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Renga-tei is unique in that it has managed to thrive in Tokyo since 1895. One urban legend has it that Renga-tei invented tonkatsu but even if that isn't true, they were definitely the pioneers of rice on the plate with the meat, instead of a bowl, and they also were the first to garnish their tonkatsu with the now ubiquitous shredded cabbage. Aside from their perfectly cooked tonkatsu, Renga-tei serves battered deep fried oysters in the winter, a long-time popular dish. Eat here for a golden sample of Tokyo's illustrious culinary past.
Kyo Aji's reputation precedes it - it is exceedingly popular with gourmet locals, who flock to it for its imaginative, highly original Japanese cuisine. The 'Kyo' in the title refers to Kyoto, whose cuisine the restaurant is dedicated to. Chef Nishi serves up a spectacular menu comprising of matsutake mushrooms, hamo (conger eel) and other versions of popular delicacies, all adhering to Japanese gourmet sensibilities - and then some. This Michelin starred restaurant is a must visit however you need to reserve either months in advance or accompany a regular to get an easy entry.
Ponta Honke is one of Tokyo's highest praised tonkatsu restaurants. Tonkatsu has the honor of being loved equally by locals and foreigners and at Ponta Honke, you can dine on some of the finest pork cutlet that the city has to offer. They are simultaneously tender and crispy, thanks to the cooking method; the deep-fat frying is done at a low temperature first and then the cutlets are finished off in extremely hot oil. Portions are huge. Wash your tonkatsu down with a glass of cold beer for a satisfying evening meal.
It's hard to argue with over 200 years of history; Jubako has been serving unagi for that long. Unagi (eel) used to be a delicacy for the very rich; now it's accessible to everyone - you can get delicious eel at pretty much any sushi or sashimi restaurant. Jubako has only a set menu, which serves various forms of cooked eel (broiled, baked, plain) alongside abalone and stewed carp. It's a great restaurant to check out for some authentic, historic Japanese flavor; eat on the floor traditional Japanese-style or, if this doesn't appeal, you can book a Western-style table.
Mitsuhiro Komuro's restaurant was honored with a Michelin star, reflecting and rewarding the chef's attention to detail and his skill with kaiseki cuisine (Japanese multi-course dinner). Dinner at Komuro includes specialties such as conger eel or, in the summer, matsutake mushrooms harvested from forests in western Japan. The restaurant is tiny and seating is limited. If you can, book a one of the eight counter seats, where you can have an informal chat with the chef and marvel as he prepares your meal.
The chef, Keishi Yamada, is a famous Japanese chef with a highly tuned aesthetic; something which he inevitably applies to his cooking. For Yamada, food and art are inseparable. At Rei, you will find extremely fresh seasonal vegetables paired with perfectly prepared sashimi. The restaurant itself is gorgeous; the elaborately carved pine ceiling spirals above a cleanly square setting. With so much to offer, this charming restaurant will not fail to impress you.
While Yukimura is tucked away in Azabu-Juban and doesn't boast of an extravagant setting unlike other Michelin starred restaurants in the city, it has earned an international reputation. With limited counter seating and only nine seats on tables, it means that booking is essential - but it is well worth it, to try Jun Yukimura's Kyoto-inspired cuisine. All ingredients are shipped in especially from Kyoto. Try the matsutake mushrooms, wrapped in eel and grilled over coals; or the grilled bamboo shoots, cooked until perfectly tender. Jun Yukimura is rightly celebrated as one of Japan's most innovative and deft chefs and if you are lucky enough to get a seat, you are guaranteed a meal of unrivaled finesse.
Other than shabu shabu, hot pots aren't the first thing that people tend to associate with Japanese cuisine. A visit to Azabu Ichigo should cure you of any doubts; their oden is carefully prepared using eight different flavored broths and the freshest ingredients. Many Japanese people eat steaming bowls of oden from street-carts but Azabu Ichigo takes a modest concept and elevates it. The dark wood of the interior and the cozy counter space gives the restaurant a feeling of calm in the midst of a busy shopping area. The only Michelin starred oden restaurant in Tokyo, Azabu Ichigo is not to be missed.
Iidaya, an Edo-style restaurant that is redolent of Tokyo's ancient past, serves up dojou, a local freshwater fish that is virtually unknown outside of Japan. It is a flavorful, surprisingly robust little fish, that gives good flavor to Iidaya's specialty dish, dojou-nabe (dojou hot-pot). If you're a little squeamish about fish bones, it is possible to order a boneless version of dojou-nabe. Private rooms, with traditional tatami style seating, are available. Iidaya is a culinary step back in time and the Edo-style decor reflects this; this restaurant is popular with locals so be sure to call in advance.
Hachiku is famous for its Osaka-style (boxed) sushi, perfectly made at this tiny establishment. As there are only four tables, most customers choose to get take-out. Try the chakin-sushi, rice is mixed with eel, pickled gourd, lotus and minced fish then wrapped in a thin layer of omelet. For the experimental types, get a sushi variety box, which is a great way to sample many of the twenty or so flavors. Hachiku has been open for eighty years now and continues to set a very high standard for Osaka-style sushi.
Obana has been a local favorite through five generations of owners; it serves generous portions of incredibly fresh, delicious unagiya. Even better, the eels are caught in the wild, not farmed. There is often a line so be prepared to wait and as the restaurant follows the ancient traditions of preparing and cooking the fish, there is a considerable wait after you have ordered. But it is truly worth it and it's a great opportunity to eat authentic, age-old Japanese cuisine with a dining room full of enthusiastic locals. Private rooms are also available for groups.
For delicious oysters, the Fish House Oyster Bar is your best bet. With oysters from Canada, America, and a plethora of local varieties, there are as many varieties as there are ways to chomp them down. Besides oysters, clam chowders, cheese platters and several other menu choices are also available. This one-room joint also offers a thoughtful variety of oyster-friendly wines and beers. Whether you believe in the power of the oyster or not, if you are a fan, aficionado, or just want to see what all the fuss is about, then the Fish House Oyster Bar is a great place to start.