June 26, 2009
The Great Indoors
Escape the summer heat at these matsuri-inspired food courts
Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on June 2009From yatai food stalls to street-festival booths, Tokyo’s summer dining scene is all about al fresco eating. The newest trend, however, brings the yokocho inside, with hordes of smaller restaurants teaming up to form mighty mini-malls of gastronomy. Restaurant-hopping has never been so cool and easy.
Created in response to the proliferation of mega-chain izakaya, this strip of small vendors in Ebisu brings a taste of the rugged Showa Era back to Tokyo’s slick urban landscape. Some 13 stalls that seat no more than a dozen customers each are located here, each trotting out traditional Japanese themes like Kyushu spicy cod roe and Kyoto-style oden; there’s even a bar called Café Amigos, modeled after the drinking dens of the postwar era when everything America was in vogue. Don’t miss the shellfish-themed Uomaru, which serves fresh delicacies like grilled abalone, sazae and the house specialty, zenbukkake sushi, which translates roughly as “throw every damn thing on there” sushi. Many of the shops are open until the wee hours.
1-7-4 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 03-3447-6677. Most shops open daily. Call each restaurant for hours. www.ebisu-yokocho.com
If all you want to do is grab a few drinks—but not all in the same place—try bar-hopping in Akasaka Koji, a.k.a. Song Bar Street (pictured). This newly opened yokocho features eight smallish, themed bars reminiscent of Japanese “snacks.” But the real novelty is that each comes equipped with a karaoke machine, allowing you to sing songs with a small group of friends or with a few like-minded and highly intoxicated strangers. Most of the pubs are open until the first train, with the Western-themed Smiler’s Bar operating until 7am. Each serves specific foods as well: the Yasagure Ryukyu Panda features Okinawan cuisine, over a dozen varieties of awamori—and a bartender occasionally decked out in a panda costume. For a New Age snack bar experience, the Knight Club markets itself as “the gay bar for first-timers,” with a welcoming mama-san eager to get parties started.
2-13-18 Akasaka, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-5114-5500. Open Mon-Sat from 5pm, closed Sun & hols. Call for specific hours. www.akasakakoji.com
Kanda Meat Center
Carnivores will have a field day at Kanda Meat Center, whose seven restaurants serve juicy bits from a variety of beasts. While a meat-only meal might seem one-dimensional to some, KMC will make you realize that there are delicious parts of animals, and ways of preparing them, that you probably never knew existed. This is the place for neophytes to try horse meat, which is the only thing on the menu at Umakuro. Less traditional dishes include the flame-broiled chicken California roll at Kinki Shoku Dori and the airy foie gras chazuke at Guri Guri Grill. Everything at KMC is reasonably priced—even the Hoppy, which is served at every restaurant—but perhaps the best buy is Niku no Kubota’s ¥500 lunchtime meat bowls. One last note: in true retro fashion, a singing guitarist strolls from table to table taking requests.
1-6-7 Kajicho, Chiyoda-ku. Tel: 03-3256-7155. Open Mon-Sat 11:30am-2pm and 4pm-midnight. Call each restaurant for hours.
As you might expect of a dining complex in Tokyo’s most upscale neighborhood, Ginza Rokkei’s restaurants sport higher price tags, but also more elaborately prepared food. Located at the bottom of the chic Velvia-kan building, Rokkei has six (unnamed) eating areas for the “six seasons” of its name: teppanyaki, deep-fried kushi skewers, yakitori, oden, okonomiyaki and traditional home-style cooking served up in austere surroundings of wood and tatami. Each venue gets crowded on the weekends, especially the über-popular and reasonably priced okonomiyaki joint, but if you find you prefer the atmosphere of a single haunt over the others, plop yourself down there and then order dishes from any of the other kitchens. The centerpiece is a classy New York-themed pub, where premier beers are served on tap.
Velvia-kan B1, 2-4-6 Ginza, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-5524-7772. Open Mon-Sat 11:30am-2:30pm and 5-11:30pm, Sun & hols 11:30am-9pm. http://tinyurl.com/rokkei
If you feel that dining comes in a close second to window-shopping and people-watching, head to this food court located in the upscale Tokyo Midtown complex. Somewhat surprisingly given its address, Okawari.jp is the most budget-conscious option on this list, and it also offers the biggest hodgepodge of cuisines. Whether you’re in the mood for curries, pasta, sweets, Chinese food, traditional teishoku, or a simple cocktail, it’s all here—and usually under ¥1,000. Some of the counters serve raw meat, seafood and other ingredients that you can ask the cooks to prepare to your liking. Okawari.jp is always promoting itself in novel ways—the most recent bargain featured ¥100 tapas. That’s one reason the bar is usually packed during happy hours.
Tokyo Midtown D-B129, 9-7-4 Akasaka, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-5413-0579. Open daily 10am-11pm. www.okawari-jp.com