Hidden in plain sight, amid a jungle of restaurants, is one of the best Western style-turned-Japanese eateries in Tokyo: Tsubame Grill.
Diners in the know queue up outside the Grill at peak hours for 30 minutes or more, in anticipation of the delectable meal that awaits. They know this burger, the Tsubame Hamburger Steak, hiding under an inflated dome of aluminum foil, atop a cast iron skillet, is one of the best meals for under ¥2,000 anywhere. Some of us Westerners would call it a Salisbury Steak, but it doesn’t matter: it is delicious! Served with the oval beef patty is a bite-sized chunk of savory pot-roast beef, a few green beans, a small baked potato, and their mouthwatering gravy.
The only reason I found myself in this house of the rising burger is my father-in-law, a native of Tokyo but longtime resident of the U.S. On his business trips back to Tokyo throughout many decades, he discovered this eatery that’s located next to the Shinagawa Prince Hotel.
Being a retired chef who has eschewed beef for most of my dining adventures, I was skeptical upon hearing my father-in-law’s recommendation. But experience has taught me, during my eight trips to Japan, my in-laws know their way around the restaurant scene. I was too tired and hungry to negotiate for a better eatery.
Scanning the dining room upon entering Tsubame Grill, I saw that most tables had ordered at least one of these famous burgers, obviously knowing what the place is famous for. Part of the fun of getting the house burger is tearing open the balloon-like dome and being inundated with the intoxicating aroma of beef, onions, and seasonings, in a mouthwatering moment. My wife and I ordered the Caesar Salad, onion soup, corn soup, and the hamburger.
The best part of dining with my in-laws at new restaurants in Japan is that I get to taste what they order, too. Their choice was the cabbage roll and salmon. After tasting everything on the table that first night, I was convinced I’d found the burger was the best, by far, over the would-be contenders. The only thing missing was more of the tender green beans they tease you with, hiding under the burger.
Not to be outdone by the burger, their baked apple dessert is excellent, too. It’s a fresh apple, baked, and cut open to allow enough space for a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
The only downside was that the wait staff was a bit slow at times—maybe because the place was packed. But it didn’t affect our meal.
Beer and wine are served. Beer is a better choice than wine here, and it sets the tone for a laid-back meal. Try it for lunch or dinner, but beware of a possible wait if you come during peak hours without reservations. Easily found across the street from Shinagawa Station’s west entrance, the sign proclaims in English, “Ginza, Since 1930.”
Tsubame Grill beckons diners to this Bavarian beerhouse-themed restaurant—and it doesn’t disappoint.
Tsubame Grill. 4-10-26, Takanawa, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-3441-0121. Other branches throughout Tokyo. www.tsubame-grill.co.jp/store