The Hundred Famous Restaurants
If you’ve been in Japan long enough, you will have realised that there are many “hundred famous” or “hundred best” lists such as the “hundred famous mountains”, the “hundred best waterfalls”, the “hundred best castles” and so on…These lists provide a real boost to local tourism since they motivate people to travel around and try to complete various lists. I myself have been guilty of making detours to see a waterfall simply because it was on the top hundred list – and it was always worth it!
So I wasn’t too surprised that the concept extended to restaurants and food. Tabelog, the most famous restaurant review website in Japan, does a hundred famous store lists “hyakumeiten” (百名店) for shops specialising in various dishes, Japanese and non-Japanese, for example ramen, tonkatsu, pizza…there is even a list for restaurants specialising in American-style hamburgers. Their slogan translates roughly as “if you want to eat something delicious right now, then try these places”. As above, the purpose is to motivate people to visit these restaurants.
Unlike the Michelin guide, where restaurants are selected by a small number of paid critics, the “hyakumeiten” lists are created using the restaurants with the top hundred scores. Each score is the average of thousands of user ratings, from one to five stars. As a rule of thumb, an average above 3 is considered quite good, and anything above 3.5 is excellent. Scores of 4 and above are quite rare – only 0.06% of the total number of the nearly million restaurants listed . The lists are updated every year, and it’s important to note that there is no ranking within such lists – you either make the list or you don’t.
A Relative Newcomer
Island Burgers conveniently located a couple of minutes on foot from exit 3 of the Yotsuya-sanchome station on Shinjuku Dori Avenue, opened about five years ago. In 2017, they made the list for the first time, and they made their second consecutive appearance when the 2018 list was released last September. Their average score is 3.58. It’s also important to note that this list of restaurants includes the whole of Japan, from Hokkaido to Okinawa, not just Tokyo. However over 70 are located in the Kanto area. I had a quick look at some of the other famous stores and found that most scores were in the 3.5 – 3.6 range, the highest being 3.73. They are also included in Yoshihide Matsubara’s 2014 update of his book “The Burger Map Tokyo”.
Owing to their high status among the world of hamburger connoisseurs, it wasn’t without a certain amount of trepidation that I decided to have lunch at Island Burgers. I noticed a sign-up list outside the restaurant – when the place is full, you write your name and number of people in your party, and then wait, standing or sitting, till your name is called. Fortunately, at the end of lunchtime, the restaurant, with 27 seats, wasn’t crowded. However, I made a mental note to take that into consideration, if ever I decided to drop by on a weekend.
I sat at a small table by the window, but all the other tables with their wicker chairs are set along a wall painted yellow and decorated with a very simply drawn map of ocean islands, palm trees and a whale. The background reggae music added to the beach resort atmosphere. The shop staff was able to explain to me, in English, that after choosing a burger from the menu, I needed to choose a side salad or pickles, and also a drink (included at lunchtime). All burgers come with a serving of fries – you can get a large serving for an extra 100 yen.
Many Islands, Many Burgers
For my first visit, I selected the “quattro fromage” or four cheese burger (parmesan, cheddar, mozzarella and blue cheese – 1590 yen) something I usually see on pizza menus but not on hamburger ones. When the burger was served, all the ingredients were held in place with the restaurant’s trademark plastic palm-tree pick. I was happy to see that there was a small serving of honey for the blue cheese. Another thing I appreciated was that the burger had a compact size without being small. It was neither too wide not too tall, enabling me to eat it just by holding it in my hands and without anything falling out. The combination of the four cheeses and the meat patty filled my mouth with that wonderful “umami” taste!
On another visit, I decided to be more adventurous and go for the “Wild Jason’s” (1520 yen) – a stack of 3 burgers inside the buns and nothing else, no vegetables, no sauces – perfect for meat lovers! Because of the increased height of the burger, it was more challenging to eat, but I was able to manage without using the provided burger bag. I enjoyed its richness and saltiness but it may be overwhelming for some people. They also do a smaller version called “Wild Jason Jr’s” (980 yen). Alternatively, if you want even more meat, you can add an extra patty for 350 yen. Their facebook page features a photo of a burger with ten patties!
Their signature dish, at the top of the menu and featured in a poster on the restaurant wall, is the “bacon egg cheese burger” (1390 yen). I haven’t had a chance to try it yet, since I got distracted by their unusual cheese and meat offerings. Actually, next time, I might even give their very tropical “pineapple cheese burger” a try. If you prefer spicy food, they also have some very hot burgers such as the “Chili Beans burger”, and the “Scorpion” using Jalapeños and Death Sauce. If you have children, the menu has a couple of kids burger plates. It’s important to note that the inside of the restaurant is non-smoking at all hours.
If you’d prefer to drop by at night, Islands Burgers is open every day till 9m. Their drink menu includes beer, wine and cocktails such as the intriguing pineapple beer. Finally, in addition to takeout, they also do deliveries in cooperation with uber eats. So even if it’s a rainy and cold day and you don’t feel like going out, you can still get your Island Burger with a plastic palm-tree pick on top.
Read more about another burger restaurant from Tabelog’s “hyakumeiten” list on the Tadaima Japan website:
For smartphone users, please click the link below to go to the Tadaima Japan website which includes additional location details:
If you chose to visit this restaurant after reading this article, don’t hesitate to tell the staff you found out about them through the Tadaima Japan website.
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