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The Best Types of Restaurants to Experience Traditional Japanese Cuisine, Tokyo

Updated: Dec 4, 2023

Tokyo is a haven for food enthusiasts, offering a remarkable variety of Japanese restaurants that showcase their rich culinary heritage. From traditional sushi bars to lively izakayas and refined kaiseki ryori establishments, we will take you on a journey through the different types of Japanese restaurants you can experience in throughout Japan, especially Tokyo.

Japanese cuisine is surprising diverse. Whether you like raw fish, grilled meat, noodles or rice, Japan offers a great variety of food to satisfy your appetite. In this restaurant guide, we picked the best types of restaurants to eat in, giving you a taste of Japanese culinary tradition. Japanese restaurants tend to be specialized, by type of food as well as by presentation.

You can also visit yokocho alleyways. These narrow lanes are packed with tiny eateries and traditional drinking establishments, offering a unique glimpse into Tokyo's vibrant nightlife. These lively alleys are located throughout the city, with notable ones like Omoide Yokocho in Shinjuku and Harmonica Yokocho in Kichijoji. Here, you can indulge in street food, yakitori, and a variety of traditional dishes, while immersing yourself in the bustling energy of Tokyo's nightlife.

We have been traveling to Japan for sixteen years, as our son and his family live outside of Tokyo. We have witnessed the quantity and quality of non traditional restaurants increase substantially through the years. On our most recent visit, we ate wonderful wood fired Naples style pizza and very tasty Mexican food as well as Thai and Indian Food. We also ate in a contemporary Japanese Meat Restaurant. To get a true taste of traditional Japanese cuisine visit some of the types of restaurants listed below. One of my favorite websites for getting specific restaurant recommendations for Tokyo is Savor Japan.

Sushi Go Round Restuarants

Tokyo is known for its outstanding sushi bars, where masterful chefs craft delicate and fresh sushi creations. These intimate establishments, such as Sukiyabashi Jiro and Sushi Saito, offer an authentic sushi experience. You can witness the precision and artistry as the chefs expertly prepare each piece of sushi, showcasing the finest ingredients like maguro (tuna), uni (sea urchin), and hamachi (yellowtail)

One of our grandson's favorite meals is a visit to Sushi Go Round sometimes called Sushi Train or Conveyor Belt Sushi. It is a fun sushi restaurant to eat in when visiting Japan. In Japanese, these restaurants are called Kaiten-zushi. You simply choose your sushi rolls and sashimi right from the moving belt. When you complete your meal, your server will count your plates to determine the cost of your meal. You can order soups, ramen, and desserts off of a menu as well. These items arrive at your table by conveyer belt. Typically they offer high quality sushi at a reasonable price. You might try Uobei Shibuya Dogenzaka or Mawashi Sushi Katsu Seibu Shibuya both restaurants are in the Shibuya Section of Tokyo. You can also try outstanding sushi at the stalls and restaurants in Tsukiji Market.


Yakiniku Type Restaurants

We love Yakiniku, the Japanese version of Korean BBQ. It is different from Yakatori which is grilled meat on skewers, prepared by a chef or vendor. Yakuniku is a highly interactive dining experience. Many Yakiniku restaurants offer private dining rooms where you can grill your own meat. If meat isn’t your protein of choice, you can opt for seafood and fresh vegetables. The raw ingredients are brought to your table and following a few basic instructions you are left to cook your own dinner. If you need assistance, there is typically a call button that summons your waiter. You can find Yakiniku almost anywhere in Japan. Some good restaurants in Tokyo include, Tanaka Shoten Kaiunbashidori in Narita and Rokakusan in Shibuya.There are so many things to eat in Japan and Yakiniku, a meat lover’s dream, is a must!

What is an Izakaya Restaurant?

Family Dinner at Izakaya Restaurant in Japan
Izakaya Style Japanese Restaurant

Izakayas are traditional Japanese pubs where locals gather to enjoy small, flavorful dishes alongside drinks. They offer a the lively and casual atmosphere while indulging in a variety of delicious tapas-style dishes. Be sure to try yakitori or gyoza, and wash it all down with a glass of wine, sake or Japanese beer. Torikizoku and Gonpachi Nishiazabu are popular Izakaya Restaurants worth visiting in Tokyo.

Sashimi is another very popular Japanese dish. This traditional Japanese dish is raw fish cut into small pieces and served with soy sauce, wasabi and ginger. The best sashimi is when it’s extra fresh. Sashimi is available at Izyakas as well as sushi restaurants.

Another dish worth trying at an Izakaya restaurant is Tamagoyaki, often eaten as a side dish in Japanese meals. It’s a bit like an omelette, but the cooking method is a little different. The Japanese word literally means grilled egg. The taste is sweet and eggy. It is especially good with soy sauce.

Where can you get Yakitori?

Yakitori is a Japanese word meaning ‘yaki’– to grill, and ‘tori’- bird. Chicken or beef are skewered and grilled over a charcoal barbecue. There are choices for vegetarians as well, including skewered mushrooms, asparagus, peppers, leeks and onion. Yakitori are a classic Japanese food. It is served in Izakayas, as well as dedicated Yakitori restaurants. They are good as a snack, but also make a convenient and inexpensive meal. At Yakitori restaurants, the best place to sit is up at the bar where you can watch the chefs at work. Grab a beer, wine or a sake and graze your way through the menu. Yakitori restaurants are great for families. The vibe is informal and the service is quick. Another option is to visit one of Tokyo's Yakitori allys. Experience the lively atmosphere and mouthwatering aromas at popular spots like Toritake near Shibuya Station or Yurakucho Yakitori Alley near Yurakucho Station.

What is Tonkatsu?

This dish came into popularity at the turn of the 20th century. It reflects the European Influences in Japanese cuisine: You can choose between the leaner hire (tenderloin) or the fattier rosu (loin), both were priced at 4700 yen, when we visited this summer. No matter which one you end up ordering, Tonkatus is an irresistible combination of a crispy exterior and moist interior that is absolutely delicious. It is a good dish to start with when introducing tentative eaters to Japanese cuisine. We had Tonkatsu at Tonkatsu Muneta, in Tokyo.

Are there Tempura Restaurants?

Dinner at a tempra Restaurant in Tokyo
Tempura Shrimp and Vegetable

Another great dish for tentative eaters is Tempura. Many of us have tried it long before we visit Japan. It is made by dipping ingredients such as fresh vegetables, mushrooms and seafood into a light batter and deep frying them It can be more of an art than you might think. The best Tempura chefs spend many years learning how to make it. They learn to mix the perfect batter, dip the items so that the right amount of batter surrounds the item, get the temperature of the oil correct and cook it in the oil until it’s ready. Light, crisp, not greasy and the ingredient inside cooked to perfection. The best place to try tempura are restaurants specialized in the dish, known as tempura-ya. Tempura-ya can be pricey restaurants, where customers sit at the counter and watch the chef prepare one tempura piece after the other. You will also see tempura on the menus at Izakayas.

Ramen Restuarants

Dinner at a Traditional Ramen Restaurant in Tokyo
Traditional Japanese Ramen

Ramen is Japanese comfort food. Tokyo boasts an abundance of renowned Ramen shops. Each shop offers its own unique take on this soul warming dish. Ramen is a noodle dish meant to be slurped up noisily and usually features a delicious, meat-based broth that has been cooked overnight or longer. Whether you prefer the creamy tonkotsu (pork) broth at Ichiran or the tangy shoyu (soy sauce based broth) ramen at Afuri, Tokyo's ramen scene caters to all tastes. Customize your bowl with toppings like tender chashu (braised pork), nori (seaweed), and ajitama (marinated soft-boiled egg). Ramen in Tokyo is an adventure, with its rich and flavorful broth, perfectly cooked noodles, and an array of toppings that will leave your taste buds happy.

What is Japanses Style Curry?

Dinner at a traditional Cruury House
Tradional Japanenes Curry

Japanese curry is a popular dish in Japan. Curry itself was introduced to Japan during the 19th century by the British who were in control of India at the time. Japanese curry has been adapted to Japanese tastes, being more sweet than spicy. Japanese curry is usually served over rice but can be served over noodles. It’s usually got some sort of meat, fried and breadcrumbed chicken or pork cutlets. It also contains carrots and potatoes making a stew-like dish. One of the most popular types of curry in Japan is Katsu Curry. This is a fried pork cutlet with curry sauce on rice. Japanese curry is considered to be a comfort food by many Japanese.

What type of Japanese Restaurant is Kaiseki Ryori?

Kaiseki Ryori is the epitome of Japanese haute cuisine. It is a carefully curated multiple course meal that showcases seasonal ingredients. The chef creates the pre-set menu based on his talents and seasonally available ingredients. These elegant and refined dining experiences harmonize flavors, textures, and presentations, offering an immersive culinary journey. For a Michelin starred Kaiseki Ryori experience in Tokyo, check out Ishikawa in Kagurazaka and RyuGin in Roppongi. These are both known for their exceptional kaiseki ryori offerings. Meals run about $400 per person plus gratuity.

Tokyo's culinary landscape is a treasure trove of Japanese gastronomic delights, offering a diverse range of dining experiences. From the artistry of Sushi bars to the conviviality of Izakayas, the comfort of Ramen, the refinement of Kaiseki Ryori, and the sizzling delights of Yakitori stands, each type of Japanese restaurant in Tokyo provides a unique and memorable dining experience. Exploring these establishments allows you to truly immerse yourself in the culture and flavors of Japan, making your visit to Tokyo a gastronomic adventure.

Looking for more information about visiting Japan, check out these other articles:

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