October 11, 2016
Tokyo Midnight Munchies
Where to go for your sordid post-midnight culinary affairs
Whether you’re on your way home—from the bar, club, concert, work, dinner, love hotel; have jet lag; have just arrived; or for any other reason are hungrily wandering Tokyo’s streets during the witching hours, you won’t be left to starve. New York may be the city that never sleeps, but Tokyo is the city that always eats.
1. Famiresu for Assorted Fusion Meals and Teishoku
Fami-resu (family restaurants) are American-style chain diners offering creatively localized menus, low-key dining, and very reasonable prices. Alongside regular American diner fare—hotcakes, eggs, bacon, toast—you can find modern and traditional Japanese dishes such as teishoku (set meals) of grilled fish with miso, rice and pickles; Japanese-style hamburg; curry rice; or noodles. You can also find decidedly Japanese takes on Western cuisines, from pastas and pizzas to salads. Both Denny’s and Jonathan’s have 24-hour locations around Tokyo.
2. Donburi Chains for Beef Bowls and Morning Sets
If the late night munchies have you craving a bowl of steaming rice topped with juicy meat, Tokyo’s ubiquitous and 24-hour gyudon (beef-on-rice bowls) chains like Sukiya, Matsuya, and Yoshinoya have your back. All serve a range of beef and pork bowls in varying sizes and flavors, with miso soup, tea, and optional side dishes of salads, vegetables, and tofu. Between 4am and 11am, breakfasts sets also become available, featuring options like rice topped with raw fish and tofu, natto, sausage and fried egg, or grilled fish and tamagoyaki (rolled omelet).
3. Izakaya for Sit-Down Midnight (and Beyond) Banquets
Izakaya are often described as Japanese gastropubs, as you can generally count on extensive food and drink menus, revelry, and dimly-lit settings. They are the perfect spot for indulging in more elaborate late-night/early morning cravings. Dine on plates of sashimi, oysters, pickles, yakitori, buttered corn, hiyayakko tofu, nabe (hot pots), potato salad, kamameshi (rice dishes cooked in an iron pot), and more while you sip sake, wine, whiskey, beer, or cocktails. Chain izakayas like Doma Doma, Wara Wara, Watami, and Torikizoku (yakitori only) all have branches open until 5am.
4. Sushi Restaurants for your Seafood Cravings
Raw fish might not be on everyone’s agenda in the middle of the night, but if it is then you are catered for. If you’re up at 5am, then most sushi shops around Tsukiji market are open. If it’s before then, Sushi Zanmai is a decent sushi bar chain with branches all over Tokyo, many of them open 24 hours. For a range of seafood beyond (but also including) sushi and sashimi, head to one of Isomaru Suisan’s 50 venues in Tokyo. Tables are equipped with a grill, so you get to cook up your own prawn skewers, scallops, crab, and whatever else takes your fancy from their extensive seafood list.
5. Noodle Joints for Ramen, Soba, Udon
There’s a culture in Japan of finishing a night on carbs, making noodles the perfect late-night dining option—as well as being nourishing, easy-to-find, and light on the pocket. For ramen, there’s Ippudo and Ichiran serving Hakata ramen, with its rich, milky, pork-bone-broth; Kamukura serves ramen in a sweet and light soy-based broth with a range of toppings; Afuri has ramen made using spring water and seasonal vegetables, and even has a vegan broth option. For soba, try Fuji Soba or Yoshisoba, which offer everything from kake soba (straight up broth) to soba topped with wakame, egg, fried tofu, and tempura. If it’s udon you want at all hours, you can eat it in style at Tsurutontan (Roppongi, Ginza, Shinjuku), with options like mentaiko cream udon and a glass of bubbles. Or opt for soft and chewy sanuki udon from popular udon chain Hanamaru. All venues have several locations across Tokyo open either until 5am or 24 hours.
6. Onsen for Spa-side Dining
If you’re up for a full sensory experience, several Tokyo spas are open (almost) 24 hours, and have restaurants within the complexes. LaQua in Tokyo Dome City and Ooedo Onsen (also known as “the Disneyland of onsen”) are open 11am-9am.
7. Alleyway Eats for Seedy/Low-key and More Drinking
Tokyo is somewhere that you do want to walk down dark alleys late at night, particularly the rabbit warren-like wonderlands of Shibuya’s Nonbei Yokocho (Drunkards’ Alley), Sangenjaya’s Sankaku Chitai, Shinjuku’s Golden Gai, and Ebisu Yokocho. Later at night the food options may get limited, but you’re bound to be able to find some yakitori, oden, or other house-made specialties until around 5am. You’re also bound to chat with colorful locals, and drink more.
8. Conbini for a Little of Everything
Steaming meat-filled buns, cleansing oden, greasy crumbed miscellaneous meat, curious and delicious pasta fusions, all manner of bakery items, whatever beverage you could possibly want—convenience stores are your answer for a quick and cheap bite.