It’s a bit out of the city but worth the train ride for the morning tea and traditional savory breakfast of rice, fish and vegetables that finishes with wagashi (a traditional sweet). Its Sabo teahouse offers a chance to escape from the city and nourish yourself with a healthful start to the day in a quiet sanctuary. Follow the restaurant’s request to live in the moment without trying to sneak a photo. Also, dress up a bit; don’t show up in shorts.
BTW: Reservations are required. And If you’re a coffee drinker, have it before you arrive. This place is all about tea.
Yakumo Saryo, Meguro-ku, Yakumo 3-4-7
Inside Tokyo Station’s Yaesu Central Exit, you’ll find this quick-serve spot serving onigiri — rice balls stuffed with savory ingredients like spicy cod roe, pickled greens and ikura salmon roe. Pickled vegetables, spinach in a sesame dressing, salads and miso soup round out the menu. Health-conscious diners can go for the 10-grains option of rice balls. Open at 6 a.m., this shop is perfect for travelers catching an early-morning bullet train.
BTW: Check out the seasonal menu first and be sure to order a side of karaage fried chicken.
Honnoriya, Chiyoda-ku, Marunouchi 1-9-1, Tokyo Station
Handmade flour noodles are cut in the front window of this casual udon shop, whose noodles have a rich, al dente texture. Aficionados will tell you they prefer the cold noodles over hot. Be sure to order some tempura with your noodles, like kashiwa-ten chicken, soft-boiled egg, lotus root or a minty shiso leaf. The owner, Tani-san, is from Kagawa prefecture, famous for its udon.
BTW: Ningyocho is a neighborhood worth exploring. Walk up and down the Amazake Yokocho street lined with historic shops.
Taniya, 2-chōme-15-17 Nihonbashiningyōchō, 中央区 Chūō-ku, Tōkyō-to 103-0013, Japan
At D47 Shokudo, floor-to-ceiling windows overlook Shibuya Station. A shokudo is a cafeteria, and the menu at D47 changes monthly featuring regional foods from about a half-dozen of Japan’s 47 prefectures. The colorful lunch “sets,” typically with a main and sides, are served on a wooden tray with dishware from famous domestic kilns. D47 has a curated boutique on the same floor as the restaurant selling kitchenware, tableware and some pantry items. If you liked a plate from your meal, it may be available at the shop.
BTW: Order a flight of sake to see how regional differences are reflected in the local drink.
D47 Shokudo, Shibuya-ku, Shibuya 2-21-8, Hikarie Building 8F
Tempura Arai is the sister shop to the famous Kagurazaka Tenko tempura shop and is about half the price. This newer, intimate restaurant is hidden on cobbled back streets. Twelve seats surround an open-counter kitchen (to snag one, best to make reservations) where you can watch as the chef dips the seafood and vegetables into batter before deep-frying in a copper pot. Part of the dining experience is listening to the tempura as it fries.
BTW: After your meal, get lost within the network of back streets.
Tempura Arai, Shinjuku-ku, Kagurazaka 4-8
Curry is comfort food, as is tonkatsu (breaded, deep-fried pork cutlets). Kitchen Nankai is where these two dishes first united as katsu curry, and the combination of rice, crunchy cutlet and spicy sauce is winning. The curry is an intense, almost black color, rich in spices. This old-school cafeteria draws Japanese foodies from all over the country.
BTW: The sweet red fukujinzuke pickles on the table will tame the curry’s heat.
Kitchen Nankai, Chiyoda-ku, Kanda Jinbocho 1-5
Japanese tend to eat on the early side (about 6 p.m.), and many restaurants close before midnight to accommodate the train schedules. But Tsurutontan is an udon noodle shop that stays open until 8 a.m. The udon is presented in huge bowls that surprise even the locals. The menu has a big selection of hot and cold noodles as well as small, seasonal dishes for sharing (tempura, sashimi, sushi and pickles).
BTW: There is also a branch in Shinjuku with the same business hours.
Tsurutontan, Minato-ku, Roppongi 3-14-12
Takano fruit parlor (Shinjuku)
Japan is the land of the $100 muskmelon (for gift-giving), and when it comes to shops and restaurants, only meticulously cared-for — or “high-end” — strawberries, peaches, grapes and other seasonal fruits are used in desserts, either served as-is or in a larger creation. Specialty fruit shops such as the Takano chain offer cut fruit, parfaits and juice, as well as savory sandwiches. Only unblemished specimens will make it to this brightly lit, white-walled flagship parlor.
BTW: The epicurean basement floors of major department stores have fruit dessert counters and juice bars.
Takano fruit parlor, Shinjuku-ku, Shinjuku 3-26-11