January 26, 2024
Our latest picks for dining in Tokyo
“The best mapo tofu in town,” says the window, dressed in condensation from the lunch rush’s steam. It’s a bold statement, surely heretical to some, but all dissenters are soon silenced by the heady rush of heat and fragrance that could only be produced by Kakan. You may know Kakan as a Kamakura-based mapo stalwart, but with its recently opened location steps away from Yoyogi Park, Kakan’s influence (and its blustering bowl of beancurd) are reaching new heights. Both the location and the meal at the Tomigaya outpost lend themselves to romance. Few things are more enchanting than being seated in a cozy alleyway on a cold day and having your body enraptured by seemingly endless, numbing waves from the ground Sichuan peppercorns laced into your dish. For native New Yorkers with a perennial penchant for Chinese food during the holidays, this is a must-eat.
1-17-3 Tomigaya, Shibuya-ku
5 min. walk from Yoyogi-koen Station
Oyster Shack Shimbashi
In Japan, late autumn air signals the arrival of one of the ocean’s most perfect prizes, oysters. Oyster Shack Shimbashi, as you might have guessed by the name, exists as an unbridled celebration of these beloved bivalves. The restaurant’s interior, from decor to function, is engineered for maximum enjoyment. The walls are adorned with the remnants of long-dispatched shellfish. Gas grills are fashioned into every table, allowing diners to shuck through buckets of oysters with preeminent ease. A surplus of seasonal varieties is also served raw on the half-shell, charting a briny roadmap around the Sea of Japan. The exhaustive menu even allows space for the tasty morsels to be simmered, broiled, and fried. Methods of consumption at Oyster Shack certainly abound, as do smiles on the faces of rowdy, seawater-soaked diners.
1-6-1 Uchisaiwaicho, Chiyoda-ku
5 min. walk from Shimbashi Station
Concealed behind a dueling landscape of grizzled concrete and vibrant flora, caveman continues to reinvent the wheel. Coming to the end of its fourth year as the premier dining destination at the K5 development in Nihonbashi, caveman’s signature “slow food” ethos is becoming clearer and more tightly focused than ever. Quality of ingredients: unmatched. Preparation: increasingly simplified. Flavors on the plate: incendiary. Few besides the team at caveman could serve grilled hamachi (yellowtail) dressed with nothing but dashi and gooseberry vinegar and leave you talking about the dish for weeks. The natural wine selection here, as well, is in a league of its own thanks to Kentaro Emoto, the mind behind Kabi in Meguro. Perhaps most exciting: this December, alongside its seasonal menu, caveman will also be hosting holiday dining events. Keep an eye out as reservations will go quickly.
3-5 Nihonbashikabutocho, Chuo-ku
6 min. walk from Kayabacho Station
Atsuki Kuroda knows how to throw a party. Inside his pocket-sized home perched on the soundless side streets of Nishiazabu, a twelve-seat kitchen counter becomes a window into another world. Kuroda-san cooks without boundaries; his preparation is concise, but his concepts are raucous. His signature dish, the second stop on his 9-course menu, is a boudin noir beignet blanketed in umeboshi (pickled plum) powder. It’s singular in its absurdity and unforgettable. The best part of each of Kuroda-san’s dishes is that you don’t experience them alone. There is only one seating per evening and everyone at the counter is served the same course at the same time. This results in a room-wide revelation each time a plate is presented. Coupled with the fact the wine pairings are poured quite freely, it’s hard to leave without making new friends and new memories.
2-7-7 Nishiazabu, Minato-ku
11 min. walk from Nogizaka Station
Is excess an art form? Kinsu Fumiyuki, the chef and owner of the recently opened Censu in Jingumae, believes so. His omakase menu flavorfully flexes a proud aptitude for overabundance. For a mere ¥8,800, diners are met with the deluge that is the 14-course tasting menu. It is equal parts innovative, ambrosial, and entirely overwhelming. Sashimi courses are paired with fresh fruit and dressed in refined, house-made herb oils. Dishes like cheese-stuffed soft-shell crab and caramel-coated corn on the cob dance well outside the confines of the Japanese larder, but Censu’s signature closer, a yakionigiri in abalone dashi topped with seasonal seafood, reels in the freewheeling meal and ties it directly to its kaiseki-inspired roots. A meal at Censu is, inarguably, one of the greatest values in the city right now.
2-12-9 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku
12 min. walk from Gaiemmae Station