I love a good burger. While I was born in Tokyo, I grew up in Minnesota eating burgers and fries. There are some good burger shops in Tokyo, but it’s nice to have a local spot that we can decide to go to at the last minute and not have to make a special trip into the city.
Jimmy’s Diner is our local burger shop serving a generous portion of fries and a meaty burger in an American diner interior. There are booths off to one side and a counter overlooking the kitchen.
The menu is simple, a burger with many different toppings. The burger is made with Japanese beef and the bun is from my favorite local bakery. The onions are raw, but Jimmy is kind enough to sauté them upon request. The fries are crispy and the serving is big, but if you are hungry, you can request a bigger serving for a small supplement, but only if you are really hungry. The serving in the photos above are the regular serving.
I believe Jimmy’s is closed on Monday. Call ahead to be sure if you are making a special trip here. Jimmy’s Diner is about a five-minute walk from Kokubunji station’s north exit. Jimmy (Hirakawa Hajime-san) and his wife run the kid-friendly shop. It’s open on Sundays. 🙂
Shake Shack, New York City’s great burger chain, is in Tokyo at two locations, Aoyama and Ebisu. The Ebisu location is next to the station. I’ve passed by many times and the line was always too long. I was lucky today when I passed as the line, while still long, it was nothing like I had seen before and I jumped in.
The current special is the ShackMeister of fried shallots on a cheeseburger. It is a great burger with the crispy shallots over the meaty burger. The crinkle fries with a cheddar and American cheese sauce were a nice touch of NYC.
The seating area is big and there were two staff helping diners bus their trays and assisting diners to find seats.
My fingers are crossed that the next Shake Shack will be on the Chuo line, maybe in Kichijoji? Tachikawa? Yoroshiku onegaishimasu.
Adenia in Shibuya is home to one of my favorite burgers in Tokyo. Chef Masafumi Irie was the sous chef at the Park Hyatt Tokyo at the same time that I was the sommelier. The bistro is a short walk from Shibuya station. It is on a quiet residential street. The daily lunch menu, reasonably priced between 1,000 and 1,500 JPY, includes a fish, meat, and steak. The burger is a bargain at 1,000 JPY. The burger is meaty and juicy and comes with the essential side dish, French fries.
On a recent visit I had the steak frites. The Australia steak is served with a generous salad that has is always well seasoned and has a nice acidity to it. I mention that only because I am often disappointed at how other bistros in the city dress their salads.
For a supplemental fee an appetizer or dessert can be added to the menu. The steak tartare brings me back to Paris.
Looking over this blogpost I see that it is all meat, but have no fear as the seafood options are always excellent. My dining partners usually get the fish and it is delicious. But for whatever reason, once I get here I always fall for the meaty options.
It is a small bistro, so call ahead for reservations.
Chef Irie has opened a second bistro, Decary, in Kameido which is in Kōtō-ku. The station is on the Sobu line. The menu is simliar to Adenia. Good to keep in mind when you are on that side of the city.
Ruby and Jack are chef Matthew Crabbe’s grandparents name. Ruby Jack’s Steakhouse is a great spot in the Ark Hills South Tower building. High ceilings, outdoor seating if you want on a spacious terrace. The interior feels very upscale with the white tablecloths, but it’s very friendly and without any attitude. Here is a tomato and blue cheese salad.
Ruby Jack’s Caesar Salad
The Caesar salad is covered with a generous amount of cheese, which is a treat in Japan.
Ruby Jack’s Pork
While it is a steakhouse, I couldn’t resist the Japanese pork. A meaty portion that was just right for lunch.
Ruby Jack’s Burger
I had such a great meal that I went back right away as I wanted to try the burger and fries. It’s a messy burger, as they should be, and with a barbecue sauce. All of the lunch sets come with an appetizer and coffee or tea. Here is my review of Ruby Jack’s for Metropolis magazine.
The wine list is rich and there are several selections under 10,000 JPY. At lunchtime the restaurant is kid-friendly and there is even a kid’s menu. Don’t bother coming if you are a vegetarian, or you may leave hungry.
My only advice is to allow yourself some time to get lost in this area. There are many buildings in the Ark Hills complex and I have been lost here several times.
Ruby Jack’s Steakhouse
Minato-ku, Roppongi 1-4-5, Ark Hills South Tower 2F
Walking into Village Voice in Kichijoji I felt like I was up North in Minnesota. The beer signs lining the wood-paneled walls, the beer on tap, and the smell of burgers and fries. It’s a popular spot and we came right after they opened for lunch. Within about fifteen minutes it was packed and then a line started out the front door.
Small bites like chips and avocado or onion rings come out very quickly. The burger follows right after. The burgers are more like one will find at a diner, thin and cooked through. Toppings are generous and it’s a satisfying meal. The cheese are gooey slices, Velveeta perhaps? And even the bun has sesame seeds on it. Small things, but something one would appreciate if they spent anytime eating burgers in the USA. The only downside would be making a special trip here to find a long line. So time your visit wisely, either come early or late, but not at prime meal times.
Village Vanguard Interior
The red bar stools facing the kitchen are a nod to Americana. The other diners this day were all Japanese, many of them girls digging into big burgers with glee. There are many burger shops in Tokyo that are trying to feel like America, this is one spot that has nailed the interior, music, and cuisine.
While I was born in Tokyo I grew up in Minnesota. Even though my husband is a fishmonger and I love sashimi, I am a meat and potatoes girl. There is just something about a juicy hamburger and a side of fries or onion rings. Finding a good burger in Tokyo is getting better, but it’s not as great as one would expect. Thanks to food photos on Facebook I have been tracking down burgers around Tokyo that friends of mine approve of. Arms Burger is one restaurant that a friend recommends. He was at the main shop in Yoyogi. I visited the Arms Picnic shop in the B2 floor of Shinjuku’s Lumine Building #1. The location is convenient if you are traveling through Shinjuku station as it is a few minutes from the South exit.
The shop, in the basement (B2) of Lumine, a department store at Shinjuku station. On this lunch day the small shop, with only 16 seats, was filled with nine girls, all dining solo, and a skinny salaryman. There are bags under the tables so that diners can store their shopping without putting it directly on the floor. A nice touch that should be exported overseas.
The lunch menu has an avocado burger that comes with fries and a drink for 1,000 JPY. The burger was a bit on the skimpy side, but was good and 100% beef. That’s worth mentioning as many burgers in Japan are beef mixed with bread crumbs, egg, and other stuff that just doesn’t belong there. The serving of vegetables with the burger, it was so generous that I had to check and see if there was a hamburger hidden underneath it. It’s a messy burger to eat, which does remind me of America. The fries are great and the staff were accommodating to include some mayonnaise, a habit I picked up when I lived in Brussels.
A nice burger that is conveniently located near Shinjuku Station. I will be back.
Shinjuku Lumine B2 at the Shinjuku Minami Guchi (South Exit)
Chef David Chiddo of the TY Harbor group has several successful restaurants in the city including Cicada and Beacon. His most recent shop, Smokehouse, is an urban barbecue with a great list of craft beers, both domestic and from the USA, as well as one of the city’s best selection of American spirits. Smokehouse is conveniently located near Omotesando. It’s a casual place and great for meeting friends for a drink and good food. The store is kid-friendly and has a kids’ menu if you ask for it. Here is my review of Smokehouse in Metropolis magazine. Here I share some photos of the food and scene at Smokehouse.
House BBQ sauces
Chicken fingers kids’ lunch
Iceberg wedge with blue cheese dressing
Macaroni and cheese, okra, and creamed spinach sides
Izakaya 居酒屋 are literally places to have something to drink. When I was working as a sommelier at the New York Bar and Grill at the Park Hyatt Tokyo my shift would end late at night, well after dinner. I would often stop by a local izakaya for a beer and some small bites. What made this one so special was the friendly mama-san. I was always welcomed and the food was all made by okaasan. Good izakayas should be just this, offering good food and drinks, and making the customer feel comfortable.
Tokyo is also home to some of the world’s top mixologists at places like Star Bar Ginza or Bar Tender. These will be covered in a separate post. For now, here are my favorite places to have a drink in Tokyo.
A popular izakaya in the nostalgic shitamachi district of Morishita, Yamariki 山利喜 was introduced to me by Japan’s first Master Sommelier Ned Goodwin. Ned brought me here one night to drink French wines with izakaya cuisine. Yamariki has a sommelier on staff, Mizukami-san who will gladly pair wine with your order. One night here I ran into John Gauntner, who said the restaurant also has a great selection of nihonshu. Yamariki is also known for its nikomi, soy-simmered innards, which has been made with the same broth for over forty years. It is also known for its yakiton or grilled pork bits (like yakitori but made with pork instead of chicken). Koto-ku, Morishita 2-18-8.
Sasagin 笹吟 has one of the better selections of nihonshu in the city and exquisite fare to go with it. Best of all, if you ask them to help you select interesting ones to try they will. It is very popular so reservations are highly recommended. Shibuya-ku, Uehara 1-32-15.
For wine I love Maru マル because of its value. Next door to the standing bar is a wine shop. Pick up a bottle there and the corkage fee is only 500 yen at the bar. It feels a bit like a European wine bar with food like cured ham and cheese but there is also a grill station on the second floor for grilled skewers. There are also seats on the second floor. Chuo-ku, Hatchobori 3-22-10.
Buri is a popular standing bar near Ebisu. I come here for the one cup sake, a selection of about 30 to choose from. Small plates to share, seasonal seafood, and some grilled meats. Ask for the frozen sake which is almost like a slushy. (I don’t think the brand I had was Hakutsuru, but this video shows you what the slushy looks like.) Shibuya-ku, Ebisu-Nishi 1-14-1.
Everyone needs at least one reliable place for beer and my go-to bar is The Harajuku Taproom. Delicious craft beer by the talented Bryan Baird and kushiyaki (grilled meats and vegetables). It is also conveniently located just off of Takeshita Dori, a few minutes’ walk from Harajuku station. There is also a location in Naka-Meguro. To educate your palate, try small cups of a variety of his beer. You won’t be disappointed. Shibuya-ku, Jingumae 1-20-13, No Surrender Bldg. 2F
Saiseisakaba 再生酒場 is the place to go if you are into innards. From sashimi to simmered to grilled, you’ll find a wide selection to choose from. My personal favorite shop is in Monzennakacho but there is also a branch at the Shin Maru Building near Tokyo station. Alternatively, the Shinjuku branch too is a lot of fun. I usually drink shochu as it is a great partner for the offal. Shinjuku-ku, Shinjuku 3-7-3. www.ishii-world.jp/brand/motsu/nihonsaisei/shinjuku3/
Located in the heart of Ginza, Sake no Ana酒の穴 is on John Gauntner’s great book, The Sake Handbook. I came across it as I was looking for a place to try a variety of nihonshu over lunch and this was the only place that was open. I called ahead and was told that there was a kikizakeshi (sake sommelier) on staff and that he would be there for lunch. Sakamoto-san gave us exactly what we were looking for, a variety of different nihonshu. The evening menu is also available at lunch if you ask for it. Traditional izakaya bites like grilled himono (salted and air-dried fish), natto omelet, and much more. Chuo-ku, Ginza 3-5-8.
It is a bit of a journey to Ikejiri Ohashi, but well worth it to get to Tsukushinoko つくしのこ. One of my favorite nights out learning about nihonshu with beer writer (and nihonshu aficionado) Bryan Harrell. It feels very local and cozy inside and the selection of nihonshu is great. Staff are also very knowledgeable and can help guide you through a variety of sips. Typical izakaya fare – ask for a nabe (hot pot) in the winter time, you won’t be disappointed. Meguro-ku, Higashiyama 3-1-11.
If you are looking for somewhere to celebrate an occasion then the New York Bar & Grill in the Park Hyatt Tokyo is on top of my list. Perhaps you’ll recognize it from Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. The high ceilings and the spectacular views from the 52nd floor are breathtaking. My recommendation is to go just before sunset so that you can see the lights come up on the city as it sparkles below you. I used to work here, and I am even more convinced that this is one of Tokyo’s special places. Shinjuku-ku, Nishi-Shinjuku 3-7-1-2.
A good martini and burger can be found atbeaconin Aoyama. One of Tokyo’s top chefs, David Chiddo not only makes a great burger, he also knows his martinis. David’s Perfect Martini is made from one of my favorite gins, Hendricks. Parent company T.Y. Express is also the owner of the brewery TY Harbor, making really good beer, which is also on the menu here at beacon. Solo diners can sit at the bar and enjoy their martini and burger. Shibuya-ku, Shibuya 1-2-5.