Here are some of my favorite restaurants that won’t break the bank. This article first appeared in Metropolis on November 5, 2009.
The most sought-after tables in recession-hit Tokyo can be found at so-called B-kyu gurume restaurants. These eateries typically specialize in a single cuisine—soba or tonkatsu, for example—served in simple settings without the lacquerware or heavy linens found at more upscale establishments. While B-kyu gurumerestaurants have always been around, the economic downturn has sparked a new interest in them, as reflected in the flurry of books, magazines and TV programs documenting the best finds throughout the city. Here are some of our favorites.
For an exceptionable bowl of ramen, try the hiyashi chukka goma dare (¥1,000) at Sapporoya in Nihonbashi. This basement restaurant, with only a few communal tables and chairs, serves up a large bowl of chilled noodles with tomatoes, cucumbers, ham, bamboo shoots, egg and more, topped with a creamy, nutty sesame-soy broth. The hot bowls of noodles are also excellent, notably the miso butter corn ramen. B1, 3-3-5 Nihonbashi, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-3275-0024. Open Mon-Fri 11am-9:30pm, Sat 11am-4pm, closed Sun. Nearest stn: Nihonbashi or Tokyo (Yaesu exit).
Kanda Matsuya (pictured) has been serving up rustic, handmade soba noodles for three generations. While connoisseurs would advise simplicity with the mori sobaserved on a bamboo tray with a dipping sauce (¥600), we can not resist the ten-nanban, a hot bowl of soba noodles topped with shrimp tempura (¥950).
1-3 Kanda-Sudacho, Chiyoda-ku. Tel: 03-3251-1556. Open Mon-Fri
11am-8pm, Sat & hols 11am-7pm, closed Sun. Nearest stn: Ogawamachi or
Tsukiji Market’s Nakaya Donburi
Tsukiji Market is filled with B-kyu gurume restaurants. While throngs of visitors are queued up at Daiwa Sushi and Sushi Dai, we prefer Nakaya Donburi, located just up the street. Nakaya specializes in rice bowls topped with seafood—make sure to ask about seasonal (shun) items that are only available a few weeks of each year, or check the handwritten menu outside the front door. Popular donburitoppings include creamy uni, vermillion-colored ikura, and fatty tuna, or you can combine all three for just ¥1,700—a steal. 5-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-3541-0211. Open daily 6:30am-1:30pm (closed Tsukiji hols). Nearest stn: Tsukiji.
Santa Tonkatsu in Shinjuku
The tonkatsu at Santa in Shinjuku is unique—the panko (bread crumbs) are julienned instead of finely minced. Ask to be seated on the lower floor at the counter to watch the chefs frying the pork cutlets and thinly slicing the cabbage. The premium rosu katsu teishoku is just ¥1,680. 3-33-10 Shinjuku. Tel: 03-3351-5861. Open Tue-Fri 11:30am-2pm and 5-9:30pm, Sat-Sun & hols 11:30am-9:30pm, closed Mon. Nearest stn: Shinjuku or Shinjuku Sanchome.www.shinjuku.or.jp/kirin/washoku/santa
Located near the historic Asakusa temple district, Yoshikami feels like a retro diner, with round stools lined up at a counter overlooking the open kitchen. These are the best seats in the house for a view of the toqued chefs creating the restaurant’s popular omu-raisu (¥1,250), the classic yoshoku dish of ketchup-flavored rice enveloped in a soft omelet. The tender pieces of beef in a rich demi-glace sauce will have you dreaming about Yoshikami’s stew long afterwards (¥2,350). 1-41-4 Asakusa, Taito-ku. Tel: 03-3841-1802. Open daily 11:45am-10:30pm. Nearest station: Asakusa. www.yoshikami.co.jp
Shibuya Tokyu Food Show’s Uoriki Sushi Counter
For fresh sushi at bargain-basement prices, head to Uoriki in the Tokyu Food Show depachika, inside Shibuya station. Don’t let the age of the chefs behind the counter fool you—these elderly gents are adept at molding the rice and slicing the seafood. We love the maguro zukushi with three parts of tuna—akami, chutoroand ootoro—for just ¥1,190. B1 Tokyu Department Store, 2-24-1 Shibuya. Tel: 03-5428-3813. Open daily 10am-9pm. Nearest stn: Shibuya. www.uoriki.co.jp