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A Guide to Food in Tokyo, Plus a Gourmet Tokyo Tour

1080 608 Tokyo Travel Assist. Enjoy the local experiences!

Tokyo, one of the world’s biggest cities, is a food-lovers paradise. There are world-class restaurants around almost any corner in central Tokyo. With so many options, it can be excruciatingly difficult to decide what to eat! After all, there are language barriers, cultural differences, and more that make it so hard. This article will help make your trip to Tokyo less intimidating by giving you the essential advice you need to navigate Tokyo’s restaurants and bars. Read on to learn the A, B, C’s of Japan’s culinary culture.

Criteria to decide where to go and what to eat

First things first, you need to decide where you want to eat. So, here are some criteria for you to consider before narrowing your choices of restaurants down:


Budget is the first tool you can use to decide where to eat. In Japan, lunch is always much more affordable than dinner. If you are on a tight budget, then you should aim to go to nicer restaurants at lunch rather than dinner, and stick with cheap eats for meals later in the day. Most restaurants have lunch sets which include a main, a side, and a drink, usually for 1000 JPY or less.

Sometimes, you can even get a full lunch meal at a high-class restaurant for the price of a family restaurant meal! Another tip to save money is to check out local areas for food. There are various alleyways and whole neighbourhoods in and around Tokyo that are dedicated to food, and usually at a good price. Your stomach will be full and your wallet will stay happy.


 There are incredible restaurants all over Tokyo. It is hard to go wrong with most restaurants in the city. That being said, some areas offer different kinds of restaurant experiences than others. Whether you are looking for fine dining or late-night pub grub, you should learn about the different areas of Tokyo and their specialties. You can check out each main area of Tokyo in the location guide section below.

Your personal taste

You can also decide where to eat based on your own taste preferences. Is ramen your favourite food? Then checking out the different types of ramen would be a good idea. Are you a big fan of sushi? Then trying cheap and expensive sushi could be interesting. If you don’t have any favourite Japanese foods or are new to Japanese cuisine, then a trip to Japan would be a good opportunity for you to take your tastebuds on a culinary journey through different Japanese delicacies. For more information on types of must-try foods in Tokyo, check out the Japanese food guide section below.


There are so many kinds of restaurants with completely different atmospheres in Japan. Figuring out which one you want to experience can also help you choose your next meal in Tokyo. There are traditional Japanese style restaurants with elegant and traditional vibes, such as Ozashiki with geisha or kaiseki meals. If you want to fully immerse yourself in the cosmopolitan experience of Tokyo, then perhaps you would be interested in a meal at the top of a skyscraper. You can experience a delicious meal while observing the concrete jungle from atop.

Another category of restaurants that are so unique to Tokyo are themed restaurants. I am sure most people know about the famous Robot Restaurant, but did you know about the hundreds of other themed restaurants and cafe in Japan’s capital? You can find a themed restaurant for almost anything in Tokyo, whether it be your favourite characters, ninjas, or even prison! If you want a truly unique Tokyo experience, then the themed restaurants of Tokyo are definitely something you want to experience at least once in your life.


Tips to enjoy eating in Tokyo (and in Japan)

Don’t have to pay tips

If you are from North America, then you are probably tired of calculating how much to pay in tips at the end of every meal. Luckily, tipping is non-existent in Japan. Even if you tried to tip, most restaurants would not accept your money. There are even stories of restaurant staff chasing after customers to return 1 JPY (= 1 cent) of forgotten change! In Japan, the cost of superior service is already included in the price. So just sit back, relax, and enjoy your meal without going through your wallet for spare change.

Water is drinkable, and at no cost

Japan has a good water system. So, you never need to worry about the quality of the water you are drinking. At most restaurants, you can get unlimited amounts of water for free! If you are someone who likes to stay hydrated, take advantage of this service when you are in Japan.

For vegans and vegetarians

Veganism and vegetarianism are not as well known in Japan as it is in other parts of the world. Especially in rural areas, finding vegetarian food can be extremely difficult. Luckily, Tokyo has the most options for vegans and vegetarians in the whole country. You can even find vegan ramen in Tokyo! Places like Afuri and T’s TanTan serve up delicious veggie ramen for vegans and vegetarians. For bistro-style meals perfect for taking pictures, look to Nagi Shokudo, Ain Soph.Ginza, or Veganic To Go.

Another way to experience Japanese cuisine that is both authentic and safe for vegans and vegetarians alike is to try Shojin Ryori, which is food prepared for Buddhist monks who are prohibited from consuming animal products. You can find high-end Shojin Ryori in Tokyo at places like Daigo, which has two Michelin stars, or Komaki Shokudo, where lunch is surprisingly affordable.

Smoking policies

Most restaurants in Japan no longer allow you to light up your cigarettes at any given moment. However, many establishments, especially family restaurants and izakaya, allow patrons to smoke inside. In family restaurants, there are often separate spaces for smokers and non-smokers, divided by a door or a strong fan. That is why you may be asked the phrase kin-en 禁煙 (non-smoking) or kitsu-en 喫煙 (smoking) when being escorted by your host. Beware, though, if you are sensitive to smoke. Most izakaya (Japanese-style pub) will allow patrons to smoke inside without restrictions. For those who like to smoke while enjoying good drinks and good food with their peers, perhaps this is a chance to experience something unique.

Seating charges and complimentary appetizers

In Japan, most bars and izakaya apply a seating charge called an otoshi (お通し). This charge is usually to cover the cost of a small dish that the bar or izakaya will serve to you after you order your drinks. For example, a common dish is a small plate of tofu, or maybe some cooked vegetables. Basically, you can think of the charge as the cost of a compulsory appetizer. Japanese people always eat snacks while they drink, so it is never questioned in Japan. Usually, the otoshi only costs a few hundred yen, so it is not a huge cost to dwindle on.

 Alcohol consumption in public

Japan is one of the handful of countries in the world that has no regulations on public alcohol consumption. You can also buy alcohol easily at most convenience stores and supermarkets. Many Japanese people take advantage of these laws by enjoying themselves on picnics with alcohol or even a beer on their commute home. Hanami, the celebration of cherry blossoms, is a huge event marked by large picnics at parks with cans of alcohol decorated with cherry blossom motifs. While you may run into a few rowdy people on the weekends at night, most people are generally well-behaved, even in the absence of open container laws. 

Names of restaurants

Most Japanese restaurants only display their name in Japanese characters, so be careful if you are searching for a certain spot. Some technology will allow you to translate writing through your phone camera, but otherwise, you should keep a screenshot of the establishment’s name in Japanese in your phone for reference.


Japanese food

Below is a list of some of Japan’s most iconic dishes. Did your favourite make the list?


Nigiri-zushi is the most basic type of sushi that you can find in Japan. If you go to a conveyer belt sushi restaurant (kaitenzushi), you can find popular nigiri-zushi like salmon, tuna, scallop, or squid at a cheap price. Although nigiri-zushi looks so simple and easy to make, mastering the art of making nigiri-zushi takes much skill and effort, which is why high-end nigiri-zushi is so expensive. Of course, the taste is 100% worth the price.


Tempura are foods that are deep-fried in a batter that is comprised of ice-cold water and flour, often mixed just enough so as not to activate wheat gluten. Usually, seasonal vegetables and seafood are used to make tempura. Good tempura has fresh ingredients that is covered in light and fluffy batter, resulting in a super fluffy yet crisp bite.


Soba is a type of thin noodle that is made with buckwheat flour. Soba has been incredibly popular ever since the era of samurai. Each area of Japan has a special type of soba that can be served either hot or cold. Soba is very popular in rural areas, but there are a number of famous soba restaurants in Tokyo as well.


Udon is another type of noodle that is made from wheat flour. The noodles are thicker than ramen or soba noodles and can even be chewy. Udon is thought to have existed in Japan for nearly 1000 years. Udon can also be served hot or cold, Each area of Japan also has its own take on udon noodles.


Monjayaki is a pan-fried batter that is very popular in Tokyo. The ingredients are similar to those of okonomiyaki, with cabbage, seafood, eggs, and flour being the main ingredients. However, the ingredients are chopped very finely and mixed with more liquid so that the end result is a gooey batter-like food that tastes amazing. Many people also swear on purposely overcooking their monjayaki to get a crispier bite.


Tsukudani is a type of food that is comprised of small pieces of seaweed that are cooked with mirin and soy sauce. Tsukudani makes a great companion for plain white rice as the flavour can be quite intense by itself.

Nabe (Chanko-nabe)

Nabe is the name for Japanese-style hot pot. Typically, seasonal vegetables alongside konjac, tofu, and seafood, or meat are simmered in a light broth, such as miso broth or chicken broth. Nabe is popular in the colder months because it warms up your body from the inside. There is also a special kind of nabe called chanko-nabe, a hearty nabe that is commonly eaten in large quantities by sumo wrestlers. You can feel like a sumo wrestler if you try some authentic chanko-nabe in Tokyo.


Yakitori is the name of grilled chicken skewers in Japan. These skewers are grilled over charcoal, and often served with just salt or in a special dip called tare. There are many types of yakitori that use different parts of chicken, such as kawa (skin), nankotsu (cartilage), and momo (thigh). Yakitori is a popular street food in Japan that you can find at any summer festival. You can never go wrong with yakitori.


Kappou cuisine is a type of traditional Japanese cuisine that is somewhat similar to kaiseki in terms of the types of ingredients. However, a unique point about kappou cuisine is that the diner and chef are deliberately placed in close quarters so that diners can immerse themselves in the entire cooking experience from preparation to presentation. Kappou restaurants are usually quite small and are more expensive than the other foods on this list. However, kappou cuisine is uniquely Japanese and should be experienced by travelers seeking out authentic Japanese experiences.

Japanese bread

Japanese bread is different than bread found in other parts of the world. Shokupan, which is Japanese white bread, is super fluffy and a little bit sweet. Other sweet breads called kashi-pan like melon pan or an-pan are also very popular. These breads are super delicious, not too sweet, and always affordable. You can find these breads at any supermarket or specialty bread stores around Tokyo.

 Japanese sweets

Japanese traditional sweets called wagashi are a must-try in Japan. These sweets are small and look almost like a piece of art. Many of them are based on sweet red bean paste and combined with things like mochi, chestnuts, or Japanese agar. You can enjoy wagashi with a cup of authentic Japanese green tea. It is highly recommended to try the wagashi and tea combination when you go to a traditional Japanese garden to get the full experience.

International cuisine

Although you may expect Japan to be the master of its own cuisine, you may be surprised to find out that many chefs have achieved recognition for their skills in foreign cuisine such as French or Italian cuisine. Many restaurants in Japan of foreign cuisine have garnered multiple Michelin stars over the years. Some areas of Tokyo are famous for certain types of foreign cuisine. Shin-Okuba, right next to Shinjuku station, is popular for its Korean cuisine. Kagurazaka in Chiyoda-ku is famed for French restaurants, and Ikebukuro is known for Chinese food.



Although each of Tokyo’s 23 wards is pretty diverse, each area still has its own charms. Below is a list of Tokyo neighbourhoods divided into casual dining and fine dining.

For casual dining


Shinjuku is known as the centre of Tokyo. Here, you can find basically anything that you would ever look for in Japan. Therefore, there is an abundance of casual dining establishments in the Shinjuku area. A famous alleyway of pubs called Golden Gai is a must-visit place for pub enthusiasts who want to experience a true Japanese izakaya.


Yurakucho, although physically close to high-end areas like Ginza and Tokyo station, is surprisingly full of affordable dining options. Yurakucho is home to an area called Gado Shita, (literally “under the tracks”), a cluster of Japanese cheap eats. You can find izakaya, yakitori, and more. On Friday nights you can be surrounding by Japanese salarymen in their suits, celebrating the end of the week with their colleagues.


Asakusa is a part of shitamachi, or old-town Tokyo. Here you can eat popular Japanese foods like tuna sushi, tempura, and soba for a low price. Monjayaki, which is a food from Tokyo, is also very popular in Asakusa. If you are looking for casual dining options but still want to experience authentic Japanese cuisine, then Asakusa is the perfect place to find your next meal. It is also conveniently located next to Sensoji Temple, so you can fill up on good food after a day of sightseeing.


For fine dining

Tokyo station

Tokyo station is one of the many doors in Tokyo as it is the disembarkation point for many people coming into Tokyo by the Narita Express or bullet trains. It is also the home of many corporate headquarters, so it is considered to be one of the many business districts. Unsurprisingly, there are many fine dining options in the area. You can find upscale izakaya, sake tasting bars, various sushi restaurants, and even dining options with views above the city.


Ginza is probably the most well-known upscale shopping and finance hotspot of Tokyo. Here you can find all of the best luxury brands and more. It is obvious that there are also many fine dining options in the Ginza area as well, many of which are internationally recognized for their quality. Ginza is well-known for having many of the city’s best sushi establishments. Here in Ginza you can also find the best marbled wagyu beef, and even try a kaiseki meal.


Shiodome is a neighbourhood practically a part of the Ginza area. Here you can find Shiodome City Center which is a skyscraper that has many fine dining options that offer breathtaking views of Tokyo. Maybe you can try a sky bar on the 41st floor, Japanese barbeque, and even fresh seafood. You can definitely find a fine dining option for you at the convenience of the mall-like skyscraper.


Shinjuku has literally everything that Tokyo has to offer. You can find any dining experience imaginable in the city. So, Shinjuku is an obvious pick to try some of Tokyo’s best upscale restaurants. You can try a Michelin star kaiseki meal, and even award-winning Japanese-Spanish fusion. You are bound to get a culinary experience that will please all of your senses in Shinjuku. You can easily find a high-end restaurant in amongst the many towering skyscrapers that offer splendid views. Shinjuku is also home to many of Tokyo’s best luxury hotels that offer fine dining options.


Azabu is famous for having embassies, luxury condominiums, and great fine dining. It can be slightly difficult to navigate as many of the best restaurants are hidden away in alleyways or basements. Nevertheless, Azabu is home to some of Tokyo’s best food. Many locals like the Azabu area for celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, and other events. You are bound to find the best service and best ingredients at any high-end restaurant in the Azabu area.

Local food

If you want to experience authentic Japanese cuisine, then you should try local Japanese foods that Tokyo residents love to eat. These local foods are easy to enjoy and can be found in many parts of Tokyo. Try some uniquely Japanese from famous department stores or maybe some street foods and enjoy an afternoon of tabe-aruki (trying foods at restaurants while walking).


Depachika, which is short for department store basement, refers to entire basement floors of Japan’s famous department stores that are dedicated solely for food. These basements of department stores, like Takashimaya, Seibu, or Tokyu, are usually reserved for an array of takeaway food. You can find just about every kind of Japanese food you can imagine all in one place for your pure culinary enjoyment. Shop alongside the many local residents looking for additions to their dinner. You can find a variety of low-end options like fried foods (shrimp fry, croquettes), to high-end options like wagyu beef, gourmet pastries, and more.


Our recommendations to experience “depachika” are Isetan in Shinjuku, a huge deparment store that has a famous depachika with a variety of foods from salads to pastries to meats to expensive fruits to bento boxes. Basically, you can find anything here. We also recommend Shinjuku’s Takashimaya, another gargantuan department store that also offers an amazing basement full of foods from your wildest dreams.

Sometimes entering an environment as hectic and unique like the depachika of monstrous department stores make it daunting for visitors to visit. No worries though, as Tokyo Travel Assist has a perfect tour for anyone interested in experiencing a real department store basement with the guidance of a local Tokyoite. Tokyo Travel Assist’s service is superb and their local guides are all knowledgeable and friendly. You will certainly have a great depachika experience if you join Tokyo Travel Assist’s “Depachika” tasting tour! Take a look at the tour information page for all of the details.

Street food

Another category of local foods that are popular and delicious are street foods. Japan’s street food culture is slightly different than that of other places because it is a cultural no-no to eat while walking. So, make sure you eat your foods beside the store that you bought them from. Here is a list of some of Japan’s best street foods that you should try on your next trip to Tokyo;


Yakitori is the name of grilled chicken skewers in Japan. These skewers are grilled over charcoal and often served with just salt or in a special dip called tare. There are many types of yakitori that use different parts of the chicken, such as kawa (skin), nankotsu (cartilage), and momo (thigh). Yakitori is a popular street food in Japan that you can find at any summer festival. You can never go wrong with yakitori.


Takoyaki are octopus balls that grilled in a hemispherical grill. To make takoyaki you have to spin the batter while it cooks to make the spherical shape! Inside of each ball is a piece of octopus, and they are usually topped with takoyaki sauce, mayonnaise, bonito flakes, and seaweed flakes. Some places offer special versions with toppings like cheese, eggs, and onions. Be careful when you try takoyaki though, the insides are piping hot!


Taiyaki is a Japanese fish-shaped caked named after a fish called tai, or seabream. These cakes have usually filled with red bean paste, but you can find taiyaki with custard, whipped cream, chocolate, or even sweet potatoes inside. Some shops even fill taiyaki with savory foods like sausages! Taiyaki is the perfect street food to take a picture of because of its unique shape. You can usually find taiyaki shops selling taiyaki for just a few hundred yen.

Japanese crepe

Japanese crepes are probably the most famous sweet street food in Japan. You can find these unique desserts, which are rolled into a cone shape and consumed without any cutlery, in areas like Harajuku or Shibuya of Tokyo. Takeshita Street is the most popular place for Japanese crepes. You can find these delicious desserts with fillings like strawberries, bananas, ice cream, and even chewy rice balls. Some places also sell savory crepes which are filled with sausage, tuna, chicken, eggs, and cheese. Japanese crepes are similar to burritos in their shape and are a perfect on-the-go snack!


You can find more street foods at yatai (open air food stands) offer a variety of foods in some local festivals in summer. The most common yatai are takoyaki, yakitori, and grilled seafood. A favourite for children is chocolate-dipped bananas. Although most festivals with yatai occur during the summer, you can find some festivals in other seasons as well. Yatai fare usually goes for a few hundred yen, so you can try many things without breaking the bank.

Japanese fast food


Gyudon is Japanese for beef bowl, which usually consists of fresh white rice topped with beef and onions simmered in a soy-based sauce. You can also crack a fresh raw egg over the beef if you are feeling adventurous. Gyudon is incredibly popular among Japanese salarymen because a bowl of gyudon is so cheap, usually around 500 JPY. The atmosphere of gyudon chains make it easy for solo customers to enjoy their meal alone, and the service is always fast. Yoshinoya and Matsuya are the two most popular gyudon chains in Japan. You can find traditional gyudon as well as special variations with kimchi or different cuts of meat. 


Tendon is Japanese for tempura bowl. Tendon is similar to gyudon if you substitute the beef for seafood and vegetable tempura. Tendon is another cheap fast food in Japan that is welcoming of solo travelers. Tenya is the most popular chain for tendon, and they tendon sets that are very affordable. 


Soba is a type of thin noodle that is made with buckwheat flour. Soba has been incredibly popular ever since the era of samurai. Each area of Japan has a special type of soba that can be served either hot or cold. Soba is very popular in rural areas, but there are a number of famous soba restaurants in Tokyo as well.


Udon is another type of noodle that is made from wheat flour. The noodles are thicker than ramen or soba noodles and can even be chewy. Udon is thought to have existed in Japan for nearly 1000 years. Udon can also be served hot or cold, Each area of Japan also has its own take on udon noodles.


Gyoza is the name of Japanese potstickers. Gyoza is usually filled with ground pork that has been mixed with chives, garlic, ginger, and cabbage, but there are variations with seafood or just vegetables. Gyoza is very popular as a side at ramen restaurants, but there are some establishments that are famous for their gyoza. Japanese gyoza dumplings are unique because the bottom is crunchy while the top is soft, and the inside just tastes so good!


Ramen is probably the most sought-after fast food in Japan. The thin noodles in savoury soup is a match made in heaven. The most interesting part about ramen is that there are regional differences in the type of soup ramen is made with. Soups from Northern and mainland Japan tend to be light, with shio (salt) or shoyu (soy sauce) ramen being very popular. The more South you go, the richer the soup gets. Tonkotsu soup, which is popular in Fukuoka or Hakata ramen, is made from the bones of pork. The soup is so rich that you cannot even see through it! It is recommended that you try a few different types of ramen to see how different each regions bowl of noodle soup can be.


Yokocho refers to alleyways filled with small eateries, shops, and pubs. These alleys are often lined with hole-in-the-wall bars and eateries and lit with paper lanterns and retro neon signs. Walking through a yokocho makes you feel as if you have traveled back in time. These nostalgic alleyways have been left basically unchanged since the post-war era, although some areas are experiencing revitalization with the introduction of hipster-style restaurants or pubs. A typical yokocho establishment seats 10 people or less, and are dirt cheap. You can fill up with 1000 JPY or less. Yokocho offer a great opportunity to connect with locals. Beware that due to their small size, most yokocho pubs will not be able to accommodate large groups. 

Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho is the most famous yokocho alleyway in Tokyo. Filled with run down stalls and old buildings, you are placed back in the Showa era when you visit Omoide Yokocho. It used to be the site of a black market after World War 2, and changed to its current form in the 1960’s. Due to its popularity, you will have no trouble navigating the various pubs and restaurants as they welcome foreign visitors with foreign-friendly menus and service.


Monjayaki is a pan-fried batter that is very popular in Tokyo. The ingredients are similar to those of okonomiyaki, with cabbage, seafood, eggs, and flour being the main ingredients. However, the ingredients are chopped very finely and mixed with more liquid so that the end result is a gooey batter-like food that tastes amazing. What is so cool about monjayaki is that you get to prepare it yourself! Staff bring the ingredients to your grill area and then you get to have fun chopping and mixing the ingredients. Many people also swear on purposely overcooking their monjayaki to get a crispier bite. Asakusa is the place to go try monjayaki! 


Izakaya are small Japanese pubs that serve cheap alcoholic beverages alongside small savoury dishes. Izakaya are unique from normal bars because you always sit within your group, which provides little chance to connect with other people. Another big part of izakaya is the amount of food that people eat while drinking. In Japanese culture, it is expected to have some kind of side, called otsumami, with your alcohol. So, customers at izakaya are expected to share dishes of fried chicken, yakitori, sashimi, nabe, and even buttered potatoes. Please note that most izakaya will make you pay otoshi, which as explained above is like a charge for a compulsory appetizer. Also, be aware that smoking is permitted at most izakaya in Japan.

Izakaya are full of local residents, so you may be worried about entering one by yourself due to all of the unspoken rules and customs. You should consider Tokyo Travel Assist’s Izakaya Japanese local bar tour! This tour will take you through an izakaya bar experience where you can enjoy authentic Japanese pub grub. It is a great opportunity to experience some unique Japanese culture in the presence of a friendly and knowledgeable local guide. Check out the Tokyo Travel Assist Izakaya tour page for all of the details.

Fine food

There is a multitude of fine-dining options in Japan. As of 2019, Tokyo has the most Michelin stars of any country in the world. You can find fine-dining options for almost any type of cuisine in Tokyo. 

Traditional Japanese restaurants

Traditional Japanese restaurants serving kaiseki or kappou are considered to be very fancy. You are usually able to watch the master chef prepare your meal from start to end. It is almost like a show! Japanese traditional restaurants in Tokyo have a very elegant atmosphere and customer service is always top-class.


Nigiri-zushi is considered to be fine-dining amongst Japanese people. It is quite difficult to become a renowned sushi chef, and training can take years or decades. High-end sushi restaurants are completely different from those found in foreign countries, where sushi can be very casual. If you go to a fancy sushi restaurant in Tokyo, we recommend you to try omakase, which means that the chef will serve you what s/he deems is best based on the fresh catch of the day.


Another way to enjoy fine-dining in Japan is to try some fancy fusion food. Japanese chefs are known for combining Japanese elements with international cuisine like Italian or French cuisine. When East meets West in these restaurants, your mouth will be so satisfied.

International foods

Although Japan may be known for its native cuisine, there are also many restaurants specializing in other styles of food. You can find refined Italian, French, Chinese, and even Indian food in Tokyo. It might be worth a try to compare it to food back home!

After reading this article you should now be aware of the different types of restaurants and foods in Japan. You should also have an idea of which area you want to try for your next food journey! Let us know how you plan to satisfy your taste buds on your next trip to Tokyo. If you need any assistance, Tokyo Travel Assist is always here to answer your questions or take you on a tour.

Featured tour

Izakaya – Japanese local bar tour

An izakaya is a Japanese local style casual bar and restaurant. Enjoy all kinds of Japanese dishes like sushi, sashimi, tonkatsu, ramen, and so on!
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