Dosa at Kyobashi Dhaba

Dosa by Dhaba

Masala Dosa by Dhaba

I remember ten years when I first had a dosa at Dhaba in Kyobashi. I was in heaven. It immediately brought me back to the first dosa I had in Singapore a decade before. I couldn’t believe that this was in Tokyo and that I didn’t know about it. Luckily I was working at Takashimaya in Nihonbashi and would come here for lunch from time to time. A decade ago I could usually walk in and get a seat right away. On a recent lunch I was surprised to see a line out the front door.

Dhaba India is a sweet spot for Southern Indian in Kyobashi, a very short walk from Tokyo Station’s Yaesu exit. Many of the diners are eating dosa, and the naan is great, but I come here for the dosa. Breaking up the crispy dosa shell is great fun, until it comes to an end. The curry doesn’t seem to be modified for the Japanese palate. The Masala Dosa here at lunch is 1,400 JPY.

It’s a bustling restaurant, filled with a mix of area salarymen and office ladies. Try and avoid the noon lunch rush.

The only thing I find strange about this shop is that they do not let diners look at their iPads during the meal. I could snap a quick photo of my lunch, but was asked to put it away. I was told that there was a sign on the outside of the restaurant, which there was, about this ban on electronics. I guess this is a good thing and a habit we all should be doing.

Dhaba India

Chuo-ku, Yaesu 2-7-9, Sagami Building

 

Tenfufan’s Bottomless Bowl of Dumplings 天府舫

Suigyoza at Tenfufan

Suigyoza at Tenfufan

The heat and humidity is starting to become unbearable in Tokyo. One way to survive is to eat hot and spicy food as it induces sweat which helps cool you down. I was meeting a Japanese girlfriend for lunch in Shinjuku and we agreed on Shisen cuisine. Tenfufan in Nishi-Shinjuku has been on my radar for a while because it has an all-you-can-eat suigyōza (boiled dumplings) offer with its set lunch, a bargain as most lunches are under 1,000 JPY.

An online website (not the restaurant’s) said the restaurant opened at 11 a.m. We showed up at 11:15 a.m. and were surprised to see a sign on the outside of the shop that said lunch starts at 11:30 a.m. I pushed open the door and the kind owner said that they do not open until 11:30 a.m. but as it was so hot outside that we could be seated early. A pot of iced tea and two cups were set on the table and we started to peruse the menu.

The owner said that all set lunches come with the boiled dumplings. He pointed to a small table set off to the side and said that once service starts the dumplings would be there. “Self-service” he added. There is something about growing up in America, at least in the Midwest, that inspires me at a buffet to dig into as much as I can. I was so surprised to see the tables of salarymen near us taking only a few dumplings and not going back for seconds. I stopped after my second visit, but I am sure that had I gone with an American we would have gone back for thirds. The dumplings are stuffed with meat, the skins seem to be made from scratch, and the spicy dipping sauce hits the spot. Don’t bother with the soy-seasoned eggs that are also on the buffet.

Shirunashi Tantanmen at Tenfufan

Shirunashi Tantanmen at Tenfufan

The shiru-nashi tan tan men is one of their signature dishes, along with the suigyōza. Shiru-nashi means without soup. Underneath the ramen noodles were some peanuts and a hot sauce that comes and catches you by surprise after the fact. It’s not too spicy and is rich in umami. The side dishes included a bland fried rice, an unmemorable egg-drop soup, and some bean sprouts with carrots. But who cares when the dumplings and ramen were exactly what we had come for, spicy, delicious, and rich in umami.

Shortly before noon the shop was filled. Mostly salarymen who must be working in the area as the shop is on a side street. When we left there was a line out the door. 80% of the diners were having either this dish or the mabo dofu. This meal came to 880 JPY, including the dumplings. I will be back.

Tenfufan 天府舫

Shinjuku-ku, Nishi-Shinjuku 7-4-9

 

Tokyo Ramen Street’s Rokurinsha Tsukemen 六厘舎

Tokyo Ramen Street

Tokyo Ramen Street – Rokurinsha Tsukemen

Rokurinsha’s tonkotsu tsukemen is one of the city’s most sought after bowl of ramen. Tsukemen is an interesting way to eat ramen if you are not used to dipping noodles in a broth. In Japan we often eat soba, udon or sōmen with a smokey soy dipping sauce, so the concept is not too wild. Unlike the traditional bowl of ramen where the noodles and savory broth are together, here they are separate. Grab a few noodles with your chopsticks, dip in the broth, and slurp away. There is a spoon if you want more of the broth.

Tokyo Ramen Street in the basement of Tokyo Station has eight ramen shops all lined up next to each other. Note that the basement shopping area of Tokyo Station is massive. Be sure to head to the Yaesu side of Tokyo Station. There is a map in English if you click below on Tokyo Ramen Street in the address section. I recommend it as a place to go to for ramen as you do have the option of checking out what the other shops offer and the location can not be beat. Most travelers in Tokyo will pass through Tokyo Station at some point. However, most people who come here want to join the line of customers waiting for a seat at Rokurinsha, which is by far the most popular ramen shop. The line is usually filled up with salarymen in white shirts and ties. But the same could be said for many restaurants in Tokyo Station as there are many train lines going through this station and the financial district is near here.

Most likely you will want to order the ajitama-tsukemen for 950 JPY, which includes all of the basics as shown above, including the seasoned egg (ajitama). The umami-rich broth is tonkotsu, based on pork bones, and this is a meaty, in-your-face soup. As you can see, the toppings include a soy-marinated hard-boiled egg, a thin sliced of pink and white naruto fish cake, toasted nori, julienned leeks, and some pork pork belly. There were extra packets of powdered katsuobushi, smoked skipjack tuna, but the dish had enough flavor it did not need any more help. For some it may be too complex, the meaty broth and the smokey fish powder. The thick, straight noodles seem perfect for this dense broth. What some may not care for is the cold noodles being dipped into the hot broth. The temperature of the broth drops quickly and the fatty soup is not as enticing as when it is hot. Regardless, it is very popular and it’s rare that there is not a line to get in here, even first thing in the morning when it opens at 7:30 a.m.

Rokurinsha at Tokyo Ramen Street

Chiyoda-ku, Marunouchi 1-9-1, Tokyo Eki Ichibangai B1

While here,  be sure to pick up the regional flavored Kit Kats at the shop across the aisle. Details in this Metropolis article.

Takashimaya Patissieria Sweets Counter

Shinjuku Takashimaya

Takashimaya Patissieria

If you have a sweet tooth be sure to visit Shinjuku Takashimaya’s Patissieria in the depachika. The concept is brilliant, over a hundred signature sweets from patisseries throughout Tokyo all displayed together. Carefully peruse the sweets and upon selecting one, or two if you like, take a seat at the counter and order a coffee and enjoy.

Shinjuku Takashimaya

Takashimaya Patissieria

Even on days when I don’t have time to sit down, I do try and glance through the display case as the offerings are constantly changing. As can be expected, aside from the classics, many are influenced by the seasonal ingredients.

Takashimaya Patissieria Mont Blanc

Takashimaya Patissieria

My view from the counter with a Mont Blanc. Shinjuku Takashimaya is located just outside of Shinjuku JR Station. Take the Shin-Minami-Guchi, New South Exit, take a left and you will walk into Takashimaya in one minute. Follow the escalators down to the basement.

Takashimaya Patissieria

Shibuya-ku, Sendagaya 5-24-2, Shinjuku Takashimaya

Village Vanguard Burgers in Kichijoji

Village Vanguard in Kichijoji

Village Vanguard Double Cheeseburger

Walking into Village Voice in Kichijoji I felt like I was up North in Minnesota. The beer signs lining the wood-paneled walls, the beer on tap, and the smell of burgers and fries. It’s a popular spot and we came right after they opened for lunch. Within about fifteen minutes it was packed and then a line started out the front door.

Small bites like chips and avocado or onion rings come out very quickly. The burger follows right after. The burgers are more like one will find at a diner, thin and cooked through. Toppings are generous and it’s a satisfying meal. The cheese are gooey slices, Velveeta perhaps? And even the bun has sesame seeds on it. Small things, but something one would appreciate if they spent anytime eating burgers in the USA.  The only downside would be making a special trip here to find a long line. So time your visit wisely, either come early or late, but not at prime meal times.

Village Vanguard in Kichijoji

Village Vanguard Interior

The red bar stools facing the kitchen are a nod to Americana. The other diners this day were all Japanese, many of them girls digging into big burgers with glee. There are many burger shops in Tokyo that are trying to feel like America, this is one spot that has nailed the interior, music, and cuisine.

 

Village Vanguard

Musashino-shi, Kichijoji Honcho 2-10-1 TY Bldg. 2F

武蔵野市吉祥寺本町2-20-1 TYビル2F

 

Chicken and Waffles in Ginza

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The stark contrast of the high-end fashion stores in Ginza to the hip interior of Soul Snacks is welcoming. The second floor café at Soul Snacks has one of my favorite interiors in this part of town. Comfortable couches, vintage artwork on the walls, and Ebony magazines from the 70′s immediately bring me back to America. Young Michael Jackson in the background also helps. I already want to go back to just chill out in the cool environment. The owner, Ralph Rolle, opened Soul Snacks Cookie Company in NYC in 1996. Rolle, formerly a drummer, hence the great soundtrack.

Soul Snacks was put on my radar by Kamasami Kong and a YouTube video of this new shop on Ginza’s Chocolate Street. The first floor is a cookie shop, but I came for the chicken and waffles (1,200 JPY). Place your order and pay on the first floor and wait for it on the second floor café. The fried chicken is unlike anything we find in Tokyo. It had a nice kick to it, perhaps a celery salt? Whatever it is, it is good. Too bad the chicken are drumettes and not true drumsticks, as they are small and go down quickly. The waffle is nice and comes with an American-sized portions of butter and maple syrup.

It makes sense that the cookie shop is on Ginza’s famed Chocolate Street as many shoppers in this district are looking for sweets. I will be curious to see how many people are ordering the chicken and waffles as it is a dish more suited to the young crowd in Harajuku or Shibuya. I will go back someday for the cookies, but this was such a lovely meal that ended on a sweet note I wasn’t tempted by the variety of cookies. I will, without a doubt, be back to take in the cool space and music in the cafe.

Soul Snacks (opened May 2014)

Chuo-ku, Ginza 5-5-9, OZIO Building

03-6264-1527

Arms Burger in Shinjuku

Arms Burger

Avocado Burger at Arms Burger

While I was born in Tokyo I grew up in Minnesota. Even though my husband is a fishmonger and I love sashimi, I am a meat and potatoes girl. There is just something about a juicy hamburger and a side of fries or onion rings. Finding a good burger in Tokyo is getting better, but it’s not as great as one would expect. Thanks to food photos on Facebook I have been tracking down burgers around Tokyo that friends of mine approve of. Arms Burger is one restaurant that a friend recommends. He was at the main shop in Yoyogi. I visited the Arms Picnic shop in the B2 floor of Shinjuku’s Lumine Building #1. The location is convenient if you are traveling through Shinjuku station as it is a few minutes from the South exit.

The shop, in the basement (B2) of Lumine, a department store at Shinjuku station. On this lunch day the small shop, with only 16 seats, was filled with nine girls, all dining solo, and a skinny salaryman. There are bags under the tables so that diners can store their shopping without putting it directly on the floor. A nice touch that should be exported overseas.

The lunch menu has an avocado burger that comes with fries and a drink for 1,000 JPY. The burger was a bit on the skimpy side, but was good and 100% beef. That’s worth mentioning as many burgers in Japan are beef mixed with bread crumbs, egg, and other stuff that just doesn’t belong there. The serving of vegetables with the burger, it was so generous that I had to check and see if there was a hamburger hidden underneath it. It’s a messy burger to eat, which does remind me of America. The fries are great and the staff were accommodating to include some mayonnaise, a habit I picked up when I lived in Brussels.

A nice burger that is conveniently located near Shinjuku Station. I will be back.

Arms Burger

Shinjuku Lumine B2 at the Shinjuku Minami Guchi (South Exit)

Other burger shops I like in Tokyo include:

Martiniburger in Kagurazaka

Tsukiji Curry – Higashi Indo Curry Shōkai

Tsukiji curry

Higashi Indo Curry Shōkai at Tsukiji Market

I love curry. So does Ichiro Suzuki of the New York Yankees. I remember watching a television program on Ichiro that reported that when he has home games that his wife makes him curry for breakfast. I found that so fascinating. Curry for breakfast. While I have lived in Singapore and often had curry for breakfast there it roti prata. But in Japan curry is eaten with rice and the concept was so foreign to me. Until I started having curry for breakfast. It’s not something we have at home for breakfast, but it is something I eat when I am taking my breakfast in the city, often at Tsukiji Market. I usually have curry at Indo Curry Nakaei, a shop that is popular with the fishmongers at Tsukiji. Curry for breakfast is a bold start to the day and there are some great options at Tsukiji Market.

Another curry shop caught my attention when it was featured on television as a popular night spot at Tsukiji Market. While most of us think of Tsukiji Market as a morning spot there are a handful of restaurants that are open at night. As the inner market of Tsukiji is moving in a few years to Toyosu the outer market vendors are concerned about the future of their business. Some of the shops have started promoting their restaurants as destinations at night, including the Italian hot spot Tsukiji Paradiso, mentioned in an article I wrote for The Japan Times.

Higashi Indo Curry Shōkai is one of the shops that is open from breakfast to dinner. The original shop is in Fudōmae near Gotanda. The curry (950 JPY) is rich and comes with big chunks of vegetables – carrot, potato, onion, and tender pork. The owner asked me if I liked potato salad and he gave me a bit with my curry. As it was breakfast and curry shops often serve a generous amount of rice I asked for a smaller serving of rice. Even the small serving was a lot to finish. At Shōkai you can have extra curry sauce if you would like, which I gladly accepted.

The owner, Akira-san, is very friendly. He used to be a mountaineering guide in Europe. We had a quick chat and I asked him how he went from mountaineering to a curry shop. He said that when he came back to Japan he was working in the wholesale produce section of Tsukiji Market, which led him to opening his first restaurant in Fudomae. Just as I was finishing a local worker came in for curry, ordering a beer to enjoy while waiting for the curry. There are also grilled curry onigiri rice balls for sale in front of the shop. Early in the morning that was the popular menu item.

While most people coming to Tsukiji Market are coming to eat sushi, if you are craving something more, consider curry.

Higashi Indo Curry Shōkai 東印度カレー商会

Chuo-ku, Tsukiji 4-13-17, Akiyama Bldg. 1F 中央区築地4-13-17秋山ビル1F

03-3542-3322

Soba at Honmura An

Honmura An

Fresh Yuba on Chilled Soba

My first introduction to Honmura An was in New York City back about 15 years ago. A friend who loved soba wanted to share with me his favorite soba shop in the city. I was mesmerized with the stone grinder for crushing the dried buckwheat and impressed that the noodles were being made fresh daily. Sadly the Manhattan shop has since closed. Honmura An has since relocated to Tokyo, in Roppongi, just across the street and around a corner from the massive Tokyo Midtown complex. It is a short walk from Roppongi Hills or any of the Roppongi stations.

The interior is modern and sparsely decorated with simple washi, Japanese paper, that hangs from above. In the back of the restaurant there is a large window overlooking the soba prep room. Sadly when we arrived the rolling and cutting of the noodles were done for the first seating of lunch.

A few tables had solo diners, in their 20s, plugged into their own music or engrossed into their phones and the outer world. Most of the diners were area businessmen and ladies who lunch. The restaurant has a big menu of small bites that can be had before finishing off with soba. At lunchtime most people were not having the side dishes but all going straight for the buckwheat noodles. This day it was quite hot outside and as one would expect, most diners were ordering the cold noodles.

Honmura An

Ikura and Grated Daikon on Chilled Soba

I had asked if they had yakimiso, a classic dish of a sweet miso, often studded with buckwheat, that is grilled. I was disappointed when I was told it wasn’t served so we ordered two types of soba. One topped with a creamy, fresh yuba (soy milk skin) and the other a grated daikon and ikura (marinated salmon roe).

The noodles are fine and very delicate and this would be a great light lunch during the hot summers that Tokyo is known for.

Honmura An has a nice selection of saké and wine. I was so happy to see Urakasumi Junmaishu on the list that I didn’t even bother looking at the wine list. The saké is easy on the palate and a nice partner to the soba.

Honmura An

Minato-ku, Roppongi 7-14-18

03-5772-6657

English menu available.

Closed Monday and 1st & 3rd Tuesday

Hanamaru Summer Udon Salad

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It’s that time of year again. The weather is warming up and restaurants are starting their summer menu. Japanese restaurants, even fast food chain restaurants, offer menus that change throughout the year. This time of year many restaurants offer lighter fare, often featuring salad greens and generous vegetables. Each year I look forward to the summer salad at Hanamaru Udon, a chain of udon restaurants, with locations throughout Tokyo.

This year’s summer salad udon offers a full day’s of vegetables served over udon noodles for the bargain price of 500 JPY (about $5). The udon noodles are cooked and then quickly chilled in ice water and then topped with lettuce, carrots, daikon, deep-fried kabocha squash, okra, and some boiled chicken. Diners are offered the choice of a dressing, either creamy sesame or ginger. Here is a close-up photo on the company’s website. The other noodle bowls here are great, but the salad udon dish is one that I go back to often, especially in hot Japanese summers.

Hanamaru Udon restaurants are great for a quick meal. We went recently on a weekend and the shop was filled with families and school kids (both high school and college). If you are looking for a healthful meal and are on a budget, or are just craving some vegetables, check out Hanamaru Udon. The shop’s logo is an orange flower.

There is a shop in Ginza at Ginza 3-10-9, Kyodo Bldg. B1, and shops throughout the city.