Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on March 2008

Photos courtesy of Rainbow Kitchen

Photos courtesy of Rainbow Kitchen

It would be easy to walk past the dingy exterior of Rainbow Kitchen without giving it a second look. Doing so, however, would mean missing one of Tokyo’s best hamburgers.

The rusty corrugated metal and rough bleached wood that make up the façade are a carefully designed ruse. This funky little spot looks like it’s been rusticating for decades, but in fact Rainbow Kitchen is only going on six.

Owner/chef Kotomi Sakaguchi has a thing for unpretentious Americana, thus the decor of sun-faded Pepsi and Coca-Cola signs, pine plank flooring, and vintage ’70s illuminated menu sign with crooked slip-in plastic letters, the type that has graced countless greasy spoon diners across all 50 states.

But Sakaguchi also has a thing for simple, great-tasting food. She plays her industrial-size flat-top griddle like a Hammond B3 organ, turning out juicy, soul-satisfying fare and giving a hamburger the respect it deserves.

The bacon cheeseburger (¥1,100) is my current heartthrob. Each hand-formed pure-beef patty weighs in around 115 grams. Briefly seared, it’s covered with a metal bell for concentrated frying. A row of five petite slices of bacon are laid out to sizzle. The halves of a sturdy, specially-baked bun are set to properly toast, front and back, on the griddle. Then Sakaguchi readies the accoutrements: a crisp bed of iceberg lettuce, a slice of ripe tomato, a dollop of mayo and another of her housemade special sauce, and finally, the touch that puts this burger into my hall of fame: a spoonful of slow-roasted caramelized onions.

Under the bell, the almost-ready meat is given its robe of cheddar cheese. After a good melt, the burger is quickly assembled and served with a small mound of curly fries as cute as pigtails, a dill pickle, and those linchpins of diner food—red and yellow squeeze bottles of ketchup and mustard. Slip the sandwich into a wax-paper sheath and dig in with both hands.

Photos courtesy of Rainbow Kitchen

Photos courtesy of Rainbow Kitchen

Twelve other burgers are on the menu, such as the monstrous double cheeseburger (¥1,400), the Hawaiian with grilled pineapple (¥1,000), or the “Samurai” with roasted naga-negi, sesame and teriyaki sauce (¥1,050). You can also customize your burger with toppings such as avocado, spinach, a fried egg, or chili, or with sauces like BBQ, tartar, or Thai sweet chili. Other sandwiches include a BLT with egg or avocado (¥950), roasted pork and leek (¥1100) and tuna and avocado (¥1,000).

Sakaguchi also turns out some 20 side dishes, each carefully prepared and presented. Under my belt so far are a small order of crisp, finger-lickin’ onion rings (¥400); a very fine cup of chili beans, savory with roasted onion and spicy notes of cumin (¥500); and a nicely crafted green salad with Caesar dressing (¥700). In the evening, Rainbow Kitchen slips into bar mode with an expanded menu, single malt whisky, beer, shochu, and a full range of cocktails.

Sendagi is the starting point for exploring Yanaka, one of Tokyo’s most picturesque neighborhoods. Be sure to make Rainbow Kitchen part of your itinerary.