The slightly spicy curry served at this nostalgic mom-and-pop shop has long been a neighborhood favorite. The small wooden building looks out of place among Ginza’s designer boutiques and department stores, and the cooking is simple as well: one curry served in four sizes, each named after a station on the Keihin-Tohoku line. The handwritten menu starts with the Shinagawa (¥480), which is a bit on the small side (perfect for the OL watching her waistline). Ooi (¥530) is what most of us would consider the normal, while Oomori (¥630) is larger and comes topped with an over-easy egg; the largest portion, Kamata (¥740), is also crowned with an egg. A small counter and a few tables complete this compact, dimly lit restaurant. With only about 20 seats, diners feel as though they are in the living room of the elderly couple who run it. Look for the building with a small curtain overhang advertising coffee and karai raisu (“spicy rice”) instead of the more common kare raisu.
Chuo-ku, Ginza 2-3-1 中央区銀座２−３−１
Open Mon-Fri 11am-9pm, Sat 11am-5pm, closed Sun & hols.
Ginza’s first dedicated tonkatsu eatery, Bairin uses Kagoshima kurobuta pork that’s renowned for its inherent sweetness. Another drawing card is the original sauce, whose sweetness comes from apples and vegetables. Opened in 1927, Bairin Tonkatsu’s interior probably hasn’t changed since—and that’s part of the charm. Diners at the long counter can watch as the pork filets are dipped in an egg batter and panko breadcrumbs, then deep-fried until golden brown. Meanwhile, another chef rhythmically chops cabbage into a fine julienne for the side salad. The restaurant gets extremely busy during lunch, but turnover is quite fast, so don’t be shy to join the queue. The donburi dishes offer excellent value, particularly the katsudon (¥980). Bairin Tonkatsu’s main store is located just off of Chuo Dori, but there are branches throughout the city, including the newest in Akihabara.
Chuo-ku, Ginza 7-8-1 中央区銀座７−８−１
Open daily 11:30am-8:45pm. www.ginzabairin.com
Famous for its castella sponge cake, Bunmeido is where we like to go to refuel with sweets and coffee. The café-restaurant also offers a signature hayashi rice (¥1,000), with a selection of sandwiches rounding out the lunch menu. But it’s the desserts that the well-coiffed fashionable shoppers of Ginza daintily nibble on: tarts with artfully arranged fresh fruit, chocolate sweets and other Western pastries. Japanese-style treats include a parfait of mattcha ice cream with a sweet azuki bean paste. Bunmeido’s high ceilings and large stained-glass window may have some feeling like they are back in church, but the only confessions you’ll need to make are for overindulging. The location on the main Chuo Dori thoroughfare is also a fantastic people-watching spot. Even if we’re not hungry and just need to rest our feet, the extensive drinks menu includes freshly squeezed juices, teas and a satisfying matcha latte.
Note – this photo is one of the small to-go Bunmeido shops off of the main street, not the one written about in the article. This shop is good for getting packaged sweets for gift-giving.
Chuo-ku, Ginza 5-7-10 中央区銀座５−７−１０
Open daily 11am-9pm. www.bunmeido.com
Click here for other Ginza Eats. And Cheap Eats part 1 of 2.
This article first appeared in Metropolis magazine on May 13, 2010. Some of my favorite cheap eats in Ginza.