Finding a decent hamburger to instantaneously satisfy your wanton cravings for a taste of home is not a difficult task in Tokyo, what with all the new innovative “gourmet” burger cafés popping up left and right. In fact, the city has witnessed an explosion of newly-established eateries with an astounding eight new burger cafés opening last year in Shibuya alone. This was second only to the continued popularity of maid cafés and pancake cafés. (Let’s just hope last year’s forlorn attempt to introduce “pancake burgers” by several Japanese fast food franchises remains forgotten!) Rather, the real task of late has been to find out which of these new burger cafés make the grade and deserve the right to truly be called “gourmet” burger joints.
Every year, I organize a “Tokyo Burger Run” event with friends to search the nooks and crannies of this metropolis for tasty burgers. To make an outing of it, I challenge my friends to eat five burgers in one day. We call it “binge burgering.” In the five years we’ve held this tour, however, only two people have ever completed the entire challenge—fries included, of course—and lived to tell the tale.
Starting from the morning, we map out a route to hit five different burger cafés. Walking across town after each meal helps ease the burgers down and allows for more mobility through the Tokyo side streets. When planning the excursion, I try to avoid the big burger houses and major franchises; I prefer to focus on the smaller, privately-run shops, which have more personality and better service. Not only do these smaller shops serve up an honest burger, they also offer the small, intangible extras that make these places endearing. For a taste of a Tokyo Burger Run, here are a few recommended places and the awards we give them:
- “A Burger By Any Other Name” Award goes to W.P. GOLD Burger in Shibuya. Naming the burgers after famous Hollywood icons, such as Whoopi GoldBURGER and Kevin BACON is a nice touch, but behind the naming lies a true quality burger grilled to perfection at an open counter. 1-9-4 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 03-3407-0232. Nearest station: Shibuya.
- “Less Oxygen to My Brain” Award goes to Munch’s Burger Shack. After having a regular burger, go for the milkshakes at this place. Nowhere else can you find a milkshake so thick that it resists crawling up your straw no matter how hard you slurp. 2-6-11 Shiba, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-6435-3166. Nearest station: Shibakōen or Mita. http://munchs.jp
- “Five-Star Service” Award goes to the Star Diner in Toritsu-Daigaku. Face it: eating a good burger can get extremely messy. The very friendly staff offer frequent oshibori (wet towels) throughout your meal. 1-2-6 Nakane, Meguro-ku. Tel: 03-5726-8397. Nearest station: Toritsu-Daigaku.
- “Is This Your Living Room?” Award goes to Port of Call in Shibuya. With its laid-back, beach-chic homey décor, this café offers a solid burger selection prepared by a surf-boarder turned burger-server. They also offer a primo bottled beer selection. 1-3 Uguisudanicho, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 03-3461-3463. Nearest station: Shibuya.
- “Worth Every Yen” Award goes to Sasa Grill & Burger Club. Nestled in a ritzy area of Daikanyama, this shop only offers very pricey burgers, perhaps too rich for wallet-weary customers, but worth their weight in gold for taste and flavor.
2-21-15 Ebisunishi, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 03-3770-1951. www.hijiriya.co.jp/daikanyama/
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