One day in Tokyo’s secret gourmet town

“If you spent the whole day in Arakicho, Tokyo’s secret gourmet town, where would you eat breakfast, lunch and dinner?” my Tadaima Japan colleague Misuzu asked me one day. “That’s a great question!” I replied. “Since there are many excellent restaurants, on the surface, it may seem hard to choose, but I think I could hammer out a decent one-day gourmet itinerary”. So here is the result of that discussion: the best places to eat if you decided to hang out in Arakicho for one full day.

2018-11-01   Bars & Restaurants, Arakicho,

Eat breakfast like a King

This is probably the easiest part since there aren’t that many places that offer breakfast, Arakicho being a place that mainly comes to life in the evening. Of course, if you’re staying at the Tadaima Japan Shinjuku Ryokan, you can have an excellent breakfast in the lounge area – there is a choice between Japanese, with rice cooked in a traditional “donabe” (earthenware pot), and Western, with “dashimaki-tamago”, a Japanese style rolled omelette. If you are a vegetarian, then such an option can also be requested. Just make sure to reserve the breakfast you prefer the day before!

Have your fill of home-cooked rice

If you’d rather start your day with something a little more familiar, perhaps a croissant and coffee, then, the Antendo Bakery opposite exit 4 of Yotsuya-sanchome station, is the place to go. They have great buttery croissants, and some seating space inside. There are plenty of other pastries and Japanese creations such as “andonatsu”, a doughnut filled with sweet red bean paste – it tastes better than it sounds!

 If the weather is nice and you’d rather eat outdoors, I’d recommend walking about fifteen minutes along Shinjuku Dori Avenue to Yotsuya station. The Paul bakery, in the Atre Building, has a fairly nice terrace overlooking the crossing. They’ve got great bread, and if you order the hot coffee for breakfast, they give free refills. Just be careful that if there is strong wind or rain is forecast, you won’t be allowed to sit outside (the interior is nice too).

The terrace is uncovered so it’s closed on rainy days

If you want to stick to Japanese fare, then Matsuya, on the opposite of the yotsuya-sanchome crossing from exit 4, has a simple, inexpensive but healthy Japanese style breakfast. You can choose between the simple “tamago kake gohan” (raw egg over rice – if you have never had this, you’re missing out), or if you need something more filling, the grilled salmon set. All sets come with a tasty miso soup.

Eat lunch like a Prince

For lunch, a trio of places come to mind. It really depends whether you want to go for an authentic Japanese meal (sushi), something inspired from Western cuisine (Tonkatsu, or fried pork cutlet), or if you like to go for something that originated overseas but is now considered to be 100% Japanese (ramen). All types of cuisines are represented in Arakicho. 

 For an affordable and delicious traditional lunch, Yachiyo Sushi is the definitely the place to go. Located on Arakicho’s main street, Sugidaimon Dori, Yachiyo has a long history going all the way back to the Edo period. The interior is spacious with a really long counter – you are almost guaranteed to be seated in a position from where you can observe the sushi chef at work. The fish is fresh, and the lunch selection changes seasonally. You will almost certainly discover new kinds of sushi there – I certainly did!

Sushi is a must-eat when in Japan

If raw fish is not thing, then I’d recommend heading to Tonkatsu Suzushin located in a bend on Sharikimon Dori street, by far the most welcoming restaurant I have ever eaten at in Japan. The owner, Mt Suzuki, will make sure that you have everything you need, and their tonkatsu is one of the best in Tokyo. They are also famous for their “katsudon” – a rice bowl topped with a pork cutlet. It’s a family run operation and all their ingredients have been carefully selected. Lunch there is a guaranteed success.

Suzushin’s tonkatsu lunch set

Finally, if you are the type of person who absolutely loves ramen, then you must visit Tai Shio Soba Toka. They do a very unique “chazuke” set – you pour the leftover soup from the ramen over the rice, included in the set, to create a second dish. The ramen itself is also unique, since the soup is based on the sea bream fish. You can also have “tsukemen” or dipping noodles with your “chazuke” set if you prefer. This is fairly new restaurant, rising in popularity among Japanese people – make sure to try it before it gets famous!  

Tai Shio Soba Toka’s tsukemen

Eat dinner like a Pauper

There are literally dozens and dozens of places where you can have a great dinner in Arakicho. However, there are a couple of outstanding places that I would consider as absolute musts. They really highlight the fact that Arakicho is the place to go for “foodies”. 

 Tempura Dining Itoi is a relatively new restaurant located in the center of Arakicho on Sugidaimon Dori Street. The young and dynamic chef, and his 3 staff, will prepare modern tempura of their own creation, unlike the kind you would see in a typical tempura restaurants. If you can make up your mind on what to order, various course menus are there to help you. Wash down these light and healthy dishes (perfect for vegetarians!), with quality sake, selected from different places around Japan – you won’t be disappointed! 

My favourite dish at ITOI – fish cake with cheese tempura (yes it’s delicious!)

If you are a meat eater, than look no further than Akami to Horumonyaki Nonki – it is the place to eat Wagyu (Japanese beef) in Arakicho. If you the adventurous kind, give the “horumonyaki” a try – it’s offal cuisine, Japanese style.  It’s considered a delicacy among the Japanese and is extremely popular so why not order their 9 kinds of “horumon” course? Unfortunately the saying “eat like a pauper” doesn’t apply to this section, because you will definitely be very full after a dinner at Nonki!

Meat ready to be grilled at Nonki

Drink like a Fish

After dinner, you’ve got to have one last drink before going home right? Fortunately, Arakicho has countless places where you can have one last one “for the road. However, recommending just a few places was the hardest part of this article, and it may be wiser just to leave it up to your instincts – so far I haven’t had a bad bar experience in the area.

If you are really are at a loss, how about drinking with monks and partaking in buddhist chants at Vowz bar? Or if you are a curious about sake, stroll over to Talkin Loud and ask the Master for a saje recommendation. If you are looking for something stronger, discover “smoked gin”, Bar C-Shell’s signature drink (English spoken!). Finally if you are the scientific type, you cannot but sit down at the Science Bar Incubator and try some “experimental cocktails”. Whatever your preferences, Arakicho surely has something for you!

Monks manning the bar at Vowz bar

If you have some spare time between meals and the weather is good, how about going for a guided historical stroll through the streets of Arakicho?

 Let’s explore Arakicho, a feudal residence that became a gourmet town

 Let’s Explore Arakicho: Empty Fields Turned into a Temple District in the Heart of Tokyo

 If you have some spare time between meals and the weather is rainy or worse, how about checking out a couple of excellent museums in Arakicho?

 The Shinjuku Historical Museum: a nicely arranged museum with interesting exhibits of Tokyo’s past

 Tokyo Fire Museum – Learn about Tokyo’s Past through its History of Fighting Fire

For smartphone users, please click the link below to go to the Tadaima Japan website which includes additional location details:

 One day in Tokyo’s secret gourmet town

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Writer / Translator

I’ve been in Japan for over 10 years although it feels shorter because I am constantly discovering new things and new places. Sometimes it can be hard to get the full Japanese experience because of cultural differences and linguistic barriers. For that reason, I want to share what I have learned in order to enhance your experience in Japan. Having said that, figuring out stuff on your own can also be fun. In any case, I hope you can find here whatever you need in order to make your stay a success.