Tokyo is no slouch when it comes to high-end dining. The Asian capital boasts the highest number of Michelin-starred restaurants of any city, and has for eight years running. But if you really want to eat like a local, your destinations will be a little lower profile, though no less delicious.
You wouldn't think a bowl of noodles would be the great equaliser, but CEOs, celebrities and blue-collar workers alike belly up to the counter of Tokyo's best shops for hearty noodles in umami-packed shoyu, salty shio, earthy miso or rich, fatty tonkotsu pork soup. Put all thoughts of cheap instant imposters out of your head, true ramen is complex, work-intensive and delicious. Each shop has their own particular broth recipe and ideology on the thickness and straightness of noodles, so you could eat ramen every day for a year and still not scratch the surface of the vast variety on offer.
Kikanbou: A devilishly good (and spicy!) take on miso ramen that uses sanshou pepper, 2-10-10 Kajicho, Chiyoda-ku
Mugi to Oribu: A simple soy sauce base livened up with a complex chicken, sardine and clam broth, 6-12-12 Ginza, Chuo-ku Mugi to Oribu
Tsukiji Fish Market, ©JNTO
Really, you could walk into any sushi shop in Tokyo and get a fantastic meal at least equal to what's on offer back home, but for freshness and local flair, you can't beat the restaurants clustered around the Tsukiji Fish Market. Popular shops Sushi Dai and Daiwa Sushi regularly have lines of 2-3 hours, with people queuing from 5am, but you can get equally good fish at some of the less crowded shops. Most offer omakase sets with a specific number of pieces chosen by the chef, but you'll usually get better cuts ordering piece by piece. Ask for shun no mono, seasonal fare, for an only-in-Tokyo, super-fresh experience.
Okame: Building #6, 5-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku Okame
Harmonica Yokocho, photo courtesy of Tokyo Convention and Visitors Bureau
Tokyo's pre-war streets were mostly narrow affairs that might have accommodated two people walking abreast, but most of those little warrens have disappeared as the city has rebuilt and modernised. A few remain, however, and in recent years these alleys, or yokocho in Japanese, have become popular foodie haunts, with restaurateurs leveraging the retro, off-the-beaten track appeal to attract a wide clientele.
Once you turn the corner into one of these hidden worlds, you'll be charmed by the lively atmosphere of the open-air pubs, old-fashioned tachinomi standing bars and tiny counter restaurants where scruffy students and salarymen in bespoke suits sit shoulder to shoulder. Many places specialise in a particular dish, alcohol or regional cuisine and the open layouts make it easy to hop from one to the next, so don't be afraid to flit about and make new discoveries.
Harmonica Yokocho: Located in the trendy suburb of Kichijoji (think Brooklyn), the restaurants in this maze of alleys are open to the early hours and offer stellar food and drink with a largely international bent. 1-31-6 Kichijoji Honcho, Musashino
Ebisu Yokocho: Closer to central Tokyo, this little lane has some amazing eateries offering Kyoto-style oden hotpots, beef tongue from Sendai and summery Okinawan food from the southern islands. 1-7-2 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku Ebisu Yokocho.