I am often asked for my recommendations for my favorite restaurants in the city. Here is my contribution to Food & Wine’s 2009 Go List for Tokyo.
Japanese chefs are dictating the world’s dining trends with their fierce devotion to seasonality and respect for aesthetics. For more great restaurants, check out our guide to the world’s best places to eat.
Chef Harutaka Takahashi may have a Michelin-starred resume, but he isn’t showy. He turns exceptional seafood into perfect sashimi and sushi in a simple space down the street from Tsukiji Market.
We loved: Anago (eel) broiled in a sweet soy-based sauce.
Native New Yorker Ivan Orkin faced skeptics when he opened a 10-seat ramen counter in the Setagaya neighborhood almost two years ago. But now, ramen connoisseurs make pilgrimages to eat his homemade noodles doused in a chicken-and-seafood broth and topped with luxurious slabs of roast pork or nests of pickled bamboo shoots.
We loved: Whole wheat noodles with slow-cooked charred pork topped with a spicy sesame-and-peanut salad.
Insider tip: Ask for the gentei, or daily special.
At this tiny tempura temple, baskets of seasonal vegetables sit on the counter waiting to be battered, deep-fried and served right out of the bubbling oil. Chef Fumio Kondo carefully monitors the temperature of the oil and the cooking time to create a delicate, crisp shell. He serves sweet soy tsuyu dipping sauce on the side, but purists stick to salt.
We loved: Lacy nests of julienned carrots and Satsumaimo sweet potato.
At this 100-year-old reconstructed sake brewery, the classic kaiseki courses, like seasonal sashimi and seared wagyu, are delicious. The highlight is soy in several forms, including decadent twice-cooked tofu and freshly made tofu simmering in a hot pot of creamy soy milk.
We loved: Deep-fried tofu spread with dengaku miso.
Insider tip: The gift shop sells jars of the sweet dengaku miso.
Revered chef Hiromitsu Nozaki owns several other places in Tokyo, but he likes to hang out behind the counter at his little kappo restaurant (a relaxed relative of kaiseki) in upscale Hiroo. Nozaki preaches the philosophy of shun, or seasonality, as he assembles gorgeous dishes like uni topped shimeji mushrooms.
We loved: Abalone with kimo (liver) sauce and toasted nori.
Hot Food Zone: Kagurazaka
Once renowned for its geisha houses, this area near Iidabashi Station is now called “Petit France” for its many brasseries, bistros and wine bars. Also here are some of the best places to eat nearly every style of Japanese cuisine, like steamed dumplings at 50 Ban (Kagurazaka 3-2), tempura at geisha house–turned–restaurant Tenko (Kagurazaka 3-1) and traditional sweets at Baikatei (Kagurazaka 6-15).
Where to Eat Near: Omotesando’s Shops
Hidden behind the Omotesando Hills shopping complex, this is a classic spot for humble tonkatsu: fried panko-breaded pork cutlets made from prized regional breeds like Okinawa’s red benibuta hog.
At this luxe new teppanyaki restaurant, Venetian glass and European art set a fancy stage for chefs grilling extraordinary seafood, vegetables and marbled beef.
Seafood from the Izu Peninsula, brought in daily, elevates the reasonably priced lunch specials at this excellent restaurant on a side street behind Comme des Garçons.