Tokyo guide: Japanese food, vegetarian options, review sites (part 5)
Tokyo has an undeserved reputation for being expensive. While you can spend $200 for omakase sushi, you can also find equally delicious soba noodles for $7 with some planning.
Restaurant Reservations & Reviews
- Reviews — Tabelog. This is Japan’s version of Yelp. Don’t expect any 5 star ratings. A 3.5 rating is high by Tabelog standards.
- Reservations — Most restaurants don’t require a reservation. If you’re unsure of whether a place needs a reservation, ask your hotel’s concierge.
Finding good restaurants
This is referenced in my planning your trip post. Many of these sites are food oriented, and are a good place to start your search.
- Japan Guide — Start your research here. General overview of Tokyo
- Inside Kyoto — Kyoto travel guide. Good place to start your research and to find special events during your vacation.
- Kyoto Foodie — Food guide to Kyoto
- Top restaurants as rated by Tabelog — https://tabelog.com/en/award/restaurant/
- Picrumb — Restaurant guide with turn by turn navigation with photos.
- Spoon & Tamago — Blog that highlights interesting Japanese design.
- NHK Videos — The Japanese government has been creating a lot of videos about Japanese culture and places to visit to spurn tourism interest in the buildup for the 2020 Olympics. This is a good place to start to find local spots that are not mentioned on travel guides.
Some of the best food in Tokyo is in the subway (Jiro’s is in a subway station). You can’t go wrong by going to any restaurant with a line. Most subway stations have wifi.
If you are with picky eaters, subway food courts are a good bet. There, you’ll be able to find everything from friend chicken to sushi to croissants to sandwiches.
Udon from the subway station. It was less than $5.
American food for picky eaters
If Japanese food isn’t your jam, you can fall back to these American staples.
- McDonald’s: Common in Tokyo. They have a few Japan only items like the Hokkaido Fish Burger. Rumor has it that a worker at a Japanese McDonalds won the competition for best bun toasting.
- Subways: Very similar to subways in the US
- Burger King: Try the green tea ice cream cones
- Tully’s Coffee & Starbucks: These coffee shops offer American pastries. There are also matcha and red bean flavored drinks and snacks.
Vegetarian food in Japan
While Japan is known for the freshness of its seafood, it’s not hard to find vegetarian options. Here are some Japanese dishes that are by default vegetarian or can be made vegetarian.
- Okonomiyaki: a savory version of Japanese pancake, made with flour, eggs, shredded cabbage, meat/ protein and topped with a variety of condiments. You can customize this dish to be vegetarian
- Soba noodles: buckwheat noodles that can be served in hot soup or chilled with a dipping sauce. Try the noodles chilled to get more of the chewy texture.
- Yodufo in Kyoto: fresh tofu. The delta between freshly made tofu and the tofu for your local grocery store is the difference between instant coffee vs drip coffee. Kyoto has a few tofu shops that have been around for 100+ years.
- Onigiri: rice balls with seaweed or fish.
- Desserts & breakfast pastries: . There are a number of french style bakeries in Tokyo with croissants and vegetarian sandwiches.
- Ramen: Ramen broth is usually pork based. Research ahead to see if there are vegetarian options. Ippudo has a vegetarian spicy ramen, and Tan-Tan ramen in Tokyo station is an all-vegetarian ramen restaurant.
- Izakaya: Grilled foods on skewers. While Izakaya is mostly meat based, there are usually vegetarian options with mushrooms, tofu, or shishito peppers.
- Dango: Baked mochi. You can add shochu sauce, a cross between red bean sauce and maple syrup, for sweetness.
- Yakiimo: Roasted sweet potatoes. These treats are delicious and may be Japan’s fountain of youth. Street vendors are the best bet for piping hot potatoes. You can also get these at grocery stores like Don Quixote. There is a cart by the door that sells sweet potato for breakfast and dinner.
- Rakyo: Japanese Pickle
- Shu cream: Like an eclair but fluffier. You can get them at Beard Papa’s
- Budo: Japanese grapes. $10 grapes that tastes like a Jolly Rancher from nature.
- Bento boxes: Single portion take out meal in Japan. They are the Japanese version of a healthier Lunchables. You can get freshly prepared bento boxes at grocery stores and convenience stores.
- Tamago — Sweet egg dish. You can get this with sushi or on a stick from a street vender. This is a samurai shaped Tamago at a sushi restaurant.
8. Takoyaki — Octopus balls. You can see them being made: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dHY3GBEEhWk
9. Mochi ice cream at 7–11