The Best of Koenji

The Best of Koenji

Consumption is rife in Hippytown


Originally published on on December 2012

Map of locations below

best italian

Antica Locale

It’s not your classic sit-down restaurant, despite a smattering of tables, nor is it a straight-up bar, despite the bottle-lined counter. It’s probably best described as a tavern, and its warm atmosphere, buoyant regulars, and pleasantly arty décor are presided over by Taka-san, one of the neighborhood’s nicest guys. But the prime reason to step through its doors (which are open from 7pm-3/4am), is the sumptuous outpourings from the chef’s skillet. This is unquestionably the best Italian food we have tasted in Japan. And its quality has been corroborated by real Italian people. Kick off with the heavenly penne arrabbiata (¥800), and choose from other pastas and risottos, toasties and entrées, plus decent wine for ¥500/glass or a paltry ¥300 before 8pm.

2-39-15 Koenjikita, Suginami-ku. Tel: 03-6383-0190.

best décor

Nanatsu Mori

Antique furniture, gigantic matchboxes, a wooden counter lining a sunken kitchen, rows of cupboards lifted right out the servants’ quarters at Gosford Park, a menu that could pass for a diary in Narnia, books and lamps and tchotchkes, a squat oshibori heater from Barton Fink’s hotel room, and usually a jazz soundtrack pouring out of excellent speakers… This decades-old artist and musician’s hangout in Koenji-minami wraps you in a blanket of eclectic timelessness and charmed wonder—while serving you heartwarming homemade curry lunch and dinner sets (¥1,050; with soup, salad, drink) at the same time. Their varied menu matches the interior design choices, ranging from snacks and meals to coffee and cocktails, desserts including kawaii hoop-shaped jellies, and more.

2-20-20 Koenji-minami, Suginami-ku. Tel: 03-3318-1393.

best home cookin’

El Pato

With a handful of tasty craft beers on tap, a friendly owner-chef who speaks English and loves a good chinwag, and outdoor seating for when the weather perks up, there’s more to El Pato than just a brazenly delicious lamb burger. But carnivores out there should probably taste it before they agree. The woolly quadruped, rarely found in Japan outside jingiskan joints, is here served up in thick, juicy squares of grilled meat, on a substantial foccaccia-like bun (¥1350). If you’ve been hankering for the bleating meat it doesn’t get much better than this. Bovine boffins can also order up the sirloin roast beef, though ask the chef to give it a flash in the pan if you don’t like your flesh quasi-raw. Vegetarian recipes include some of the homemade pasta dishes (from ¥1,100)—and you can even witness the chef rolling the strands out of his colorful pasta maker by hand. Various salads (from ¥600) and appetizers such as the show-stopping roasted fig with Gorgonzola are just a couple more picks from a stunning menu.

2-22-10 Koenjikita. Tel: 03-6795-7888.

best coffee & cake

Coffee Amp

On your left as you walk down the eclectic southern-side shotengai, just a minute before reaching Omekaido avenue and Shin Koenji station, sits this charming little café, fronted by a small wooden deck and a slightly surreal patch of grass. The interior design is post-industrial chic, and the few chairs and stools are spare but comfortable enough to sit and inhale the incredible aromas of the house-roasted coffee. A superlative macchiato can be had for ¥350, and the unmatched cheesecake (¥300) will get your blood sugar pumping along with Coffee Amp’s generally old-school funk soundtrack. Choose from the various beans on offer and take away a bag, ground to order (from ¥790/200g).

2-20-13 Koenji-minami, Suginami-ku. Tel: 03-5929-9587.

best burger

Bake Crowns Café

Slip on your wingtips and glitzy waistcoat and slink into the Prohibition-era style Bake Crowns Café, where the burgers are as big as the task facing Elliot Ness and his “Untouchables.” Slide onto one of their roomy leather couches on the ground floor and tuck into the old Japanese ba-ga favorite of avocado and cheese (¥780 regular; ¥1,460 jumbo). The buns are stiff floury-bap-style and the burger sauce is tasty without being sickly and overpowering. Jumbo is genuinely jumbo. Another one to try is the spicy-beef sandwich (¥1,050), with salmon and cream cheese (¥690) on the menu for the non-meat eaters, ELT (¥850) for the non-vegans, and various salads, soups and desserts to round it off. If they’re playing their CD of Beatles covers, tell them we said to change it. Hoegarden on tap (¥780).

104 Baoshan Bldg, 4-21-11 Koenji-minami. Tel: 03-6768-5539.

best weirdness


Become a forest elf in the woody weirdness of this tall, narrow structure, where the only things stranger than the toadstool-like desserts and creepy face-cakes are the childlike daubings on the dimly lit walls. This otaku node is a hippy maid café without maids, and without any obese customers, owing to the diminutive size of the door. Main courses are surprisingly earthy and substantial, with various bakes clocking in at just under ¥1,000. A complex key system in the cocktail menu will entertain you for hours before you get stumped and order a nama biru (¥525). Various art and music events are held in the space—check their site for details, or just turn up and try not to trip out.

2-18-10 Koenjikita, Suginami-ku. Tel: 03-6762-8122.

best vegan

Meu Nota

With a wide selection of vegan dishes all prepared with love and creativity, this self-styled “vege & grain café” provides a living room-like setting lined with books, dangling pots, green leaves, and musical instruments. One of the landmark dishes is the fresh, tasty taco rice (¥1,000/half ¥650), and today’s soup (¥400) is always a good bet, though the menu is flush with pastas, donbori, and much more. Quaff a coffee certified by Rainforest Alliance (¥480), detox with a green smoothie (¥700), sip on organic wine (¥480/glass), or give yourself a healing winter boost with the wonderful homemade ginger tea (¥580). Check their site for details of art happenings and music events.

2F, 3-45-11 Koenji-minami, Suginami-ku. Tel: 03-5929-9422.

best bar

Koenji Beer Kobo

Craft-beer purists might find the proverbial hair in the home-brewed jibiru at Kobo, but they’ll not be able to fault the atmosphere at this woody shack o’ love. The three or so ales which are literally cooked up out back are usually fair enough—as are a few externally-sourced options—especially when they come as cheap as ¥350/glass. Bar food includes doorstops of bacon (¥550) that you cook on your own little Bunsen burner, fish ’n’ chips (¥650), and more, and the relatively spacious interior is like your dad’s shed or your mother’s sukkah—with sacks of hops lying around to give a good ole bumpkin feel to the place. Keep quaffing and you’ll no doubt get a chance to witness the bizarre bathroom.

2-24-8 Koenjikita, Suginami-ku. Tel: 03-5373-5301.

Map of locations here:

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