The Taxi-Driver’s and Pro Solo Foodies’ Eatery Guide in Tokyo
Taxi drivers in Tokyo always know the fastest way to get to the train station or airport. They also know where the best restaurants are to dine. During our many taxi rides across the city, we talked to drivers about the best places to have Japanese B-kyu gurume—a unique Japanese style of B-class gourmet cuisine which is prized for its flavors. This cuisine is typically prepared in small restaurants, using local and relatively inexpensive ingredients. A complete meal here typically costs under 1500 yen (US$15), which better fits a driver’s budget. Here are our results of taxi driver B-kyu gurume restaurants in Tokyo, where the food tastes like you are transported straight to old time Japan. It should be noted that the drivers are always dining alone, and thus, this guide is also beneficial to Me-Time lovers or someone who want to discover the joy of the Table for One in the city.
This long-established soba restaurant, called Yoshida, opened its doors in 1885. Everything is made in-house, including the soba noodles, made from carefully selected buckwheat flour; and the natural sauce, made from bonito and kelp. Soba is a Japanese traditional food, but no one realized that soba with croquette are a perfect combination except at Yoshida. Nowadays you can typically find croquette & soba dishes everywhere in Tokyo, but Yoshida’s dish is a completely different experience from your typical bowl of soba noodles with a croquette on top. Yoshida’s croquette is uniquely made with chicken, eggs, and yams and fried without breadcrumbs. The texture is sensational, soft like tofu.
This is a great place to get some atypical Tokyo-style ramen. The menu consists only medium or large size Tanmen, which is a ramen soup noodle with cabbage. The light flavor of the refreshing chicken broth and the thin noodles are a perfect match. The sweet cabbage actually melts in your mouth. Halfway through the meal, we recommend throwing in some cilantro and butter for an additional fee as toppings, which changes the flavors dramatically. The butter, with the bitterness and aroma of the cilantro, combined with the chicken soup make you feel like you’re eating French-Vietnamese pho. If you like add spiciness to your food, add the free homemade chili oil from the the table. Please note that cash payment is required, and thus, order with a meal ticket machine.
Tsukiji Sushisay offers fresh and high-quality seasonal fish sushi and vegetables. You can try new tastes and flavors throughout the year. It has a long reputation for being one of the best quality affordable sushi establishments. The restaurant service is friendly and welcoming. They try to seat you at their best available spots. Perhaps it helps that you speak a little Japanese, but we’re sure they would still try to help you feel comfortable as possible regardless.
This ramen shop chain called Rindo claims to be the very first to add charcoal grilled fish to create the delicious stock for its ramen noodle soups. There are five different types of dashi (soup stock), including mackerel, sardine, Iwashi sardine, salmon and mushroom. The rich and slightly thickened fish broth tantalize your taste buds! Things to order there are Saba Sumibiyaki Soba, which is charcoal-grilled mackerel with thick noodles. The soup is like a creamy Mackerel potage, perfectly balanced with the noodles. Despite being made with whole mackerel, this soup base has almost no bitterness or fish smell. All of the noodle meals come with grilled leeks and roasted pork fillet. If you order set menu, rice, seaweed and side dishes are included with the noodle meal.
Bento means a boxed lunch. These boxes are filled with local specialties designed to be eaten on the go. Ichinoya packs its bento boxes with a cornucopia of items including a deep-fried selection of fish, Japanese fishcakes, and grilled chicken with miso. Underneath these items are rice and nori (seaweed). This is all served alongside assorted vegetables and soft-boiled eggs, which are marinated overnight in a secret sauce. One of our favorites in the box is the fried white fish which is fresh, meaty and fluffy. The frying method makes the fish quite exquisite and delicious especially when you add the dashi soy sauce. Reservations are available by phone.
Cold Meat Soba, which is Tsumetai Niku Soba in Japanese, is a popular local food in Kahoku Town, Yamagata Prefecture, originating in Taisho era (1912–26). The noodle dish is topped with chicken and green onions. The cold and slightly sweet soup is made by slowly cooking chicken for a long time, extracting its flavors, and then adding flavored sweet soy sauce from Yamagata. If you prefer ramen noodles more than soba, there is cold meat ramen called Tsumetai Niku Chuuka. The rich, clear soup is delightful and goes well with ramen noodles too.
In Japan, sticky or slimy foods such as Natto (fermented soybeans) and okra are believed to be effective in increasing your libido. Others believe Tororo (grated yam) is one of the best health foods as well as an aphrodisiac. The gooey texture of yams is effective in protecting the stomach from acidity as well as increasing stamina and recovery from fatigue. It is due to its high moisture retention and strong stickiness.
At Jinenjyo-mura, a casual & quick-service restaurant, you can enjoy variety of delicious yam dishes at reasonable prices. Their signature dish is a Grated Natural Yam Hot Pot, a hearty hot pot of Japanese Wagyu beef offal, covered with plenty of fresh yams. If you’d like, you can add additional ingredients for this hot pot dish, such as tuna tsukune (tuna fish meatballs) and toro pork (extra soft pork meatballs).
Onoda Shoten a yakiniku BBQ and offal restaurant, is known for having a 500 yen (US$5) menu and being casually delicious. There is a minimum charge 3000 yen (US$30) per person, but if you both drink and eat, it is easy to reach the minimum price. The average total cost is approximately 4500 yen per person. As well as the BBQ meat, yam, kimchi, okra, asparagus, small tomatoes are delicious accompaniments as well as being healthy. You’ll be able to choose from a wide variety of Japanese alcohol, called Shochu to enjoy alongside your dishes. As it can be quite a popular spot, it is recommended to book reservations in advance if you want to dine during peak hours.
Tendon Fuji is about a minute walk from the north exit of Ikebukuro Station. This small restaurant has only 10 counter seats sering tempura (deep-fried dish) rice-bowls. You could easily pass by it if you didn’t know the store existed. It is popular among college students and business people for decades. The regular Tendon dish consists of the basic tempura bowl with shrimp, squid, local fish, Nori seaweed, Shishito pepper, and asian vegetables called garland chrysanthemum. The fried pieces are fresh, large, and delicious, all at a reasonable price.
A sumptuous dish for meat lovers, Butaichi proudly serves premium Hokkaido pork named Rusutsu Pork in the form of a pork rice bowl. The thick loin meats are caramelized in a sauce which is made from a variety of carefully selected ingredients and soy sauce simmered for many hours. This sauce is aged for a week before being marinated on the meats. The smoked pork belly is very fragrant and crispy.
This restaurant specializes in grilling domestic chicken and pork tripe skewers over Binchotan charcoal, with a low price of 99 yen (US$1) per skewer. The concept of the restaurant chain is unique which is to surprise customers with high quality food with shockingly low prices. With this concept, they are creating a place where customers can truly feel the happiness of eating out that meets the three criteria of taste, price, and volume. The skewers are not gamey, even if you are not an offal-eating person, and therefore, you should definitely give them a try. Besides yakitori, an absolute must-order is Motsuni (chicken tripe stew) contains large pieces of chicken meat. The average bill here is typically around 3,000 yen per person. Yakitoridon has 3 different locations, in Nishi-Sugamo, Komagome and Ogikubo. If you visit Ghibli Museum, the Ogikubu restaurant location is worth visiting. It’s just one train stop from Kichijoji, so come and experience the amazing skewers!
Passing through the Asakusa landmark Sensouji temple, there are many small shops lining the path, and one of them is Daikokuya. This is the type of restaurant a grandmother brings her grandchild to share a meal. They have been serving customers since 1887. It has a casual and traditional atmosphere which is characteristic of Asakusa known as old Tokyo. The popular menu is Tendon Set (Tempura Rice Bowl Set) that comes with two prawns and mixed veggie tempura which is sweet and savory without being overly salty. The portion of this tempting dish looks large and is flavored with a generous amount of sesame-based sauce. There are many authentic tempura restaurants in Asakusa serving customers for many decades, but we strongly recommend Daikokuya.