As the state of emergency lifts and the fires of Tokyo’s kitchens ignite once more, several new sparks will be joining their ranks. These restaurants were bold enough to open in the throws of a pandemic. They tackled the hardships of reduced hours and limited service. They faced the biggest behemoth a restaurant can face and, not only did they survive, they’re thriving. Get to know some of the best, and bravest, new restaurants in Tokyo.
In the heart of Nakano, you’ll find the entrance to Nikomimaru: a wooden door tucked into the grey mass of a nondescript building. In lieu of a sign (they forgot to have one made,) you’ll simply find hours of operation scribbled on the wall. Run by chef/owner, Keita Kurokawa, Nikomimaru bleeds personality.
Keita wastes no time in turning the concept of omotenashi (superior hospitality) on its head. Keita seems to vibrate behind the counter, his bleached blonde hair blurring into streaks as he jumps from patron to patron, taking orders and cracking jokes.
The sashimi service is first-rate, but it’s Keita’s antics that make it memorable. He arrives out of thin air to smash a fistful of shirasu (whitebait), on your daikon oroshi (grated daikon radish) if it appears underutilized. The cream cheese tofu, coated in honey, fig and walnut, is so addicting you’ll inevitably run out of the crostini that accompanies it. Who’s there to save the day but Keita-san, wielding a giant plastic claw. He threatens to ensnare diners in its clutches before meekly using it to retrieve more crackers for your plate.
If diners are still raucous as last call approaches, Keita-san takes to his megaphone to jokingly, but effectively, let everyone know the night is winding down. It’s dinner and a show, equal parts delicious and entertaining, and it’s hard to leave disappointed.
3-36-11 Wakamiya, Nakano-ku
1 min. walk from Toritsu-Kasei Station
Opened June 1, 2021
The owner of OSIKURAMANJU likes to mosh. All the yelling and slamming bodies at hardcore shows recall, for him, the nostalgic image of a schoolyard shoving game Japanese children play on cold winter days. It’s a charming, quirky collision of two worlds; a theme that permeates throughout the entire restaurant.
The food here is Taiwanese and, true to form, meals are plated and served from a traditional Taiwanese food stall located right in the middle of an otherwise contemporary space.
From OSIKURAMANJU’s peculiar kitchen cart flies lu rou fan, a bowl of braised pork belly over rice. Glossy with rendered fat, the dish’s decadence is betrayed only by its simplicity. Xian dou jiang, a savory soy milk soup with buoys of fried bread, can be seen touching down at tables throughout the dining room.
Then, there is the congee: broken rice, chicken, ginger, century egg. Fragrant and full bodied, the popular breakfast porridge is immediately transportive. Never mind OSIKURAMANJU’s crushed velvet stools or stylish paper lanterns. You are, for a moment, in the night markets of Taipei. It’s this friction of worlds: chic interior housing humble food, that makes the restaurant so endearing and so downright satisfying.
25-5 Motoyoyogicho, Shibuya-ku
5 min. walk from Yoyogi-Hachiman Station
Opened June 9, 2021
Maguro To Saba ($$)
“Everyone loves tuna, everyone loves mackerel,” says the resident chef at Maguro To Saba. He loves the pair of fish too, so much so that he dedicated a whole restaurant to them; in the process, creating a dining experience that feels like an expedition through a culinary funhouse.
An order of the fish “three ways” results in the arrival of a charcuterie board equivalent. Collections of maguro (tuna) cheek, head, and loin sashimi are countered by light shimesaba (cured mackerel), pungent sabazuke (soy sauce marinated mackerel), and a swirling dome of mist that reveals itself to be freshly smoked saba sashimi. Think of it like saba lox. Fantastic.
A hand roll of maguro and soy-pickled chives comes draped in shavings of fresh horseradish, a springy compliment to the fermented herbs. The star of the meal, however, is the potato in uni (sea urchin) sauce. Simmered in dashi, the wedges of potato are then fried and dressed in a sea urchin cream condiment. Crunchy, light, and subtly sweet, the dish is reminiscent, shockingly, of funnel cake.
Nearly every new plate that lands on your table finds a way to make you stop and reevaluate the ingredients being employed. The fare at Maguro To Saba may appear Japanese, but the flavors are anything but.
Maguro To Saba
2−18−12 林ビル １F, Kamimeguro, Meguro-ku
4 min. walk from Nakameguro Station
Opened April 14, 2021
The history of teppan (steel plate) cooking, or teppanryori, is impossibly entangled with international influence. First emerging in the post-war era and quickly securing affections overseas, the re-import of the craft has left modern Japanese teppan proudly independent and unorthodox. Nowhere embodies this better than Begohachi.
Here, punk music blares as metal spatulas clang against the flat top grill and the cacophony of hungry diners threatens to drown out any thought of reason. Everything is madness.
The house cocktail is mugishochu (alcohol distilled from barley) and tea with a garnish of… grilled baby corn? Surprisingly, the roasted sweetness lends a pleasant finish to what would otherwise be a garden grade calamity.
Food-side, why not compliment your order of yakisoba with Hokkaido Kuroge Wagyu? What about oysters from Iwate, bloated to the size of your forearm? Yes, please.
Most mystifying of all, though, is the omelet. Innocent in its inception, it is soon filled with nikujaga (rich beef stew), and, once folded, is dressed with kewpie and okonomiyaki sauce. It’s a feather in the cap of the bizarre wonderland that is Begohachi.
2−20−4 コスモネフビル １F, Koenjikita, Suginami-ku
3 min. walk from Koenji Station
Opened February 4, 2021, but closed for the entire state of emergency
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