Tokyo for foodies: Where to find the best sushi in Tokyo

If you can’t tell your yakitori from your takoyaki or you don’t know your matcha from your mochi, panic not, because we at Mr Hudson are here to bring you a comprehensive rundown of the Tokyo food scene, complete with information on all the many dishes served up in Japan’s capital, sushi, udon and beyond. Without further ado, it’s an ‘Itatakimasu’ (let’s eat!) from us, as we uncover all the best Japanese street food and esteemed sushi restaurants across our favourite Tokyo neighbourhoods.

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Tokyo | Photo: Clay Banks

Tokyo for foodies

Before blasting off on the Shinkansen bullet train towards the Geisha districts of Kyoto or the powder-soft ski slopes of Hokkaido, we’ve got some serious eating to do in the capital. You can orient yourself in the capital with our Tokyo travel guide, discovering where to stay in Tokyo with our 5-day Tokyo itinerary, before embarking on the foodie journey of a lifetime!

Though sensational sushi can be found just about anywhere in Japan – including the 7/11 – it’s the Tokyo foodie scene that will impress you most. Of the 577 Michelin-starred restaurants in Japan, more than 200 of them are found in Tokyo (that’s almost double Paris!). Of these restaurants, a great number are dedicated solely to sushi, led by master chefs who have trained their whole lives to make your tastebuds tingle with the freshest morsels and your eyes widen with the most remarkable presentation.

Though you might assume the top sushi restaurants in Tokyo are out of your budgetary league, you’d be surprised at the level of affordability found at many esteemed restaurants around the city. Restaurant prices range from around $5 (USD) for a quick bite to around $300 for a luxurious meal. Lunch and dinner prices tend to be the same for everyday dishes, whether you’re slurping ramen noodles or shovelling donburi (rice bowls), but, at the more lavish restaurants, lunch tends to come in cheaper (good news for travellers on a budget). Expect to pay between $20-$50 per person for dinner, remembering that tipping is not necessary (and sometimes even considered rude).

Kyoto Restaurant

Photo: Alva Pratt

Most restaurants and stores generally accept credit cards, however, if dining at some of the city’s smaller establishments (such as within Shinjuku’s Drunkard’s Alley) or bartering with Japan street food vendors, you’ll want to have cash on hand for convenience. Don’t be put off if a restaurant only has bar seating, as this is a typical way of eating in Japan, allowing for more diners in a small space and providing an intimate setting where you can watch your chef meticulously craft each dish.

For a wide selection of quality foods, head down to the basement of any big department store and find yourself spoilt for choice. Known as ‘depachika’ (a portmanteau of ‘depato’ meaning department store and ‘chika’ meaning basement), these hotspots are great for finding hot foods and desserts under one roof, all beautifully presented or boxed for a quick getaway. Ginza is a great place to locate a depachika as this is a district saturated with huge, high-end stores such as Matsuya, Ginza Six and Mitsukoshi.

Photo: 奥尼尔-孙

Photo: Sharon Ang

Using Google Maps to navigate yourself through the city and its restaurants will make your life undeniably easier, allowing you to copy and paste Japanese characters with ease to find the more obscure eateries. English names won’t always be shown on the shopfront, so other diners’ images may sometimes be the best indication of whether you’ve found the right spot! Or, if you don’t have data, take screenshots before heading out.

The Japanese are generally quite forgiving to foreigners but knowing local dining etiquette will put you in good stead for better interactions. With chopsticks, in particular, there are a number of unwritten rules. The top three are: don’t pass food to another person from chopstick to chopstick; don’t stick your chopsticks vertically into a bowl of rice, and; don’t attempt to pull your plate or bowl with your chopsticks.

When eating sushi – though some argue that picking the sushi up with your hands is the proper way – play it safe by using chopsticks. To do so, level your sticks parallel to the table, grabbing the sushi on either side before dipping in soy sauce fish-side down and eating it in one mouthful, avoiding the urge to take multiple bites. Before trying each dish, cleanse your palate with pickled ginger and eat immediately after serving to avoid the fish drying out and the rice getting cold. You can defer to your chef when deciding how to eat your sushi, adding soy or garnish only if the dish doesn’t come pre-garnished.

Tokyo | Photo: Clay Banks

Mr. Hudson highlight image

Of the 577 Michelin-starred restaurants in Japan, more than 200 of them are found in Tokyo (that’s almost double Paris!)

Street food in Japan

Know your noodles before arriving in Japan and you’ll be pretty much set to order from any menu you see about town! No one’s expecting you to learn how to read hiragana before flying out (although this couldn’t hurt!) but at least knowing the names of the most common dishes and how to order them politely will make you look infinitely more in tune with the culture.

Takoyaki is among the most famous street food in Japan, often served from a stall touting a cute cartoon octopus. Takoyaki is made of small balls of chopped octopus, battered and cooked in a cast-iron mould and topped liberally with soy sauce and mayonnaise. Yakitori is another popular food in japan, ‘yaki’ meaning grilled and ‘tori’ meaning bird. These chicken skewers are brushed with soy glaze and grilled over charcoal, but, more generally, yakitori menus will also serve skewered vegetables and other meats – as well as offal – alongside copious amounts of beer at izakaya restaurants (Japan’s version of a gastropub) and speciality yakitori joints all over town.

Photo: Gabriel Forsberg

Photo: Richard Iwaki

When hungry for more substantial dishes, ramen is the national go-to for a filling and quick meal, street-side or at a restaurant. The secret to proper Japanese ramen is to cook the broth a day ahead of serving, adding eggs, meat and vegetables atop perfectly chewy noodles, before garnishing with nori (seaweed) and sesame. There are four types of broth commonly served in Tokyo; shoyu (soy-sauce based), shio (salt-based), tonkotsu (pork broth) and miso. Each variation has its own distinct umami taste, with modern ramen restaurants also varying with style such as cold noodle and tsukemen (dipping ramen). After ramen, udon is another thicker noodle to purse your lips around, chewier, slipperier and smoother than any ramen could ever be. Usually, udon is served in a hot dashi soup broth and topped with tempura (deep-fried vegetables or shrimp) or otherwise served cold and dipped in Japanese sauces such as mentsuyu. Variations include the beef udon, kitsune udon and yaki udon, as well as the more controversial fusion dish, udon carbonara. A third noodle option is soba, a noodle made from healthier buckwheat flour and served with low-calorie dipping sauce.

Besides noodles, you’ll want to try okonomiyaki, a pancake/omelette dish originally from Osaka and adapted for Tokyo’s Samurai tastebuds (with the addition of dashi) in the monjayaki variation. Both dishes feature cabbage, shallot and pork belly slices combined into a flour batter and fried on a hot plate right in front of your eyes, before being drizzled in a sweet and sour sauce. Alongside many set menus in Japan, diners will also be served miso soup, a healthy addition to breakfast, lunch or dinner, with or without rice.

Photo: Svetlana Gumerova

Photo: Yoav Aziz

Popular food in Japan

Setting the bar ever higher, we move past simple Japanese snacks and onto some of the nation’s more esteemed dishes, commonly served at specialised restaurants with master chefs at the helm. Classics of the culture are sushi and sashimi, the latter referring to sliced raw fish without rice. Common types of sushi include onigiri (rice wrapped in nori) maki sushi (sushi wrapped in nori), oshi sushi (pressed sushi) and gunkan-maki (‘battleship sushi’), which all feature vinegar-flavoured rice. All types are ubiquitous around our foodies hub of Tokyo but can vary hugely in price.

With a focus on seafood, you cannot leave Japan without also trying unagi, the Japanese word for eel. Unagi is usually sliced and grilled before being added to a small rice ball (unagi nigiri), bed of rice (unadon) or served alone with salt (shirayaki). Other ways to eat eel in Japan include snacking on its deep-fried bones with alcohol (eel hone senbei) or slurping a broth flavoured with eel liver (kimosui).

As excited as we are to try authentic sushi, don’t pass up the other dining styles Japan is known for. If the weather is cold, shabu shabu is a real treat, the Japanese version of hotpot so-called for the sound your chopsticks make when flash-cooking slices of meat in broth. Though individual hotpot is not uncommon, a more sociable style is to share a steaming broth at the centre of your table, stirring in plates of raw vegetables, meat, seafood and other treats for an interactive and heart-warming meal. Yakiniku then is just as warming, albeit a little smokier, allowing diners to sit around a communal BBQ to grill their own meats, vegetables and unique dishes such as dango (savoury skewered glutinous rice balls) which turn deliciously squidgy on the grill.

Photo: Alec Zhan

Photo: Alec Zhan

If you like the idea of grilling at the table but don’t want to cook for yourself, then teppanyaki may appeal. This style of iron-griddle cooking is influenced by the West but the Japanese make it decidedly their own, artfully preparing each dish on an open griddle to showcase the performative flair and cooking skills of seasoned teppanyaki chefs. Tokyo (and the rest of the Kanto region) is known for its more upscale teppanyaki dining style, while Kansai is said to be more casual. One last style of dining to mention is kaiseki, a multi-course dining experience everybody must try at least once. Each dish in the kaiseki is served sequentially, allowing diners to savour each bite while appreciating the elaborate presentation and perfect balance of flavours. While kaiseki doesn’t come cheap, it’s a testament to Japanese cuisine in all its precision and quality.

Save room for dessert however because Japan has sweets in store. A brilliant take-home souvenir would be either mochi (glutinous rice balls stuffed with sweet fillings) or matcha (green tea powder). Both are easily found in Japan, the latter often kept in a little jar at your restaurant’s table, allowing you to spoon some into a cup and mix with hot water (note: do not confuse with wasabi paste!) To try matcha tea for real, consider experiencing a matcha tea ceremony, or, for a little modern indulgence, treat yourself to some matcha ice cream.

More than just mochi and matcha, Japan’s wagashi (traditional sweets) menu can keep your sugars lifted throughout the day. Of the most popular desserts to try, taiyaki is most recognizable, made from a cake batter moulded into the shape of a fish (or other animals and cartoon characters), filled with an assortment of flavours such as red bean paste (azuki), custard, chocolate or cheese. Dorayaki meanwhile is a sweet pancake sandwich filled with azuki. Though not so traditional, western-style crepes are also popular in Tokyo, especially in the trendy Harajuku area, while Japanese breads such as melon pan and anpan are ‘conbini’ (convenience store) breakfast staples.

Photo: Andrew Haimerl Andrewnef

Tokyo's foodie neighbourhoods

It’s down to the nitty-gritty now, which is where to find the best affordable sushi Tokyo has to offer. First, we’ll look at the specialities of each neighbourhood, covering seafood and international flavours, followed by a rundown of top sushi restaurants, at all price points.

First, we go to Ginza, which – beyond its luxury fashion stores and depachikas – hosts an impressive number of Michelin-starred sushi and soba restaurants. Two out of three of Tokyo’s three Michelin-star sushi restaurants can be found here (alongside myriad two and one-star joints). If you find reserving a table at top restaurants such as Sukibayashi Jiro or Sushi Yoshitake to be near impossible, the high-quality alternatives nearby make the district a firm choice for dinner.

When searching for the best sushi in Shinjuku and Shibuya you should know that these two areas are regarded as the city’s go-to areas for night-time revelry, particularly among salarymen after a weary day’s work. That makes these areas perfect for finding a drinking hole or late-night bite to eat, led by ramen joints and smoky yakitori restaurants centred on alcohol. The atmosphere is really what you come to Shinjuku for, particularly in Showa-era drinking spots such as the Golden Gai and Omoide Yokocho (Drunkard’s Alley) which pack hundreds of tiny bars into small alleyways, allowing hardcore fans of yakitori and beer to get closely acquainted with the locals.

Those on the hunt for monjayaki (Tokyo’s okonomiyaki variation) Tsukishima neighbourhood has you covered. Numerous locations along Tsukishima Monja Street serve up this Kanto delicacy, their communal tables kitted out with hot griddles ready for you to fry your own monja and various other dishes such as yakisoba, though some places will do it for you.

Shinjuku, Japan | Photo: Josh Wilburne

If you want to experience the broader (spicier) flavours of Asia, Shin-Okubo is the place to be. Known at the Korean corner of Tokyo, this district has a wide selection of Korean hotpot, all-you-can-eat BBQ and dak galbi (spicy chicken stirfry) restaurants interspersed with all the K-pop paraphernalia to satisfy Japan’s BTS army. When dining here, remember that Korean cuisine runs hot, and side dishes such as kimchi and crystal noodles are complimentary. Other dishes to try while in Shin-Okubo include Korean fried chicken, jijimi (Korean pancake) and kimbap (akin to a long sushi roll filled with marinated meat, pickled radish and sliced vegetables).

Ryogoku may seem like an unassuming residential area but its meals come in epic proportions. At the heart of Tokyo’s sumo scene, Ryoguku is well-equipped for diners with big appetites and it is here you’ll find specialised restaurants serving ancient dishes such as sumo stew, chanko nabe. The base of this stew is light and healthy then packed with protein and vegetables for a muscle-building, high-energy meal. The large portions are made with fighters in mind, though visitors can order smaller portions too ahead of watching sumo training and annual tournaments held in the area.

You may have heard that Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market is no more, and while this has been true since 2018, the area remains at the heart of the city’s seafood scene. Many of the inner market traders and tuna auctioneers have long since upped and relocated to Toyusu Market, but the outer market and the bond that local restaurants have with Tsukiji traders both remain. The seafood you try at sushi restaurants and izakayas across the city still comes as fresh as ever, but if you really want an authentic seafood experience, you can still visit food vendors lining the outer market or travel further to Toyusu for the daily auction.

Photo: Joshua Ang

Photo: Beth Macdonald

The best sushi in Tokyo

Set apart from the rest of the world, Tokyo sushi is something worth waiting for. Besides waiting in line at the best sushi restaurants in foodies Tokyo, you may need to be a tad savvier to secure a top table, as some restaurants don’t accept walk-ins. Having a Japanese friend or hotel concierge willing to call ahead and make a reservation for you can be extremely helpful, especially when dealing with local eateries that may or may not have an English-speaking staff. Before you can do that, however, you need to know where you want to eat!

One of the top restaurants in foodies Japan, made famous by the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi is Sukiyabashi Jiro, a three-Michelin-star establishment in Ginza serving Edomae cuisine. Luckily, you won’t need help to figure out the menu here as Sukiyabashi Jiro only serves one thing – an omakase tasting menu consisting of 20 pieces of beautifully-arranged sushi, followed by green tea to cleanse the palate. Jiro’s son also has a restaurant of his own – Sukiyabashi Jiro Roppongi – where seats may be slightly easier to reserve. Another three Michelin-star sensation in Ginza is Sushi Yoshitake, run by master sushi chef Masahiro Yoshitake. An homage to both past and future Edomae dining, Yoshitake has his own take on traditional techniques, buying his fish direct from the ship and preparing his rice with red vinegar.

One of the longest-running sushi establishments in the city, Ginza Sushi Ko Honten is still a solid option for sushi in Ginza, blessed with one Michelin star and oodles of prestige. Equally famous, Ginza Kyubey is the most upscale of sushi restaurants, where Ginza patrons can unwind after a hard day browsing luxury labels.

Photo: Takedahrs

Booked all year round in a business district of Chūō, Nihonbashi Kakigaracho Sugita plays notoriously hard to get, owing to the magic of chef Takaagi Sugita who turns simple seafood, such as iwashi roll (sardine roll) and kinmedai nigiri (alfonsino nigiri), into something otherworldly. Kioicho Mitani is another spot near the Imperial Palace renowned for being difficult to get a seat, but try you must because the delicate sushi here is some of the best you’ll ever have, paired with fantastic wines and sake. The akami (lean tuna) and uni in dashi (sea urchin in broth) can’t be beaten, with chef Mitani’s signature style being to serve sushi directly into your hand to preserve the temperature of the rice. For something more low-key, Hashiguchi is one of the best-kept secrets on the edge of Akasaka Palace with a no-photography rule. That’s a shame however because who would believe chef Hashiguchi’s dancing sushi without video evidence!

A former Tsukiji icon serving sushi breakfasts, Sushi Dai now lures its loyal following to the slightly further afield Toyusu Market for some of the freshest (and most reasonably priced) sushi you’ll find in Tokyo. As for lunch in Roppongi, Sushi Saito is a name to consider, though it may take months before you can secure a reservation, Sushi Saito’s lunch course is a tender treat, featuring high-quality vinegared rice in every dish. Fukuzushi is a nice nearby alternative for diners who don’t wish to wait, family-run for over 40 years in a spacious location. Fukuzushi is great for nigiri-loving groups and even has a bar and lounge for pre-meets. Hinatomaru takes the fast lunch concept even further with its stand-and-eat sushi bar that’s perfect for tight budgets in Asakusa. Two more brilliant cost-value spots in Tokyo include the omakase-only sets at the central Manten Sushi and Tsukiji-based Sushi Sei Honten.

Tokyo | Photo: Audrey Mari

Photo: Alec Zhan

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Booked all-year round, Nihonbashi Kakigaracho Sugita plays notoriously hard to get, owing to the magic of chef Takaagi Sugita who turns simple seafood, such as iwashi roll and kinmedai nigiri into something otherworldly

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