CITY GUIDES | Tokyo

CITY GUIDES | Tokyo

How to tackle Tokyo's neon-drenched Shibuya district bite by bite.

October 3, 2019
CITY GUIDES | Tokyo

CITY GUIDES | Tokyo

How to tackle Tokyo's neon-drenched Shibuya district bite by bite.

October 3, 2019
By Richie Nakano

Tokyo sprawls. It sprawls in a way that cities like Los Angeles and Houston just can’t. There’s a density to the city that just can't be explained by looking at a picture on Instagram. The buildings are so tightly packed together, with multiple floors of bars going up, restaurants in the basements, and street food stands out front that it's no for the faint of heart.

If you’re going to tackle Tokyo, you have to do it piece by piece. If it has a throbbing, beating heart, it's the awe-inspiring, neon-drenched crosswalk in Shibuya. Shibuya has it all; shopping, cat cafés, and more food than you could ever sample. Dipping and diving down the back alleys all day will stir your hunger in no time.

Let's Go

Gyoza Lou: Sometimes, you just need to sit down and crush three dozen dumplings. Right in the heart of Tokyo’s ultra-trendy Harajuku neighborhood is Gyoza Lou. The restaurant is utilitarian in its design, but that doesn’t matter. You’re here to restore yourself so you can tackle the glorious chaos going on outside. Our pro-tip: focus on the dumplings, and order a lot. They’ll fill you up, and in a group, they go very fast.

Fuujin: Ramen culture in Japan is different. You won't see a bunch of sweaty food bloggers gramming their bowls there. You line up, you sit down, you eat, you GTFO. Fuujin, a compact ramen counter in Shibuya is no different. Its busy lunch service means you line up and wait, and once seated the clock is ticking. Order the tsukemen; it's the closest thing in the world to eating a triple-decker cheeseburger, or an entire sausage and mushroom pizza that there is. The broth is a dense umami-rich gravy, the noodles so thick they veer into udon territory. Once you’re done they give you a pitcher of hot water to add to the “broth” so you can drink it all down.

Ichiran: Yes, we just covered ramen. And yes, there is an Ichiran in Brooklyn. But there’s something that feels cool and dangerous about descending the steps from street level. Once you’re down there it's a little disorienting. You’ll be led into one of two narrow hallways filled with individual stalls (think church confessionals with no doors) where your entire customer experience will be conducted with a faceless attendant through a tiny door that slides open and closed. And while this experience is interesting enough on its own, the ramen is a masterclass in balance and explosive flavor.

Birdland: Is Birdland easy to find? No. (It’s located in a train station in Ginza, across from the famed sushi restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro). Is it worth the journey? Absolutely. Birdland is a dark, very hot yakitori spot that almost exclusively features chicken. Get the omakase and a cold drink, and prepare to go on a journey. Marvel at the intense heat coming off of the binchotan burning brightly in front of you, and let your cares go. The chicken, rice, and egg dish they serve last is like a warm hug.

Butagumi: Tonkatsu isn’t a food that’s considered fancy really, but an old house with a moon-shaped window in Nishi-Azabu is the pinnacle of the experience. Think iberico pork katsu, heritage pork katsu, aged pork belly katsu, etc., etc. You can customize your experience from the thickness of the cut to the lean to fat ratio, it's is all up to you. The accompanying cabbage is paper-thin and ice cold, and the Japanese mustard is the perfect foil to the richness of the pork. You won't be the same after you eat here.

Chatei Hatou: It’s unusual for a coffee shop to not open until 10am, but Hatou plays by its own rules. Tucked down a side street in Shibuya, Hatou has been open for over 30 years, and it shows. There’s a lived-in quality to the place, from its dark wood interior to its vintage glass and flatware. You’re going to need cheesecake to wash down the demitasu, an espresso shot made by extracting a thimble of coffee over the course of 45 minutes. The end result will shake you to your core. Sweet, silky, yet rich and deeply bitter. Fourty five minutes is a brutal wait for caffeine, but Hatou makes it all worth it.

Omotesando Koffee: Everything that Hatou is, Omotesdando isn’t. The walk up leads you through a quiet, tiny garden and into a minimalist space that feels more like a museum than a coffee shop. Behind the counter is a man in a lab coat, carefully crafting outrageously good coffee. No, you don’t have to wait 45 minutes here, but take time to sit in the garden and soak it in. Omotesando is one of the rare quiet places in Tokyo where you can recharge your “tolerance for all things urban” battery.

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