Where to eat: Food worth the wait, restaurants and shops that keep Tokyo lining up for more

 

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Qeueing

Once a year, around the time that Michelin publishes its Tokyo guide, headlines roar about this city being the dining capital of the world. And it is. But it’s not just the arm-and-a-leg, mortgage-your-kids dining scene that makes Tokyo great. The fanaticism for detail and dedication to fresh, seasonal ingredients trickles all the way down to the places we actually eat at: the ramen shops, the gyoza dumpling joints, the udon noodle restaurants and the confectionary stores. And these everyday eateries have their own version of the fine dining restaurant’s waiting lists: lines. If a meal is good enough, Tokyoites will stand in sun or rain to get to it. Here are some of the current favourites.

Wating in line in front of Ramen Jiro

Wating in line in front of Ramen Jiro

Ramen, Ramen Jiro Mita Main Branch

It’s a ten-minute walk from one of the Yamanote Line’s dreariest stations. The façade isn’t pretty and the grease-stained interior is grim. Yet people line up around the block every day in every kind of weather for lunch here, because Jiro may well be the city’s best-loved ramen store. It serves a heavy, fatty soy-sauce soup loaded with thick noodles, cabbage and slices of pork. Since it opened in 1968, the shop has spawned thirty sister branches, run by former apprentices of the Mita branch, but each has its own recipe and none come close to the original for the hearts and stomachs of ramen lovers.

Wait: 30 mins for lunch, but can be up to 1 hr
Address: 2-16-4 Mita, Minato, Tokyo
Open: Mon-Sat 10am-4pm

Sushi no Midori

Sushi, Sushi no Midori Ginza store

There are six main branches of Midori sushi, and they all come with queues. The original branch opened in Umegaoka in 1963, but these days the Ginza branch usually has the longest lines. Courses start from as little as ¥840 for the ten-piece umenigiri plate, which is about as cheap as it gets for sushi in Ginza, but the biggest draws are the anago ipponzuke, a ball of rice with a whole eel draped over it (¥630), and the daimyo midorimaki, an oversized maki roll stuffed with cucumber, egg, and mashed, seasoned whitefish (¥1,890). In the winter months, the store hands out hot pads to customers in the queue.

Wait: up to 1 hr
Address: Corridor Dori 1F, 7-108 Ginza, Chuo, Tokyo
Telephone: (03)5568 1212
Open: Mon-Fri 11am-2pm, 4:30pm-10pm (LO 9:30pm)
Sat 11am-10pm (LO 9:30pm) Sun 11am-9pm (LO 8:30pm)

Setagaya main store (Full details & map)

Niku no Sato

Beef cutlets, Meat Shop Sato

It’s a ball of beef, onions and lard, and it creates lines of up to 200 people in the middle of Kichijoji. To be fair, it’s juicy Matsuzaka beef and it’s cooked so perfectly that you need to wait a few minutes after purchasing the cutlet to let the heat reach the middle. So popular are Sato’s cutlets that customers are limited to 20 pieces each on a weekday, and 10 each on a weekend or holiday. They often sell out by mid-afternoon.

Wait: around 30 mins
Address: 1-1-8 Kichijoji-honcho, Musashino, Tokyo
Telephone: (042)222 3130
Open: Mon-Sun 9am-8pm

Youkan_mizuyoukan

Youkan, Ozasa

They call it maboroshi youkan, which roughly translates as “bloody-hard-to-get-hold-of bean paste jelly”. Ozasa makes just 150 blocks per day, and if you’d like to try one, you’re advised to start queuing from around 5am on a clement day, or around 7am if it’s pouring with rain. At 8:30am, staff distribute tickets for the ¥580-a-piece jellies, up to five per person, and ask you to return between 10am and 6pm to pick up your purchase. Is it worth the effort? We’ve never been tempted to devote half a day to buying jelly, but we hear that they taste much like any other youkan.

Wait: 3-4 hours
Address: 1-1-8 Kichijoji-honcho, Musashino, Tokyo
Telephone: (042)222 7230
Open: Mon, Wed-Sun 10am-7:30, closed Tue
Website: www.ozasa.co.jp/

minatoya

Soba, Minatoya

In a piece of angular, modern minimalist architecture, with Chopin playing in the background and an interior that wouldn’t look out of place in a bar, customers stand to slurp soba. The setting is unique, as is the soba. The hot chicken bowl is the biggest draw, with lines around the block at lunchtime. Luckily it’s a fast moving place where customer slurp and leave, but if you really don’t want to wait, come for dinner, when it’s much easier to get in. Be warned though: the shop closes whenever they run out of noodles. (Full details & map)

Wait: around 30 mins

Yanagiya

Taiyaki, Yanagiya

Back in 1916, Yanagiya began making taiyaki (fish-shaped griddle baked pastries with fillings), and with over 90 years of practice, they’ve gotten pretty good at it. The batter is made fresh daily and is used sparingly, which gives the snack an unusually thin and crispy shell (so eat them fast, before they go soft). Inside, there’s koshian (skinless azuki bean paste): sweet but not cloying. Yanagiya is one of the Big Three taiyaki outlets in Tokyo (along with Wakaba in Yotsuya and Naniwaya Souhonten in Azabu Juban) and uses moulds that pre-date WWII.

Wait: about 45 mins
Address: 2-11-3 Nihonbashi Ningyocho, Chuo, Tokyo
Telephone: (03)3666 9901
Open: Mon-Sat 12:30pm-6pm, closed Sun

Tamahide

Oyakodon, Tamahide

This is the birthplace of oyakodon, the chicken-and-egg rice bowl. It was founded in 1760 as a chicken hotpot specialist, but the wife of the fifth generation chef created a dish that became a Japanese classic and came to define the restaurant. If you’re seated for dinner at Tamahide, you’ll need to wait until the end of the meal for the famous dish, when it stands in for the traditional miso and pickles as a finale. At lunch, though, you can dive straight into the oyakodon as long as you don’t mind the wait. If you don’t start queuing by noon, you won’t be getting in.

Wait: up to an hour
Address: 1-17-10 Nihonbashi Ningyocho, Chuo, Tokyo
Telephone: (03)3668 7651
Open: Lunch Mon-Sat 11:30am-2pm (LO 1pm)
Dinner Mon-Fri 5pm-10pm (LO 9pm), Sat 4pm-9pm (LO 8pm)
Website: www.tamahide.co.jp/

Baumuchen

Cakes, Ginza Department Stores

Matsuzakaya

Each of the three big department stores on Ginza’s Chuo Dori has a confectionary stand that draws big queues. Matsuzakaya has Nenrinya baum cake, which debuted in September 2008 and still draws lines of up to an hour. Last New Year the line stretched up to the fourth floor of the department store.

Website: www.nenrinya.jp/

Mitsukoshi

Mitsukoshi

Mitsukoshi has Mon Chou Chou, which serves a variety of cakes, but it’s the Dojima roll, an ultra-soft fresh-cream-filled Arctic roll, that the ladies line up for. It debuted in August 2007 and there has been a line during opening hours ever since. On peak days, they sell out within two hours of opening.

Website: www.mon-chouchou.com/

 

Gouter de roi

Matsuya

At Matsuya, the big draw is the Gouter de Roi, a sugared rusk from Gateau Festa Harada. For a while, the popular biscuits were also offered online, but sales were suspended when they became overwhelmed with orders.

Website: www.gateaufesta-harada.com/

Categories: Japanese customs, Must see, Things to do, What to eat, Where to eat, Where to shop | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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