A big disclaimer, I lived in the Tokyo area for 3.5 years and found it kind of boring. It was convenient to live in for day to day life, but it’s not really my scene. I’m more into the Japanese countryside and smaller cities.
While of course you should visit Tokyo, I highly recommend also visiting other places, even if it’s just day trips. Kamakura is an hour by local train, and there are plenty of other places like, Tochigi, that all have really fun things to do and good food.
Since Tokyo is the biggest city in Japan, you can find pretty much anything you want here. When I lived in Japan I had a very limited budget and couldn’t really afford any meals that were more than 2,000 yen so I mainly have cheap recommendations that are cafes and coffee shops.
Shibuya, Omotesando, Harajuku
The concept behind this place is that in Hokkaido, instead of eating ramen after a heavy night of drinking, they eat parfaits. Everyone I’ve talked to from Hokkaido says that this isn’t actually a thing, but this place has delicious late night parfaits nonetheless. They are also the inventors of the parfait vending machine, with canned parfaits! I highly recommend it because they have delicious and super cheap parfaits, plus it’s a night time activity for people who don’t drink. *They also have locations in Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, Sapporo, and Osaka, the parfaits change per location.
Japan, 〒150-0043 Tokyo, Shibuya City, Dogenzaka, 1 Chome−7−10 新大宗ソシアルビル (Open in Google Maps)
My favorite soup is tonjiru. The first time I had it was when I was a teacher with my elementary school lunch, any day that was tonjiru day was my favorite! While Gochiton doesn’t taste anything like the lunch center’s tonjiru, I will absolutely be stopping in on my next trip to Japan. *They have multiple locations but they seem to open and close a lot.
Japan, 〒150-0002 Tokyo, Shibuya City, Shibuya, 3 Chome−17−5 鈴屋ビル 1階 (Open in Google Maps)
SHOZO TOKYO STORE CAFE & GROCERY
This is a famous coffee shop from Kuroiso, where I lived for 3 years in Tochigi prefecture. While I absolutely recommend making a trip to Kuroiso (only 1 hour by shinkansen, 3 hours by local train) to go to the original location there(it’s incredibly different, and often credited for helping create Japan’s cafe culture), this little stand carries some of the inaka cafe spirit in one of Tokyo’s busiest areas. SHOZO is famous for scones, so make sure to get some!
Japan, 〒107-0061 Tokyo, Minato City, Kita-Aoyama, 3 Chome−10−15 1F (Open in Google Maps)
One of the biggest financial districts in Japan. It also has massive nightlife and red-light district.
I recommend Golden Gai if you want that Anthony Bordain drinking experience:
Japan, 〒160-0021 Tokyo, Shinjuku City, Kabukicho, 1 Chome−1−6 2F (Open in Google Maps)
Shinjuku Station Department Store Basements
I transferred here everyday for about 1.5 years, my favorite thing was looking around the department store basement foods. You’ll find a lot of nice to-go premade foods, including savory and sweet options!
Nakano and Koenji have extremely different atmospheres, anime, manga, and game fans love Nakano Boardway for all of the used anime goods shops there, while Koenji is more of a place for hipsters and live music fans with a lot of used clothing shops and smaller music venues. The neighboring shops on the Chuo Line, and since one of my favorite cafes in Japan is in the middle of them, I’m putting them together.
LOU is a really nice cafe located on a street on the side of Nakano Broadway. The staff are super nice, when I went it was cold but they only had outdoor seating so they made sure offer me a seat in doors when one opened up. They have very nice desserts and coffee, and they were proud of their domestically sourced produce. If you can get a seat, I highly recommend this spot while you visit Nakano Broadway!
5 Chome-53-4 Nakano, Nakano City, Tokyo 164-0001, Japan
RAD BROS CAFE
One of my favorite cafes. They have a really good modern coffee menu that they pair with seasonal cakes. But the most important thing is that the building has cats. I asked the coffee shop owner what the deal was with them, and apparently they’re are three different cats that come and go, they belong to the building owner and they just hang around as they please. Absolutely the best part, especially if you’re a cat lover who doesn’t wanna go to a sad cat cafe.
1 Chome-4-2 Koenjikita, Suginami City, Tokyo 166-0002, Japan (Open in Google Maps)
Rect Stand Cafe
This vegan cafe is more of a food base cafe than coffee shop, and I absolutely love it. They have a menu with specials that rotate daily, it’s definitely a popular shop so there might be a line on the weekends!
Japan, 〒166-0003 Tokyo, Suginami City, Koenjiminami, 3 Chome−54−14 1F (Open in Google Maps)
Poem Mano A Mano
This is a cafe I never actually got to go to, but it’s incredibly famous as one of the old kissaten. If you want a taste of kissaten culture, this is an excellent place to try in Tokyo.
4 Chome-44-5 Koenjiminami, Suginami City, Tokyo 166-0003, Japan (Open in Google Maps)
This is a popular place for university students to live, but it also has an older population that has been there since the Showa era.
Saten Japanese Tea
If you love matcha and are looking for a modern take on matcha, this is the cafe for you. They have matcha drinks, sweets, and also have a great ogura toast.
4 Chome-44-5 Koenjiminami, Suginami City, Tokyo 166-0003, Japan (Open in Google Maps)
A very good local curry shop with Indian inspired curries!
2 Chome-20-5 Nishiogiminami, Suginami City, Tokyo 167-0053, Japan (Open in Google Maps)
This cafe is a taste of the inaka cafe in Tokyo, located in an old Japanese house. Highly recommended if you want a countryside get away in the city.
3 Chome-12-22 Shoan, Suginami City, Tokyo 167-0054, Japan (Open in Google Maps)
I lived in this area for 1.5 years, it’s incredibly popular with university students because there are many universities nearby. If you’re a bit of a nerd, it’s also where one of the Persona 5 expansions takes place.
This shop hosts rotating cafes, all of which are delicious. How it usually works is that they cafe will rent the space for a day of the week, like Tuesday, and will set up for that day of the week. If you try to go I highly recommend checking their Instagram page, it will usually have a calendar with what concept is there on what day and it will also have the days it’s closed. Some concepts are more coffee focused, some are more sweets focused.
Japan, 〒180-0004 Tokyo, Musashino, Kichijoji Honcho, 2 Chome−7−3 フェリオ吉祥寺 １０１(Open in Google Maps)
A very nice cafe with a good view of the side street below. It’s on the third floor so be sure not to miss the stairs leading up to it!
Japan, 〒180-0004 Tokyo, Musashino, Kichijoji Honcho, 2 Chome−14−28 3F (Open in Google Maps)
LIGHT UP COFFEE
I recommend this place if you’re interested in coffee! They have a coffee flight for you to try their different roasts, it’s very fun!
4 Chome-13-15 Kichijoji Honcho, Musashino, Tokyo 180-0004, Japan (Open in Google Maps)
Hikiniku to come
Very popular spot that serves char grilled hamburgers and rice. It can be very difficult to get into, you might have to show up early to line up to get a time slot! You can also get lucky on some weekdays and just walk in. No advance reservations.
2 Chome-8-3 Kichijoji Honcho, Musashino, Tokyo 180-0004, Japan (Open in Google Maps)
WORLD BREAKFAST ALLDAY
A very interesting all day breakfast spot. They have their standard menu with English, American, and Taiwanese breakfasts, but they have a special menu that rotates bimonthly with a different country’s breakfast. They work with chefs from that region3 to create authentic meals, I know one of my Swedish friends would always make sure to go when they were serving Swedish food so she could have the taste of home. I highly recommend the experience. *Locations also in Ginza and Gaienmae
2 Chome-4-2-102 Kichijoji Honcho, Musashino, Tokyo 180-0004, Japan (Open in Google Maps)
A very popular area with younger people and hipsters. Lots of used clothing shops and restaurants. I don’t actually have many specific recommendations for this area. I’ve been multiple times, it kind of has a bit of a Harajuku vibe before it got so commercialized. It’s also getting heavily commercialized now too.
Ogawa Coffee Laboratory Shimokitazawa
This place has an extensive bean selection that can be a bit overwhelming, but an exciting experience nonetheless. All of the coffee comes with a little card that talks about the flavor notes of the roast.
Japan, 〒155-0031 Tokyo, Setagaya City, Kitazawa, 3 Chome−19−20 reload1-1 (Open in Google Maps)
Other Tokyo Recommendations
These are places that left a big impact on me that might be in smaller neighborhoods of Tokyo or places I don’t have a lot of recommendations for.
Gas-O Coffee Co.
This is a dear friend of mine’s coffee shop! I have been following them since their pop-up days and now they have a physical location in Shoin Jinja Mae. The owner is super nice and friendly, he speaks English and has lived in Canada and Australia. A lot of coffee shops in Japan can feel a little quiet and maybe a little cold, so he wants to create a shop that feels warm and welcoming to customers where they can chat and enjoy their coffee! He was the only who introduced me to an espresso tonic, 2 years before it became the drink of the summer in America. Look out for their seasonal drinks!
4 Chome-20-11 Wakabayashi, Setagaya City, Tokyo 154-0023, Japan (Open in Google Maps)
Los Tacos Azules
This restaurant is a perfect example of what fusion food should be. The chef is from Mexico and opened up this shop in Sangenjaya and focuses on tortillas. They used imported blue corn to make their own masa, but then used locally sourced ingredients and flavor profiles to create delicious tacos. It’s also one of the few places in Tokyo where you can find a tamale, when I went they had a savory chicken tamale and a dessert matcha and red bean tamale. I was a homesick Texan in Japan for 7 years, so this place was a gem to me personally. They also do an omakase menu with a focus on showing the flavor of their corn tortillas and local ingredients.
1 Chome-17-9 Kamiuma, Setagaya City, Tokyo 154-0011, Japan (Open in Google Maps)
The French Toast Factory Akihabara
My favorite place to get Japanese souffle pancakes! Sometimes there’s a line, so there might be a wait, I had the best luck going early in the mornings.
Japan, 〒101-0028 Tokyo, Chiyoda City, Kanda Hanaokacho, 1-1 ヨドバシAkiba8F (Open in Google Maps)
DAVIDE COFFEE SHOP
Nothing will replace the joy I felt when I saw the barista making a delicious looking drink and found out that it was mine.
2 Chome-3-1 Iriya, Taito City, Tokyo 110-0013, Japan (Open in Google Maps)
A great place for breakfast in Asakusa.
Japan, 〒111-0033 Tokyo, Taito City, Hanakawado, 1 Chome−11−1 あゆみビル (Open in Google Maps)
ROCCO’S NEW YORK STYLE PIZZA
Best New York slice in the city, maybe in the country. They also have pink lemonade. This place is a favorite of homesick Americans.
Japan, 〒114-0022 Tokyo, Kita City, Ojihoncho, 1 Chome−1−24TK101 ハイツ王子 (Open in Google Maps)
Mount Takao is my number one recommendation for a taste of hiking in Japan because a train from Shibuya will take you directly to the trailhead, you don’t really need to bring any special equipment or shoes, there are plenty of people, you can take a cable car up most of the way if you want, the hike is about 90 minutes, and there’s this delicious cafe at the base if you want to get a little treat before you head back on the train to Tokyo.
2400-1 Takaomachi, Hachioji, Tokyo 193-0844, Japan (Open in Google Maps)