Tokyo has a lot of restaurants. There are currently 83,783 restaurants in the city listed on TripAdvisor, but some put the number closer to 200,000. Tokyo also has the most Michelin starred restaurants. So you can eat well in this city. We, of course, are on a budget. But we love cheap eats, especially the kind that comes in a bowl and involves noodles and broth. We’ve separated this post by type of food. Enjoy!
Per the above, we love ramen. Eating it in Japan is an amazing experience, usually involving a vending machine with Japanese words we don’t understand and some guesswork. During our week in Tokyo, we ate ramen 3 times. They were all delicious, yet different.
We found a local ramen joint called 富士らーめん near our apartment in Asakusa. We found it on Google Maps and chose it for its delicious reviews and (full disclosure) because we read the properieter spoke English. He helped us use the vending machine, but confirmed what we had read that the most popular type of ramen is typically the top left button on the machine. In their case, this was strong and rich miso broth ramen, with deliciously chewy noodles, a slice of pork, and a perfectly soft-boiled egg.
Next, we went to an outpost of the famous ramen chain called Ichiran at Ueno Station. It should be noted that, due to jetlag, we ate this ramen for breakfast at 7:30am. This was a serious ramen eating experience. You pay and order at a machine, you sit down at a small booth, you fill out a piece of paper choosing how you want your broth (medium), noodles (firm), and spice level (low for Sarah, high for Justin). Your ramen is delivered through the window and then the shutters are closed for privacy. They specialize in tonkotsu ramen, which is made from pork bones boiled for a long, long time. You have to crack, peel, and cut your own egg here. The ramen was really good, but not worth the increased price from what we had at our local spot.
Our third and final ramen in Tokyo was the best! We spent an afternoon touring the tony area of Ginza, with its beautiful buildings with fancy shops, and found a long-standing, well-reviewed spot called ABC Ramen in the cellar of another restaurant. They served something we’d never had before, a ramen with a sesame-based broth. Even though it featured only a small amount of ground meat and no egg, it was unbelievably tasty and satisfying. We would definitely come back if (or hopefully, when!) we return to Tokyo.
We knew we wanted to start with conveyor belt sushi so we could figure out what we liked before trying to order in a real sushi place. We read about some amazing looking spots all over Tokyo and ended up at two – one super modern and one more old school.
First up, the futuristic style place called Uobei Sushi which is in the Shibuya neighborhood. This place takes the conveyor belt sushi thing to a whole new level. You order on an iPad (which has an English option) and can order 3 plates at a time. A few minutes later, said plates come shooting out of a hole in the wall at rapid speed. You remove your plates, hit a button on the iPad, and the empty tray speeds away. Very important note – do not hit the button before you take your plates. Sarah did this and her delicious sushi started flying away! To her joy, her hero Justin caught them before they were gone. The sushi was very cheap and quite good. They have a full range of options of sushi, maki, and random other dishes like ramen and chili cheese fries.
The more traditional place we visited was 扇すし, right by Ueno Station. This seemed to be a place that had been in Tokyo forever. It was small – with about 12 seats at one sushi bar. Two sushi chefs took orders while also putting popular cuts on the rotating “belt” in front of the customers. As per usual, the price of the plates were noted by their color. The sushi was just a little bit more expensive than at Uobei, but better and more interesting. Sadly, we were so focused on eating the delicious sushi, we didn’t get any pictures.
During our first trip to Tokyo 6 1/2 years ago, our favorite meal was the curry udon at a spot in Ueno Station. So we had to go back. Konaya didn’t disappoint. They offer other things, but the curry udon is their specialty. The udon noodles swim in a rich and heartwarming broth. This time we tried the versions with ground beef and vegetables.
Craft beer is pretty big in Tokyo and Japan has a bunch of good microbreweries. There are quite a few craft beer bars in Tokyo but we found one that has both a wide selection and a fantastic happy hour! Popeye is located in the Ryōgoku neighborhood. It opens at 5pm and when we got there at around 5:15 it was already pretty full. Of locals. They know what’s up. The beers are pricy, but from 5-8pm, when you order a beer (small or large) you get a free plate of food. Choices include pizza, sausage, a couple different salads, and fried chicken. Bonus: if you order a cask beer, you have the pleasure of going outside to serve yourself.
So even though no Michelin stars, we ate quite well in Tokyo. It was definitely a great introduction to the country.