1-3-13 Shimoochiai, Shinjuku-ku
Thick slices of chashu (braised pork) with a hefty serving of thick noodles, bean sprouts, cabbage, and a spoonful of minced garlic—this is the usual order at Ramen Ikedaya, a fast-food ramen spot inspired by Kyoto’s famous Ramen Jiro, the latter known for its fatty pork broth and shockingly big portions. Line up before the shop opens, or you’ll find yourself waiting for up to an hour, the smell of the thick, flavorful broth wafting down the sidewalk intensifying your hunger. In true Jiro fashion, purchase a ticket on the vending machine before taking a seat. Don’t forget to yell out “Yasai mashi, ninniku mashi” (extra vegetables, extra garlic) at no additional fee to get the most out of your meal ticket. Be sure to choose the right noodle weight on the ticket machine, else you’ll leave unsatisfied—or stuffed.
2-14-8 Takadanobaba, Shinjuku-ku 3F
Loved by Japanese and foreign expats alike, this Indian-Nepalese restaurant serves up comforting curry sets for lunch, then again at dinner: Keema, butter chicken, spinach, dal, sag, and mutton. Included are a drink, a side of rice, salad, and all-you-can-eat naan and desserts. And, students are privileged to a ¥100 discount if you’re looking for the best lunch deal around. Rich, fulfilling, and authentic, this affordable South Asian spot hits the cost-performance mark. It’s also a spacious locale for grabbing lunch in big groups located just a block away from the Waseda Exit of Takadanobaba Station.
Chengdu Girl Chinese Saurkraut Fish
1-27-6 Takadanobaba Shinjuku-ku 5F
While the name is difficult to translate from the original Chinese characters, this restaurant is a credible venue for Sichuan-style cuisine. Young crowds flock here for the fashionable decor, as well as favorites like mochi-filled lotus root, stir-fried squid and pickled red pepper, and “Saliva Chicken” (mouth-watering chicken), a spicy appetizer made more tantalizing by the red chili oil and tender chicken slices. Besides the authentic cooking, the menu offers an array of imported Chinese beverages for those missing the tastes of home.
Shwe Htar Ni
2-27 Takadanobaba, Shinjuku-ku B1
Walk down into this basement-level Myanmar restaurant-karaoke bar, and be greeted by booming Burmese pop songs and a chorus of lively diners out on their lunch break. The brick exterior would have you think this is an old, outdated eatery, but the interiors are surprisingly sleek, if not that characteristically tacky look of a karaoke establishment. But the decor isn’t under critique here—the food speaks for itself. Lunch sets include a side salad, a drink, and slices of lemon to balance the spice. And spicy the food is! Non-Burmese visitors receive a fair warning from the chef: “It is very spicy, are you sure you want to order this dish?” For the unfamiliar, Burmese food is similar to Indian, Nepalese, Thai, and Chinese cuisine in that it offers a wide variety of soups, curries, noodle dishes, rice plates, and various fried sides. Beef is a rarity due to religious reasons in the Burmese culture, but at Shwe Htar Ni, you’ll find seafood (crab, shrimp) and chicken dishes aplenty. A comparable Burmese restaurant is Nong Inlay, if you don’t feel like taking the six-minute trek from the station to Shwe Htar Ni.
Quick and cheap eats
Banh Mi Xin Chao
4-13-9 Takadanobaba, Shinjuku-ku
This restaurant is as authentic as they come—it was opened up by two Vietnamese brothers in 2016. Order from the to-go window or claim one of the six counter seats inside the tiny store to get your fix from this beloved Takadanobaba lunchroom. All the sandwiches are under ¥1,000, and, if you’re craving something refreshing, try one of their fruity smoothies or teas to wash down your Vietnamese sandwich. Order their signature Banh Mi Cha (liver pate sandwich) or stick to your grilled chicken if you want something familiar. Slather on the hot sauce available at the counter, and savor the generous serving of fragrant cilantro with each crunchy bite. Looking to sit down and share your meal with a group of friends? Walk a few steps over to their restaurant location, just around the corner from their hole-in-the-wall spot.
Island Burgers Takadanobaba
4-10-13 Takadanobaba, Shinjuku-ku
Don’t let the name fool you—Island Burgers may have an easy, breezy quality to its menu and decor, but their burgers are classified as gourmet. The house specialty is the Island Burger (fluffy brioche buns, fried egg, a slice of homemade bacon, two beef patties, lettuce, tomato,
cheese, and onion rings) which you can customize with your choice of toppings and dipping sauces. Other mains are divided into five burger types: standard BBQ, avocado, pineapple, teriyaki, and tartar. Soups, salads, and fried sides are available if you’re especially hungry after a long day of studying or working. Come here alone to admire the renovated traditional Japanese bar or with a group of friends to pass an hour or two. They offer a drink menu with non-alcoholic options and a classic alcoholic lineup: beer, highball, sours, and cocktails.
1-33-13 Takadanobaba, Shinjuku-ku
You won’t find much about this long-standing gyoza-yasan in Takadanobaba, but it put up shop over six decades ago. In any case, it’s hard to miss the red storefront of this cozy eatery just a minute’s walk away from the Toyama Exit of Takadanobaba Station. Order a hefty plate of pan-fried gyoza and wash it down with a glass of cold beer or their house cocktail. A truly no-frills gyoza restaurant for when you’re craving oily, crunchy goodness for dinner or late snacking. If you’re lucky, you might exchange life stories with the friendly staff who’ve worked there since the restaurant’s opening. Keep in mind, all seats are counter seats.
Sweets and cafes
良縁糖水 (Sugar Water)
3-13-1 Takadanobaba, Shinjuku-ku
It’s rare to see this dessert shop without a line during weekends, and it’s easy to see why. They serve Guangzhou desserts, made by a Cantonese chef in a space that hosts about ten people. “Sugar water” is a broad category of milky desserts served after a Cantonese meal, and you can have your fill of legitimate sweets here. Milk egg pudding is the dish to order; the chef is from the Shunde district of Guangdong Province, the birthplace of the steamed milk egg pudding. Or, try any of the equally delectable desserts on the menu like glutinous rice balls, turtle jelly, and lotus seed egg dessert to satisfy your sweet tooth. Savory options are also available: curry fish balls, sesame paste, beef noodles, and, believe it or not, french fries.
Tokyo Melon Pan Takadanobaba
4-4-1 Takadanobaba, Shinjuku-ku
Follow the sweet smell of baked bread outside the Toyama Exit of Takadanobaba Station for a chance to try the quintessential melon pan. Here’s the twist: you also have the choice of more
exotic flavors like milk tea, caramel, chocolate, and seasonal flavors, alongside the original melon pan. With a thin, crispy crust and a soft, airy middle, the melon pan from this Takadanobaba staple is hard to beat. And all for just ¥200 apiece. If you’re feeling like loading up on carbs, you can purchase classic pastries like croissants, mini pies, and pain au chocolat. This pan-yasan (bakery) operates through a window booth, so you’ll have to take your orders to-go.
3-12-8 Takadanobaba, Toshima-ku
Although its address is technically in Toshima, 10° Cafe is just a three-minute walk from Takadanobaba station, perched above the Kanda River. Part cafe and part co-working space, you’ll find students and working people with their heads deep in a book or laptop at 10° Cafe. They offer complimentary Wi-Fi and charging ports on the first and second floors, while the third is reserved for coworking booths. Come early in the morning before 11:00 to get a serious discount on their whole menu. For instance, a cup of coffee is about ¥600 any other time, and a ham sandwich is about ¥700, but from 7:30 to 11:00, you can get both for just ¥500. First, take a seat ticket from the cashier, and make your way to your seat before ordering via QR code on your phone. Counter seats on the second floor will grant you pleasing views of the Kanda River and the cityscape below.
Takadanobaba Beer Shokudo
3-4-13 Takadanobaba, Shinjuku-ku
Takadanobaba’s sakaedori (shopping street/boulevard) is lined with izakayas, all vying for your patronage. Pop into Takadanobaba Beer Shokudo for a modern izakaya experience, complete with an impressive menu of craft beers from Japan and beyond. The menu is an eclectic mix of tapas-style dishes (gizzard ajillo, shrimp ajillo), Western-style sandwiches (ham sandwich,
roasted venison, roasted ostrich fillet), and smoked plates (eggs, cheese, edamame), all made in-house. Refresh your palate with their small, but satisfying dessert menu (homemade cheesecake, chocolate cake with ice cream, and select gelato sourced from a local gelateria). By Tokyo standards, the craft beers are on the pricey side, but past brews have hailed from America, Sweden, and Germany—real treats for serious craft beer lovers.
2-9-12 Takadanobaba, Shinjuku-ku
This Michelin Bib Gourmand eatery is best tried with a reservation, given the limited seating and the chef’s highly-rated, yet affordable French menu. Trained in France, Chef Miyashita cooks a set lunch (appetizer and main, dessert and drink separate) and à la carte dinner choices with an extensive wine menu if you want to splurge on a glass or two. Hand-written menus in French and Japanese plus country-chic interiors give this place a decidedly charming, effortless Parisian vibe with the right food to match: escargot de Bourgogne, duck confit, and fromage blanc, for starters. It’s a brisk two-minute walk away from Takadanobaba Station in a nondescript alley towards Waseda.
1-17-22 Takadanobaba, Shinjuku-ku
Unagi is considered a seasonal delicacy in some parts of Japan, particularly in the summer when it’s thought to help the body endure the hot weather. But, unagi in various forms are served year-round at Aikawa, from grilled skewered unagi to uzaku, or vinegared freshwater eel served with cucumbers, ginger, and seaweed. You can’t go wrong with the grilled unagi over rice, although it’ll cost you around ¥4,000 (price varies by season). Bookmark this one for special occasions.
4-9-9 B1F Takadanobaba, Shinjuku-ku
Blink, and you’ll miss this Italian restaurant sequestered on the basement floor to the right of the Waseda Preparatory School Hall. Venture down the narrow flight of stairs, and you’ll be surprised at the stylish bistro awaiting you. Wine caskets take center stage with tables spread throughout and several counter seats up for grabs. Happy hour gets you a cocktail or beer for a few hundred yen, and you can watch the staff cook your oven-fired pizza behind the counter. The menu includes other Mediterranean fare like shrimp pasta, tomato sauce pasta with squid, and loaded bruschetta. Or, you can share cicchetti (small plates) and desserts if you want to sample different flavors. Besides the friendly customer service, one of the best parts about dining here is the complimentary bread with their homemade bacon cream cheese.