Cooking and eating have always been my passion, and I'm so in love with the food options and experiences available in Japan.
Today I want to share 10 of my personal favorite restaurants in Japan that hold a special place in my heart!
Ramen has become a really popular Japanese dish, and you can probably tell how much we love it too from the number of ramen restaurants all over the country.
I have two favorites.
I first visited this ramen restaurant when I visited my friend in Fukuoka, and fell in love with it.
The main area of Fukuoka is called Hakata, and Hakata ramen is one of the two most famous types of ramen in Japan (the other is from Sapporo).
Hakata ramen is mainly "tonkotsu" (pork bone) flavor,but the broth from this restaurant doesn't have that distinct tonkotsu smell and has a very clean flavor for tonkotsu ramen.
Another unique aspect is that you can order "motsu" (offal) as a topping.
Motsu is another popular local dish from the area.
Personally, I don't like motsu at all, but the motsu from Fukuoka is really tasty, and I loved it as a ramen topping.
If you are open to trying something new, try this place as I didn't like motsu before I ate it here, but even if you don't want an adventure, the ramen itself is still very tasty.
There are a few branches in Fukuoka. The main branch is located in the drinking district, Tenjin, but the most convenient to go to is in Hakata Station.
I am actually a big fan of chicken dashi, even though chicken dashi is not the most popular broth for ramen in Japan.
I used to buy chicken bones from supermarkets and make soups from it, and it's amazing how the chicken dashi enhances the flavor of any soup it’s in.
Kagari, originally from Ginza, Tokyo, is now a well known ramen shop across Japan.
My girlfriend at the time and I were so happy for them when they were featured in the Michelin guide.
Instead of going to fancy meals, every time we were in Ginza, she wanted to eat at Kagari.
I’m sure she likes Kagari even more than I do.
The chicken broth is so strong in flavor that it reminds you of potage, but the taste is very clean.
The vegetables that come with the ramen vary seasonally, which is a neat perk to eating here as well!
I think most of you imagine sushi as one of our major dishes, and you’d be right, it is!!
I also have two favorite sushi places, one that is a conveyor belt kaiten sushi restaurant and another which is an edomae sushi restaurant.
Hanamaru is a conveyor belt sushi chain originally from Nemuro, a port city in East Hokkaido. It has many branches in Hokkaido, and one in Tokyo Station.
Here the sushi rotates on a conveyor belt that runs around the counter, and you can choose what you want to eat.
The color of the dish indicates how much that dish will cost. After you are finished, you can call the floor staff over to count your dishes and they will give you the bill to pay.
A lot of Japanese people actually prefer to order using the paper that is attached to each seat so that the sushi chef will make it to order(can't be fresher can it? ^ ^) but this might be challenging as it's in Japanese...
But it’s there to use if you’d like to give it a try!
Trying to communicate with the local restaurant people is sometimes the best part of the journey!
Kansei is an edomae sushi restaurant, which is a different dining style to rotating sushi.
Edomae basically means “Tokyo Style.” Edomae came about during the Edo Period, when many Japanese people were samurai.
Edo eventually evolved into modern-day Tokyo, and Edomae has also slowly evolved with it.
Edomae Sushi restaurants have counters which allow customers to be served face-to-face with the sushi chef (unless you choose a table seat).
The best thing about the Edomae is you can see the neta (toppings) or the fish of the day and then tell the chef what you would like.
It can be made in either sashimi style (without rice) or nigiri style (on rice).
Fish can be somewhat seasonal and taste better at some times of the year than others, but if you’re confused about what you should order just tell the chef what you don't like, and then you can leave it to them and go with omakase style.
Usually a Japanese person has their favorite Edomae style sushi restaurant they like to go to, and for our family it is Kansei.
We are so close to them that Helping Dragon has released a one-minute video of Kansei.
Please give it a go if you want to try an authentic sushi as a treat for yourself!
Wagyu is another Japanese food that’s become a hit around the world.
Although I have one special place that I like, it has been so long since I last went that I forgot the name of the restaurant...butI think Jojoen is another convenient and authentic yakiniku restaurant to visit instead.
The great thing about yakiniku is that you get to try different parts of the beef (loin, ribeye, etc) in small amounts and place additional orders for the ones you like the most.
If you do not feel like yakiniku and would like a thick cut steak, then teppanyaki might be a good choice.
The one I remember the most is Sagami in Yokohama Bay Sheraton.
If you don’t feel like yakiniku and would like a thick cut steak, then teppanyaki might be a better choice for you.
The restaurant that sticks most in my mind is Sagami in Yokohama Bay Sheraton.
Although it is pricey compared to the other restaurants I’ve been talking about, it is well worth the price if it’s for a special occasion.
You get to choose between Matsuzaka or Maezawa beef, of which my family all loved the Maezawa beef best.
Unagi and Anago are both eels. The only difference is that unagi live in lakes and rivers, whereas anago mainly live in seawater.
Unagi has a richer taste and is mostly eaten grilled and dipped in sauce.
Anago tastes slightly lighter in flavor compared to unagi, so while it can also be grilled with sauce, it is also prepared in other ways like tempura.
Because unagi (freshwater eels) can be fished in Hamana Lake in Hamamatsu, the city has been a major spot to enjoy some of the best unagi dishes in Japan.
The eels at this restaurant are left swimming 115 meters underwater for a week without food to "cleanse" the body and draw out their original taste. This traditional technique is called "ikashikomi."
This time-consuming effort enhances just the right flavor and texture that go so well with the traditional sauce that unagi has been served with for more than 100 years.
My mother’s brother actually is a unagi restaurant owner in Hamamatsu.
Although I do want you to try it there, they relocated to have a local, smaller business a few years ago,
and it doesn’t focus just on unagi anymore, so I’d say Fujita is your best bet.
One of my most memorable food experiences took place near the ferry terminal for Miyajima in Hiroshima.
Anago is the eel eaten locally in the Hiroshima area, and Ueno has been specializing in it for more than 100 years.
When you go, you must try the "shirayaki" which is grilled anago with salt.
Shira comes from shiro which means “white.” The main way to cook anago is with a sauce, which makes it look dark in color,
but because this restaurant is so confident in the quality of their anago, they can also serve it simply with a pinch of salt.
Sukiyaki and shabushabu are dishes that Japanese people like to have on special occasions.
"Suki" means "like" and "yaki" is "fry," which means "fry what you like.
It usually consists of beef, seasonal vegetables and tofu, fried with soy sauce, sake, and sugar.
Shabu Shabu resembles sukiyaki, but is lightly boiled instead of fried, and is eaten either with "ponzu" (soy sauce with citrus) or "gomadare" (sesame mayonnaise) sauce.
Shabushabu tends to be a healthier choice as the boiling reduces the excess fat and calories of the cooked food.
Since the ingredients are both similar for sukiyaki and shabushabu, Japanese families usually have a preference on which way to eat at home.
My family tends to cook/eat shabushabu more than sukiyaki! Which would you prefer?
Imahan is another traditional restaurant that has been around for over a century.
It started out as a gyudon restaurant in the beginning and has slowly evolved over the years into a sukiyaki restaurant.
Sukiyaki is usually eaten by keeping a small bowl beside you that contains raw egg and dipping the sukiyaki into it to eat.
Japan is one of the few places where people enjoy eggs raw,
and sukiyaki is a great way to try raw egg if you’re not used to it as the stronger flavors of the sauces and other ingredients make the flavor of the egg more subtle.
When I think about shabushabu, it always reminds me of this restaurant chain because my grandfather loved coming here.
The good thing about this restaurant is that it has many branches all over Japan, and has an all you can eat course.
So if you’re feeling hungry, this is the perfect option for you!
Lastly, I have to talk about yakitori as it’s my favorite Japanese dish.
Yakitori is usually grilled chicken skewers unless you eat it in South Hokkaido, where it’s pork.
I chose Oreno Yakitori as my recommended restaurant because I find the concept very interesting.
This place mainly consists of standing tables, which helps customers to "eat, drink and go."
Since this restaurant has a quicker turnover of customers than other sit-down restaurants, this boosts profits, so they can serve higher quality food.
I used to go to this restaurant a lot when I lived in Tokyo. My favorite yakitori is bonjiri, the tail part of the chicken, but good quality bonjiri is very difficult to find.
This place serves good bonjiri, so naturally I was a regular here.
It also has lots of additional options like salads, sushi, and other alternatives,
which makes it easier for everyone in a group to be happy with what they are eating (usually yakitori restaurants don't have so many menu options other than chicken!)
I would recommend going to the Ginza branch because it has live bands, and Ginza is usually the most convenient place to access from any area in Tokyo.
Today we've covered the top ten restaurants that I personally recommend in Japan.
They’re scattered all over the country, but if you happen to plan to visit these cities, then be sure to try the foods introduced above!