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Hakata cuisine - traditional cooking from Fukuoka in northern Kyushu - is the specialty of this rather boisterous izakaya in Nakano's bar zone. Besides serving excellent food, Jidoriya offers a respectable sake list of around fifteen premium varieties, available in tasting sizes (60ml) and three-part tasting sets (Y990) in case you want to compare different breweries and styles.
A more delicate than average gyumotsu nikomi (beef organ-meat stew) is one of our favorites here - the flavors of the various meats shine through, while blocks of tofu provide a nice balance for the rich soup. The deep-fried chicken skin is crunchy and surprisingly sweet, while the momo tataki (chicken thigh) is pleasantly chewy and delivers an intense charcoal flavor.
The staff is friendly and helpful with sake decisions, and the atmosphere is lively, with a prefab retro-style decor of corrugated metal paneling and old beer and sake posters. Budget around Y4000 for dinner with drinks. English-language menus are available.
Craft beers and whiskey are given equal billing at this small but well-stocked bar. Eight taps dispense mostly US craft imports, typically priced at around Y700-800 per glass and Y1000-1100 per pint, while whiskey drinkers can choose from some twenty varieties.
The food menu is a cut above average, with beer-friendly snacks like pulled-pork sliders and quesadillas. The small interior has around eight seats, plus standing room for another dozen or so.
If you don't mind the informal setting, this unpretentious back-alley izakaya is a great place to explore the mysterious delights of horsemeat sushi and other raw-meat delicacies. The ten-piece Kagurazaka sushi platter (Y3200) is a good starting point - it includes a few different cuts of horse along with lightly seared chicken and raw wagyu beef, all prepared as sushi.
If you want to supplement with individual pieces, the a la carte menu offers beef, chicken and lamb options as well as several cuts of horse. We can whole-heartedly recommend the rich "foie gras" sushi. To balance your diet and complement the meaty fare, you can choose from a selection of fresh vegetable dishes - ripe avocado sashimi (with pungent wasabi), raw turnip chunks and crisp cucumbers served with miso paste.
Drinks are reasonably priced and include a few premium sake brands as well as beer and shochu. Nikuzushi is located in the middle of an ancient-looking alleyway full of tiny drinking spots. There are around six counter seats on the ground floor and three small tables upstairs, reached via a steep and narrow stairway. Although it may seem like a casual, walk-in kind of spot, reservations are recommended if you're visiting at dinnertime.
In addition to the usual local food and booze, this large prefectural antenna shop offers a good assortment of crafts - tableware, glassware, wooden dolls and other decorative items. The sake area features more than 100 kinds of sake from Fukushima, some of them otherwise hard to find in Tokyo.
Food items include fresh produce; fruit jams and preserves; many types of miso and soy sauce; soba, udon and rice noodles; twelve kinds of packaged curry; kamaboko fish cakes; pickles and ice cream.
The seating arrangements here may be a bit tight, and the prices higher than average, but the grilled chicken here is outstanding. And unlike most yakitoriya in town, Isehiro serves full sets of freshly grilled skewers at lunchtime rather than just rice-based dishes.
Starting with premium heirloom chickens, the chefs grill every cut to perfection - gizzards and sasami are tender and moist, with a bit of wasabi kick to the sasami, while the tsukune is juicy and pleasantly crunchy in texture. The lunch set comes with a nice chicken skin broth to start things off, and first-rate pickles to accompany your rice.
Lunchtime menus are priced Y1550-3850; budget around Y8000 at dinnertime.
If you're looking
for a pleasant cilantro specialty bar with owls, look no further than this popular counter bar in Takadanobaba. The diverse menu features original dishes like an invigorating octopus and pink grapefruit cilantro salad as well as excellent Nepalese momo dumplings, while numerous owls provide a decorative backdrop to your visit.
Drinks include beer, wine, sake and shochu, and prices for both drinks and food are very reasonable - most dishes are in the Y600-700 range. Be prepared for a leisurely visit though, as output from the open kitchen can be slow, giving you more time to inspect the resident owls (and vice versa).
If you want more owls and less cilantro, the bar runs an owl cafe
on weekend afternoons from 1-5pm.
This very hip, artsy cafe is furnished with comfortable sofas and big tables, a nice setting for a coffee break or creative work session. They serve both espresso and drip coffee, and at night you can choose from a few different craft beers from Dutch brewery DeMolen (priced Y860-940 per bottle) along with a full food menu. The soundtrack tends towards modern jazz, played on an impressive audio setup from their collection of vinyl albums.
Nenohi delivers first-rate food in a gorgeous setting, offering a nice mix of izakaya standbys (superb charcoal-grilled chicken, good-quality sashimi, excellent kakuni pork stew) and simple but unexpected original dishes. The spacious dining room is quite lively when the house is full - it reallly feels like you're dining somewhere special, not just grabbing a bite to eat.
The menu offers a better-than-average selection of vegetable dishes, and everything we tried was very good. Some highlights included cold stewed tomatoes, grilled broad beans, a roast whole onion served with peas, braised eggplant, and tofu dengaku.
Although Nenohi is a venture from the famous Morita sake brewery, located south of Nagoya, we were a bit underwhelmed by the sake on offer - it wasn't terrible, but not at the same level as the food. Overall though, dinner here represents good value for money - budget around Y5000-6000 with drinks, or around Y1500 at lunchtime.
Occupying one of the most stylish settings for taproom in Tokyo, this brewing laboratory from the ever-popular Hitachino Nest beer offers seven beers on tap, including some experimental lab-only brews that they're trying out. The brewery's hoppy Nipponia (Imperial Pilsner; 6.5% ABV) is usually available, and we quite enjoyed a single-hop Falconer's Flight Session IPA - quite sessionable at 4.5% ABV.
The food menu is quite ambitious for a small bar, with small dishes like beef cheek and pork stew, pork schnitzel and squid jerky. Results so far have been hit or miss: in the hit column was an excellent portion of pork rillettes, served in a glass jar with a layer of aspic on top and bits of crunchy vegetables mixed in with the rich pork. On the other hand, barbecue beef and pork cutlet sandwiches were unexciting - meaty but one-dimensional and lacking in pizzazz.
Located inside a repurposed century-old train station, the bar has structural girders overhead and beautifully restored brick walls, which are lined with shelves filled with various types of hops and other beer-related stuff. Two big tanks in front of the bar complement the brewery motif, and are actively used for brewing.
When the weather is nice you can also sit out in front of the bar, in the semi-enclosed entrance to the very tasteful Maach Ecute shopping complex. Most food dishes are priced Y380-780, and all beers are Y680, usually for a medium-sized pour.
Japanese curries made with medicinal herbs are the specialty here, and while we can't vouch for any possible health benefits, we can confirm that they're at least very tasty. We enjoyed an excellent seasonal vegetable curry, chock full of fresh-tasting turnips, spinach and mountain vegetables (sansai), while the chicken curry showcased a very soft and well-simmered chicken leg. The roux is thick and deeply flavorful, with just a bit of bite to it.
The decor and ambiance have an old-fashioned shitamachi feel, in keeping with the neighborhood, and service is friendly and personal. Curries range from Y960-1030, and an upgrade to five-grain rice (vs. standard white rice) is an extra Y50. On Thursdays they serve lunch only, no dinner.
Great sake and fantastic charcoal-grilled fare served in a relaxed, pleasant dining room, all for a very reasonable price - Nanadaime Tora comes pretty close to embodying the Platonic ideal of the perfect izakaya. The counter is wide and comfortable, and the open hearth adds a warm, homey feeling to the room. As an added bonus, there's no smoking and the restaurant is open on Sundays.
The specialty here is what they call "genshiyaki" - roughly translated as "primitive grilling" - with a slight emphasis on seafood but respectable offerings in the beef, chicken and vegetable departments as well. The beef wasabi was one of our favorite dishes here - the cuts they use retain a good amount of fat, and the smoke from the fat dripping onto the charcoal adds an incredible flavor to the meat, well balanced by the pungency of fresh wasabi.
Our grilled fish and shellfish dishes were also extraordinary, with beautifully crisp skin on the fish thanks to the very hot coals they use for grilling. Our sashimi assortmeant also reached the same high standards, and was attractively presented.
Although we started with beer, we found several decent sakes that were well matched to the food. Budget around Y6000-8000 at dinnertime. They also serve lunch, though not on Mondays.
The second taproom from Nagano Prefecture's Yo-Ho Brewing, this Kanda branch offers a more ambitious food menu as well as a dozen of the brewery's beers on draft, including a couple of hand-pumped real ales. Excellent roast Date chicken, an heirloom breed from Fukushima Prefecture, is the specialty of the house and it's well worth a try. With beautifully crisp skin and juicy meat, it comes in whole, half and quarter bird sizes.
Another highlight is the impressive selection of sausage variations - squid ink, prosciutto, wasabi, curry, and shrimp-whitefish among them. A six-sausage sampler plate is Y2800, or you can order individually. Chorizo and venison were our favorites, but all the ones we tried had character, a huge step up from the sausage moriawase you'd find in a typical beer bar.
The roast vegetable bagna cauda is also very well prepared, as are the french fries. Even the condiments here are special - grape jam mustard, good-quality horseradish, and artisanal handmade tomato ketchup to complement your dishes.
The decor is quite stylish and the crowd is lively, but it can get noisy, especially if you're seated near the order station. It never gets smoky though - the whole bar and dining rooma are smoke-free. Reservations are highly recommended on weeknights.
An offshoot of the Village Vanguard novelty-gift chain, VV Diner has spawned a growing chain of its own, offering a reliable menu of reasonably priced gourmet burgers in comfortable settings. This particular branch, a few minutes from the waterfront LaLaPort shopping mall, features a bigger menu than most, with Toyosu-only offerings like grilled lamb chops, sirloin roast beef, and "Steak in a Pan."
There are also a dozen burger variations, including our favorite, the garlic chip-enhanced Pepper Wild Bacon Burger, and non-burger options like Cajun fried chicken, popcorn shrimp and an avocado taco rice platter. Drinks include London Pride and Pilsner Urquel by the bottle (Y890) as well as budget wines from Y480 per glass. Lunch is served until 2:30pm.
Codename Mixology serves inventive, wonderfully oddball drinks, and just might be our new favorite cocktail bar in Tokyo. The bartenders make use of fresh herbs, seasonal fruits and vegetables, artisanal and home-made spirits, and science-lab techniques from the world of molecular gastronomy to deliver some truly amazing creations.
Just browsing through the menu is an adventure, as you try to fathom recipes with ingredients like foie gras vodka, fresh pumpkin puree, smoke, and liquid nitrogen. Savory flavors are perhaps more common than sweet ones - for example the White Tomato Fizz is made from centrifuged tomato liquid, olive oil and basil gin, and the Tom Yam Cooler (our favorite here) incorporates tamarind syrup, coriander leaf, lime juice, white balsamic vinegar, pepper sauce and tom yam vodka.
Our Blue Cheese Martini - one of a line-up of five or six different cheese-themed martinis - was actually much more subtle than we expected, with underlying hints of tangy cheese balancing the other ingredients.
The decor is tasteful, lighting is subdued, and the atmosphere is quiet and relaxed, the better to savor the creative efforts of your bartender. Just upstairs from here is a branch that they call their "laboratory," where they experiment with new recipes.
Drinks average around Y1500-2000, plus 5% service charge and a cover charge of Y800 - all in all quite reasonable for this level of quality. There's also a small but well-prepared food menu of pastas and similar dishes if you're hungry.
Hawaiian burgers and locomoco platters are served with a decent range of Hawaiian craft beers and fancy sodas at this spacious three-story restaurant. Beers like Big Swell IPA (Maui Brewing) and Volcano Red Ale (Mehana Brewing) are Y800 per can, while mango, pineapple and other flavors of Waialua sodas are Y500 each.
We counted eight Hawaiian craft brews in cans, along with bottled beer from Fire Rock, Chimay, and a few others. The budget-friendly food menu offers items like Kahlua pig, ahi steak, and hulihuli chicken - each served on a platter with rice, green salad, macaroni salad, fried egg and curry dipping sauce - starting at around Y1000.
Most of the main items can also be ordered as "burgers" - i.e. served in a bun rather than on a platter. If you're in a noodly mood you can try out their unusual "lemon ramen" bowl, and in the morning they serve breakfast specials.
The order counter has a fast-food setup, but upstairs it feels a bit more like a modern cafe, with bold graphics, a comfortable sofa area and reasonably attractive furnishings. Hawaiian music plays in the background.
If you find yourself in Urawa thirsting for a craft beer or two, this small, ten-tap counter will be a welcome site. The tap list represents a well-chosen lineup of (mostly) small Japanese craft breweries, with most pints priced at Y1000 (or Y700 for a smaller size). Snacks like fish and chips and roast beef are nicely prepared, and wouldn't be out of place in a British pub.
The bar has a very casual, lively atmosphere and friendly service, although it can get smoky at times. It's located along a charmingly dilapidated shopping arcade leading from Urawa station. Note that weekend hours vary - 3pm-1am Saturdays, 3pm-midnight Sundays and holidays.
Well-prepared single-origin coffees are served at this friendly neighborhood spot, with your choice of two different coffees of the day. Espresso is Y350, cafe latte is Y450, and blueberry muffins and pound cake are around Y350. Of course they also sell beans to go, from Y700 per 100 grams.
Pirouette's chef Naoya Kobayashi grew up on a farm in Nagano, and he has a keen appreciation for what top-quality farm-fresh ingredients - particularly vegetables - should taste like. After training at a couple of highly regarded restaurants in France, he brought his talents to this beautifully appointed Toranomon dining room, where he offers a creative, modern take on French cuisine.
Highlights of a recent visit included fantastically soft and tender beef cheeks, braised in red wine after being marinated overnight in miso and juniper berries. A lovely cold broccoli mousse started things off on an adventurous footing, and our pate de campagne - not always the most exciting dish on a French menu - came in well above average, with lots of meaty flavors balanced by tart fig and apricot pastes.
The restaurant is divided into the more comfortably furnished bistro side in back, with prix-fixe menus from Y5000 (+10% service), and the less expensive cafe area up front, where you can sit on high stools and order lunch or dinner a la carte. The wine list focuses on the more upscale French regions, with many bottles in the Y10,000-20,000 range but not much under Y8000. (Wine by the glass starts at Y700.) Lunches are priced from Y3000 in the bistro and Y1200 in the cafe.
This tiny shop serves as a standing bar, specialty liquor shop and gourmet grocer, with a bit of art gallery thrown in for good measure. Five taps serve craft beer from Japan and abroad (Y500 for a smallish pour), or you can bring in your own growler to fill up and bring home. Located just a minute from Ebisu Station, the shop is on the ground floor of a small residential building.
On the retail side Night Owl carries a limited selection of obscure beers that are hard to find elsewhere - Moa from New Zealand and Mountain Goat from Australia among them - mostly priced at over Y1000 for a small bottle. You can also find artisanal bitters, various absinthes, expensive chocolates and other gourmet foods. Note that in spite of the name, Night Owl closes at 9pm (8pm on weekends).
Late-night eateries are relatively scarce in this part of town, so it's worth knowing about this popular American chain restaurant if you want to grab a meal or a drink after 10:30pm. The kitchen turns out decent bar fare - cheeseburgers, buffalo wings (and the somewhat tidier boneless buffalo chicken), and nachos with voluminous servings of guacamole.
The bar seems to specialize in exotic cocktails like the "Ultimate Strawberry Banana Colada" (Y1190), and the "Ice Cream Sandwich" (Y940). Lunch is served until 4pm, and happy hour runs 4-7pm.
A popular yakitori chain known especially for their signature spicy chicken wings, Toriyoshi stay ahead of the curve by offering an appealing selection of seasonal items and original dishes, such as maitake tempura and seafood salad wrapped in spicy kimchee. Budget around Y3000 for food and drink at dinnertime.
A cozy neighborhood izakaya, Abuzo specializes in charcoal-grilled beef, pork, chicken and ocean trout, with a decent sake list alongside. The white chicken livers, fresh every day, are a revelation, as is the grilled vegetable salad.
Many of the menu items - dried fish and shrimp, fresh vegetables - are simply grilled at your table, perhaps with a coating of olive oil that you brush on yourself. Budget around Y4000-5000 for ample food and drink (includes Y600 table charge).
Possibly Tokyo's narrowest sake shop, Echizenya stocks a deep range of sakes from various craft breweries - some highly regarded, some rather obscure. (Their selection of Dassai sake from Yamaguchi Prefecture is particularly thorough.) If you're a sake fan, this place is definitely worth browsing on your way home after a pilgrimage to the contemporary art museum or Blue Bottle Coffee.
A brightly lit, spacious basement, Tokyo Porks attracts a lively after-work crowd with its cheap drinks (beers are Y289) and simple but competently prepared izakaya-style grilled pork dishes. Organ-meat fans can choose liver, heart and other cuts at Y120 per skewer, while the large-size spareribs are a bargain at Y380.
Budget around Y2500 for dinner and drinks, or choose a party plan with open bar (from Y3000) if you're in a festive mood. Lunch averages Y750.
A huge selection of craft sake from Ishikawa Prefecture is sold in the basement of this three-story shop - well over 100 varieties, including some two dozen sakes in convenient one-cup serving sizes. The basement also houses a budget-friendly dining counter where you can order a five-item set menu of local Kaga-ryori for just Y1500.
Fresh and frozen ingredients, candies and other prepared foods are sold on the main floor, with a small cafe area up on the second floor. Upstairs you'll also find a huge variety of local Ishikawa-ken crafts - colorful Kutani-yaki pottery, beautiful lacquerware, wood and paper crafts, and items covered in gold leaf, a major local industry.
The basement dining area is open 11am-3, 5-8:30pm (LO), closed Sundays. The cafe is open 10am-8pm.
A very pleasant combination art-gallery and cafe space, La Chimica looks like a place you'd find in the backstreets of Daikanyama rather than the Ichigaya business district. The barristas here are very serious about their coffee, serving, among other drinks, a special iced coffee that's steeped over the course of eight hours.
Furnishings are stylish and comfortably separated, with a constantly changing selection of art on the walls to enjoy, as exhibitions here run for two weeks at a time. If you're hungry there are light desserts, and a selection of wines (roughly Y5000/bottle) and beers during bar time, which is after 6pm when there's an exhibition on.
Imported food and drink from Taiwan are sold here, with a tiny restaurant corner up front where you can order tea and dumplings or desserts. The freezer cabinets are well stocked with various frozen meat- and vegetable-filled buns, while shelves are laden with myriad hot sauces, sweet soft drinks, leaf teas, plum and litchi liqueurs, and fruit-stuffed miniature cakes.
Note that the restaurant area is open 11am-2pm and 4-7pm.
Like the original Marzac in Aoyama, this stylish two-story cafe near the Meguro River serves up nicely prepared grilled-meat dishes and reasonably priced wines by the glass or bottle. The open kitchen on the ground floor helps establish a warm, friendly atmosphere. Budget around Y3000 for food and drink.
Cafe Hai, closed for dinner but open all afternoon, is a nice, arty spot to drop in on for a casual Vietnamese lunch. The small, pork-heavy menu features pho noodles with pork cakes, fried-pork banh mi sandwiches, fried spring rolls, and "Com Tron Rau Thit" - steamed rice with ground pork and fresh vegetables - plus sweet, strong Vietnamese coffee.
Our tasty banh mi sandwich struck nice a flavor and texture balance between fatty, juicy pork, crunchy pickles, copious amounts of cilantro and lemongrass, and sides of shrimp chips and vegetable-tuna salad (Y1000). Located inside the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (MOT) building, the cafe is just upstairs from the museum shop.
The concept behind El Chiringuito is to recreate the menu and atmosphere of a casual Andalusian beachside restaurant. Spanish wines start at around Y500 per glass, and most of the food is simple and rustic, with quite an assortment of sardine dishes. Seating may be a bit cramped if want to spend a whole evening here, but it's fine for a quick drink and snack on the way to or from Ichigaya station, which is one minute away.
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