Tokyo is a great city for eating well on a budget. The first thing to look for is restaurants that specialize in a dish, like ramen, tonkatsu, or soba. Also, remember the word “teishoku” which is like the daily special or set meal. It is often includes rice, miso soup, pickles, a main dish and a side dish or two. In all of my years eating in Tokyo I can count on one hand the bad meals I have had.
Here are my favorite cheap eats in Tokyo (and this is just scratching the surface):
1. Maisen tonkatsu in Omotesando. Who doesn’t love breaded and deep-fried cutlets? And, it is conveniently located near Omotesando Hills and Takeshita Dori in Harajuku.
2. Isehiro yakitori in Kyobashi. The lunch donburi special is 1,800 JPY for five sticks of grilled yakitori over a bowl of rice with soup and pickles. This is a bargain when compared to the dinner full course which starts at 6,300 JPY. This is one of my favorite yakitori restaurants in the city, especially at this price. I like to sit at the counter and watch the chef grilling the skewers. Chuo-ku, Kyobashi 1-5-4.
3. Ivan Ramen. Ivan makes his own noodles, trained at the CIA, and has worked under luminaries such as Andre Soltner and Bobby Flay. Other favorites include Afuri in Ebisu, Jangara Ramen (chain), Ippudo (chain).
4. Uoriki Sushi in Shibuya’s Tokyu Toyoko-ten depachika. Uoriki’s main business is as fishmongers, they have a big retail shop in Tokyu, so the quality of the seafood is very good. Also, the location is great, literally underneath Shibuya station. It is located in the depachika, near the seafood section. Don’t worry if there is a line as it usually moves quickly. Just put your name on the waiting list.
5. Saiseisakaba tachinomi for offal. Everything we’ve had here has been great, from sashimi brains (even Shinji was afraid to try this at first), to all of the grilled innards. My favorite dish here is always the tender tongue. And, I love the genki (and handsome) staff here. Locations in Shinjuku, Monzennakacho, and at the Shin Maru Building outside of Tokyo Station’s Marunouchi exit.
6. Narutomi Soba in Ginza. A bit off the beaten path yet located between Tsukiji and Ginza. I was brought here by two Japanese food writers. Be sure to get the gobo tempura, you’ll thank me later.
7. Tenmatsu for tempura at Nihonbashi. The “business lunch” is a bargain at 920 JPY. Be sure to ask for a seat at the counter. Chuo-ku, Nihonbashi Muromachi 1-8-2. It is located just next to the historic Nihonbashi bridge. And conveniently located between Takashimaya and Mitsukoshi – both with magnificent depachika.
8. Tamai for anago in Nihonbashi. Most people I know adore unagi. If you don’t live in Japan chances are you haven’t had anago yet. Similar to unagi, but I find it more delicate.
9. Buri tachinomi for sake and small bites. A short walk from Shibuya station, the menu has a variety of dishes and not only are the staff hip, so are your fellow diners. Shibuya-ku, Ebisu Nishi 1-14-1
10. Depachika. When I am at a loss for where to go, I head to the basement of any major department store. Especially Nihonbashi Takashimaya, Shinjuku Takashimaya, Shinjuku Isetan, and Ginza Mitsukoshi as these all have rooftop gardens where you can bring any bento that you get at the depachika to enjoy. While you’re at it, pick up a beer or can of sake to enjoy.
This is just a tiny bit of what’s delicious and affordable in Tokyo. Just recently, Robbie Swinnerton of The Japan Times shared with readers a great sukiyaki restaurant, Sukiyaki Yoshihashi, in Akasaka that has a lunch bargain starting at 2,100 JPY.