Aveda holistic spa complex). The menu offers a mix of East and West, along with organic wines and beer. Pure Cafe’s early opening hours make it just the place for a healthy breakfast.
Vegetarians stranded in Roppongi have a new place to go with the opening of this branch of Nakaichi Soshoku Ten, a Taiwanese veggie restaurant in Kunitachi that’s been going since 1986. Like its parent shop, Chien-Fu – whose fourth-floor location affords scenic views of the Shuto Expressway – sticks to the principles of Chinese vegetarian cuisine. Meat and fish are out, but so too are strong-smelling veg like onions, garlic and shallots. In their place, you get ample greens and a range of ingenious mock meats, made with soy, gluten, yuba and even konnyaku. It’s all awfully healthy, though the flavours are considerably more robust than what you’d get at the average vegan or macrobiotic restaurant. The ¥950 weekday lunch sets – a choice of four dishes, such as mapo tofu or mock pork with cashew nuts, served with a choice of brown or white rice – are particularly good value.
If you’re curious about the world of macrobiotics – the grain-heavy, predominantly vegetarian cuisine that’s found something of a cult following in Japan – this Ebisu eatery is a good place to start. Operated by the Kushi Macrobiotic Academy (which holds cooking classes upstairs), the café serves meticulously prepared lunch sets alongside intriguing offerings like tempeh burgers and soymilk tiramisu. The portions can be on the puny side, but it you follow the macrobiotic mantra and chew every mouthful 30 times, you should walk away fairly satisfied.
Brown Rice Café
Whether you’re vegetarian, vegan or just can’t face another steak dinner, this Omotesando eatery – a staunch adherent to the ‘whole food’ philosophy – should be able to satisfy your cravings.
Chef Sadananda and his team prepare sophisticated, vegetarian Indian delicacies that are so good you’ll never ask where the meat went. The original restaurant in Ogikubo may be funkier and more casual, but this newer branch near Gaienmae is far more accessible. The Ginza outlet is suitably glitzy.
Vegan Healing Cafe
Run by a devoted vegan activist, this conveniently located café – not far from the Shibuya branch of Tokyu Hands – does a nice line in mock meats. Falafel, tempeh and soy-meat karaage all feature on the menu, available à la carte or in a set meal with brown rice, salad and relishes, and they also do a vegan spin on Vietnamese com am phu, substituting soy-meat for the pork. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, there’s also a small selection of cakes on offer – plus organic teas, coffees and juices – though the sterility of the decor might prevent you from lingering for too long.
It’s almost worth rerouting your trip via Tokyo Station to eat at this noodle shop. T’s Tantan, an offshoot of Jiyugaoka eatery T’s Restaurant, earns the rare distinction of being one of the only places selling vegetarian ramen in Tokyo – or, at least, ramen that’s actually worthy of the name. The speciality of the house is Chinese-style tantan-men noodles, served in a broth flavoured with sesame and peanut oil and available with a range of toppings. Our medium-spiced ‘midori tantan’, topped with leafy greens, soymeat mince and pumpkin seeds (nice touch, that) wasn’t as rich as the meat-based version of the dish, but made for a hearty lunch nonetheless. T’s Tantan can be found inside the JR Tokyo Station, at the end of the Keiyo Street shopping parade on the way to the Keiyo Line platform.
The Sincere Garden spa and salon on Aoyama-dori is also home to an organic restaurant that’s likely to appeal to vegetarians – especially female ones. Garden Café serves a selection of veggie salads, curries and soups, including a popular Sri Lankan combo plate (pictured) that’s based on ayurvedic principles. There’s also a good range of herbal teas on offer, including a few that are specifically for pregnant mums, along with a few varieties of cake that you won’t feel guilty about eating afterwards.
Shibuya’s best vegetarian restaurant is also one of the trickiest to find, tucked away on an obscure back street five minutes’ walk south of the station. Nagi Shokudo is busiest at lunch, when diners pay ¥1,000 for a generous set including rice, miso, a drink and three dishes from the deli counter (all of which are actually vegan, though they don’t make a big deal about it). At dinner, you can order à la carte (including a ¥1,000 deli ‘n’ beer deal) or get the evening’s plate combo, which might be Thai, Indian or Japanese-style, depending on when you go. A library of Japanese and English-language zines and consistently interesting soundtrack add to the charm. Just one caveat: if they run out of food, they close early.
Kuumba du Falafel
Tokyo’s best falafel shop seems to go out of its way to disguise itself: perched on a highway intersection a good 15 minutes’ walk from Shibuya Station, it doesn’t even have a sign outside to indicate that you’ve found the right place. It’s also got a habit of closing without warning, while the staff can seem a tad standoffish at times. Culinary pilgrims will be rewarded for their persistence, though: Kuumba du Falafel’s sandwiches are superb, crammed with so much lettuce, red cabbage, fried aubergine, tomato, hummus and tahini sauce (we could go on) that they’re almost impossible to eat without making a mess. If you’ve got a penchant for spiciness, add some of the housemade chili sauce – though be warned that it packs a serious kick. Falafel sandwiches are available in full and half sizes (the latter is still pretty substantial), with a more expensive falafel plate that increases the amount of fillings yet further and lets you make your own. Other options include a hummus-only sandwich and a revitalising lentil soup, and it’s all completely vegan.
Self-proclaimed ‘Hawaiian macrobiotics’ eatery Island Veggie has upped its game since we first visited shortly after it opened in October last year. The disappointing Mana Burgers – soy-and-veg patties made down in Fukuoka – have been excised from the menu, and the restaurant has been expanded to include a second floor that’s invariably crowded with OLs and ladies-who-lunch. The kitchen frequently struggles to keep up with the demand, but the food – once it arrives – is now consistently good. Everything on the menu is meat- and fish-free, and much of it is suitable for vegans, with deli counter offerings that make extensive use of organic veg, grains and beans, plus soy meats and tempeh. If you’ve got room for dessert (and, given that the portions aren’t exactly huge, you may well do), Island Veggie also offers big-in-Hawaii dishes like an energy-charged Acai Bowl. The restaurant does takeaway, too, making it a good option for diners in search of that elusive vegetarian bento box.
Crayon House Hiroba
Sitting next to a natural food shop, Crayon House is not exclusively vegetarian, but serves up a good selection of wholesome, well-prepared dishes, many with organic ingredients. It consists of two mini restaurants: Hiroba, offering Japanese food, and Home, offering Western dishes.