Upon touchdown in Tokyo, most travelers seek out the nearest sushi spot or noodle hut to get their fix of local flavor. But there is so much more to Japan’s food scene than just bowls of ramen.
The island nation is home to a variety of craveable cuisines that are heavy on high-quality meats, vegetables and deep, delicious umami. Step outside your comfort zone and seek out these other iconic Japanese dishes next time you find yourself in the capital.
This breaded, deep-fried pork (sometimes chicken) cutlet is a savory delight usually served with rice and shredded cabbage.
The undisputed master of tonkatsu in Tokyo is Maisen. Established in 1965, this classic eatery serves high-quality pork and chicken katsu, fried shrimp, soba noodles, salads and sushi. Everything is prepared well, but the tonkatsu is not to be missed.
Maisen has outlets all over Southeast Asia, but nothing beats dining at the flagship in Aoyama. Delivering quality and atmosphere, the original location is housed in an old Japanese sento (public bathhouse) and comes complete with bathhouse tiles and fittings.
Literally translated as “grilled chicken,” this quintessential Japanese pub food consists of skewered fare cooked over a charcoal fire, akin to a Middle Eastern kebab. Typically made with poultry, yakitori often includes vegetables and other proteins as well.
Customers sit at a counter sipping beer or sake as the skewers are delivered hot from the grill. A pot is provided for discarding used sticks.
For succulent yakitori in speakeasy surroundings, head for sleek The Prince Park Tower Tokyo in Shiba Koen. Torishiba is the luxury hotel’s basement yakitori counter, a cozy, laid-back space outfitted with comfortable seats — a rarity among these classic restaurants that typically only have wooden stools.
In addition to the eatery’s juicy chicken, you won’t want to miss its fabulous bacon-wrapped asparagus and gingko nut skewers, either.
For something a little different, try this hearty dish where chicken and egg come together to create a warm bowl of comfort.
The birthplace of this unique Japanese staple, Tamahide is a 250-plus-year-old restaurant cooking up some of the best bowls around. The historic building looks the part — an elegant old structure in Tokyo’s downtown Ningyocho district — and the oyakodon here is like nowhere else: creamy golden eggs and generous chunks of local chicken from Chiba prefecture.
As with all the best places, there is almost always a line around the corner, but it’s well worth the wait.
This flashy Japanese-style of grilling has become famous around the world, but none of the imitations can beat the original. Traditional teppanyaki uses only the highest quality meats, seafood and vegetables seared hot and fast over a flat cooktop before your eyes. Belly up to the table surrounding the grill with your whole crew or a few strangers — this communal style of dining is very popular in Japan.
For one of the best experiences around, try Keyakizaka within Roppongi’s Grand Hyatt Tokyo. The Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star hotel’s teppanyaki restaurant offers multi-course menus where the entire meal is cooked on the metal plate in front of you, from appetizers through dessert.
But the standout offering at this stylish venue is Keyakizaka’s own brand of melt-in-your-mouth wagyu beef from Akikawa Valley. These cows are fed a diet of superfoods — cacao, quinoa, blueberries and seaweed — making for a healthy cut with its own distinctive flavor.