At a family restaurant in Tokyo I came across this great little breakfast. Rice in a savory soup filled with vegetables. The condiments to the right are olive oil and chopped, firm umeboshi with sesame. I just love that this is offered as an option for breakfast in Japan. That a generous serving of vegetables is available for breakfast. This was at Denny’s near Tsukiji Market.
If you have been to Kichijoji’s famous shōtengai on the North side of the station, most likely you have walked past the long lines at Satou. The shop is famous for its menchi katsu, seasoned ground beef patties covered in panko and deep-fried. The line is infamously long. I have never seen Satou without a long line, so I was thrilled when Satou had a temporary stall in our local depachika. There were only three people in line so I joined the queue. The first two ladies in line each ordered about a dozen pieces. Typical for popular items like this. Most likely the ladies are not buying only for their own household but will share these with friends as Satou menchi katsu is very famous.
The menchi katsu (200 JPY) was disappointing as was the potato croquette (140 JPY). It was fine, but nothing special, and definitely not worth standing in line for. So curious why people queue for this. Because it is famous, even if it is not good? There is a steakhouse on the 2nd floor of the take-away shop that also is popular.
Musashino-shi, Kichijōji Honcho 1-1-8
So Mr. Donut Japan has brought its version of the Cronut to Japan, the Mr. Croissant Donut. It’s not as good as the cinnamon-dusted New York Rings at the Roastery in Omotesando, but a huge improvement over the version made by Banderole. It is crispy and flakey and the whipped cream was pretty skimpy. It is definitely not worth standing in a long queue for hours for. Japanese consumers love trying new food products, so it was no surprise that the two people in front of me both were buying the Mr. Croissant Donut. On my way out of the shopping mall I saw three other customers holding the specially designed bag for the Mr. Croissant Donut. I won’t be going back for a second.
The Mr. Croissant Donut comes in three flavors and is about $2. As in the photo above, from left to right:
1. Chocolate with whipped custard
2. White chocolate with whipped caramel
3. Maple with angel whip (whipped cream)
If you like croissants and sweets, then make a beeline to the Croissant Taiyaki shop.
Rocco’s New York-Style Pizza has been on my radar for a long time. We have great pizza in Tokyo, like the classic Italian Neopolitan style, cooked in wood-burning ovens, as can be found at the famous Nakameguro Seirinkan. What is harder to find is the New York-style, baked in a deck oven, and sold by the slice. Toppings are what I often crave like pepperoni, Italian sausage, and olives, items that aren’t traditionally put on the Neopolitan pizzas.
Rocco’s is just a short walk from Oji station, an area that is not part of my regular routine. I am thrilled to have finally made it as Rocco’s pizza reminds me of my years in New York City. Big slices that fall over the paper plates that are right out of the oven. The tables are lined with red-and-white checker cloth. Grated cheese, chili flakes, and powdered garlic condiments are also on the table, another nod to New York. There is a full menu, including calzones, Buffalo wings, and New York cheesecake. We didn’t have much time this day but will definitely go back to try more of the menu.
The owner, Dan, is from New York, and I was thrilled to be able to catch part of a New York Yankee’s game on the big-screen television. The sports schedule is listed on their website. While Oji was not an area I went to often the past, I see that changing. This pizza is worth a journey.
Rocco’s New York-Style Pizza
Kita-ku, Oji-honcho 1-1-24
Onigiri or omusubi is the quintessential comfort food in Japan. A ball of rice that is stuffed with savory fillings. I grew up eating this and it makes for the perfect quick bite. Onigiri-ya Murotoyo is a famous shop in Tsukiji Market known for its handmade onigiri. A television show recently featured this shop and my curiosity was piqued. Marutoyo is just a few shops down from our favorite knife shop, Tsukiji Masamoto.
The selection to choose from is surprisingly rich. I stood there for minutes as I couldn’t decide. The signs are in Japanese so best to ask for your favorites like:
sake - salmon
umeboshi – pickled apricot
ikura – marinated salmon roe
There is a small seating area around the corner to the right of the shop. A tiny table and a few chairs where you can rest your feet. Marutoyo also servse miso soup and small side dishes if you want to round out the meal. There are also sushi rolls and chirashi-zushi, but it is the onigiri that makes this shop famous.
I went with the bakudan which is stuffed with a soft-boiled egg and a seasonal one of tempura of bamboo shoots. The rice balls are a bit on the pricey side, about twice what you pay for at the convenience stores, and worth the mark-up. My only gripe is that it was under seasoned. I would have liked a bit more salt on the outside of the omusubi. I will be back, and next time I will order an item that is naturally salty, like ikura or pickled greens like takana or the classic umeboshi.
Chuo-ku, Tsukiji 4-9-9
The shop opens early in the morning, around 3 a.m. according to one website, and is open until about 2 p.m.
Thanks to a tip from JapanEats I finally found what I believe to be the best banh mi in Tokyo at Banh Mi Sandwich. The bun has a nice crust but is chewy inside. The pate and ham banh mi (550 JPY) remind me of what I had in Chinatown in NYC and there is a generous serving of pickled carrots and daikon. I splurged an extra 50 JPY for extra cilantro. The shop is only a minute from Takadanobaba station and is a tiny shop. Only one person can fit inside at a time to use the vending machine to place your order. There are two narrow seats in front of the shop, but it was busy with diners waiting for their orders to be filled. Consider this a take-away shop. I am already trying to figure out in my calendar when I can go back.
For a city with some of the world’s greatest food, there are some things that just are not easily available, like banh mi. I am still on the hunt for Korean fried chicken, like Bon Chon in NYC. If anyone can help me, please let me know.
Banh Mi Sandwich (seriously, that is the name of the restaurant)
Shinjuku-ku, Takadanobaba 4-9-18
I have been craving Korean-style fried chicken ever since listening to Rick Bayless talk about it on The Feed Podcast. When I lived in New York City and Singapore I could get my fix. For some reason, Tokyo, which has amazing kara-agé (deep-fried, seasoned, boneless cuts of chicken) hasn’t caught on to it. And, there is a big difference. I believe the Korean chicken is fried twice. It has a sweet and spicy sauce that will have you licking your fingers after you have gnawed off all the meat that you can get off of the bone.
I went to Shin-Okubo, the Korean part of Tokyo and tried two restaurants, both disappointing. A dear friend suggested iro-kara near Omotesando. The kara-agé here was delicious but it wasn’t what I was looking for. I will be back as it was a nice, quick lunch. The chicken is fried after the order is placed and there is al fresco seating on the rooftop. The donburi is a generous serving of rice topped with the fried chicken, katsuobushi, leeks, and pickled ginger. A mash-up of kara-agé and takoyaki toppings.
There are several flavors, such as basil, curry, yuzu kosho, and ume shiso. We tried a few but nothing outstanding. Best to stick with the basic kara-agé.
Brimmer Beer is next doors, but not open at lunch time. There is also a curry stand next door. Could be fun to order a curry and top it with the fried chicken.
Minato-ku, Minami-Aoyama 3-8-34
3rd Burger recently opened in the Ark Hills South Tower. I thought it was a new restaurant to Tokyo until I came across a second shop in the Aoyama/Omotesando area. The clientele in Aoyama is young and hip. Diners are given a buzzer after placing their order. Not exactly fast food, but the food does comes about five minutes during the busy lunch hour. The meaty burger is juicy and the fries are excellent. Burger options include avocado wasabi and basil and tomato. Burgers are served with fresh lettuce and tomatoes. The only downside was that ketchup is given in small packets. Burgers start at about 400 JPY and fries at 300 JPY. 3rd Burger has a variety of smoothies in flavors like carrot, banana, and fresh tomatoes. The Aoyama shop is brightly lit and there is a communal table at the front of the shop. Now, if they would only open a shop on the Chuo Line.
Minato-ku, Roppongi 1-4-5, Ark Hills South Tower B1
Minato-ku, Minami-Aoyama 5-11-2
My go-to lunch when on a run is a sandwich from Viron. Excellent baguettes with a chewy crumb that can stand up to the crispy exterior. The sandwiches are classic French-style including pate de campagne, rillettes, and jambon.
The large window display case in the front of the store has a dizzying array of sandwiches and pastries.
The breads are authentic and take me back to France. The baguette is my favorite, but also excellent kouign amann and fougasse as well. Of course, much more than you would pay for in France, but it is a treat to have such great bread in Tokyo. Flour is brought in from France to make Viron’s signature retrador baguette and other breads. There is also a brasserie at each location. Viron has a branch at Marunouchi in front of Tokyo Station and in Shibuya. Now, if they would only expand and open more branches around the city.
Chiyoda-ku, Marunouchi 2-7-3, TOKIA Bldg. 1st floor
Shibuya-ku, Udagawacho 33-8, Tsukuda Bldg.
The muskmelons that go for hundreds of dollars exists in Japan. If you go to a fancy restaurant, like Sukiyabashi Jiro, you may get it for dessert. I should say, if you are lucky and have a nice friend who treats you to dinner at Sukiyabashi Jiro.
The muskmelon is amazing. Aromatic, juicy, and tender, and the most amazing piece of fruit that I have ever had. But, it is possible to try a few bites of the infamous melon without breaking your wallet. Check out the fruit dessert counter at any depachika. Cakes, tarts, and much more topped with pristine, blemish-free fruit cut into bite-size pieces. The muskmelon balls are above.
More muskmelon, figs, and grapefruit.
Marron, mango, apple pie, and more.
Top left is the Mont Blanc made with chestnuts.
Some department stores have small eat-in counters in the depachika to have a glass of fresh juice or a slice of melon. Or, some shops, like Shinjuku Takashimaya, have a larger café on an upper floor. Takano Fruit Café in Shinjuku Takashimaya. Some famous fruit shops include Sembikiya, Takano, and Lemon.
Sembikiya Nihonbashi (Japan’s oldest fruit shop)