This alternative guide to Tokyo is a list of some of our favorite coffee shops, local restaurants, and hidden gems. If you read the first Tokyo travel guide produced from a previous trip then this one has a few more spots we discovered on our second Tokyo round.
One thing I love about Tokyo is the endless places to discover. It’s a city you could go to a hundred times and still find something new. These hidden restaurants, small boutiques, and thimble-sized coffee shops pouring incredible coffee are incredible. The city can be overwhelming and so challenging to make sense of, but that for me is what makes it one of a kind.
Anthony Bourdain once said, “For those with restless, curious minds, fascinated by layer upon layer of things, flavors, tastes, and customs, which we will never fully be able to understand, Tokyo is deliciously unknowable. I’m sure I could spend the rest of my life there, learn the language, and still die happily ignorant.” I couldn’t agree more.
So here it is, an alternative guide to Tokyo. Yes, I included three to four of our tried and true from the original guide. Just this one has a bit more, a deeper dive to places we didn’t know about last time, and some great spots not to miss.
The Alternative Guide to Tokyo
What to Know Before Traveling to Tokyo
I know planning a trip to Japan is strenuous, at least we found it very challenging on our first trip. I want to encourage you that though it is overwhelming beforehand, once you’re there, it’s easy to get the hang of it. To make it easier, I’d encourage reading these posts BEFORE planning:
Top Tips Before Visiting Japan (General travel tips.)
Breaking Down Transportation In Japan (Important if you plan to get a rail pass.)
The First-Timer’s Itinerary To Japan (Overall itinerary planning help.)
Some other travel tips for Tokyo:
- Time of year: I’d avoid the summer heat and crowds if possible. The fall or spring are lovely there.
- Amount of time: I could easily do 5 nights here every trip, so it truly depends on how much you want to see. You could do 2-3 nights and get a good sense of the city.
- The Narita Express is the best way to access the city from Narita International Airport (seat reservations to/from the airport are required). The JR Rail Pass covers this line (around $30 USD a person one way). Expect at least an hour to an hour and a half to Shinjuku/Shibuya area.
- The entire city is easily traversed by foot, train, or bus.
- The Suica card is helpful for using the bus and local train. You can get one at the main stations and, with a small deposit, have access to reloading this card or optionally buy individual train tickets (there’s also a Suica mobile app that enable you to use your phone to scan at turnstiles). If you have a JR Rail Pass, this is also applicable for certain lines in Tokyo. Be sure to apply and purchase your JR Rail Pass prior to arrival in Japan.
- Japan is a primarily cash-only country. Carry Yen on you at all times to cover meals, shopping, and transportation. The best place to withdraw cash is at a Seven-Eleven ATM’s.
- The best way to handle any restaurant reservation is to have your local accommodations call and reserve. Most restaurants need reservations far in advance.
Eat Here in Tokyo
We come to eat. Let’s be honest that one of our biggest motivations in Tokyo is food-based. We’re not ashamed about it and yes some times we choose outfits accordingly (I have a “ramen” outfit, no high-waisted jeans for me!). Restaurants in Japan are interesting, most dedicated to a single style of cuisine — see this post on dining in Japan. Tokyo is a food lover’s paradise, having endless restaurants and foods to try.
Here’s 0ur list, the places we’ve been 2+ times (some of them 4 times) as we love them that much. It also includes some new alternatives to the places we’ve been to and you may have tried too.
Our tried and true:
- Fuku Yakitori: We always book a table here for the beginning and the ending of our time in Japan. Dedicated to yakitori cuisine, Fuku is single-handedly our most memorable meal in Japan, even on the second trip. Have your accommodations call in a booking, request bar seating if possible. Any single vegetable ingredient is delicious (especially the green onions and mushrooms). We also love the smoked cheese, stuffed peppers, and gingko nuts.
- Sakura Tei: Okonomiyaki is one of our favorites in Japan and this spot you can cook it yourself. These cabbage, batter, and meat/fish pancake-style thing is delicious and perfect on a cold day.
New spots we loved:
- CAMELBACK sandwich&espresso: This was a new spot for us and we headed here for a breakfast sandwich. The prosciutto with ooba leaf was out of this world and served on a crunchy baguette.
- Sagatani Shibuya Dogenzaka: Soba noodles are one of our favorites as well in Japan and we discovered this gem sandwiched next to a Starbucks in the heart of Shibuya. Walk-in, use the ticket machine and give your ticket to the bar. The fresh noodles are delicious!
- Butagumi: One of the best meals we had in Tokyo was at this tonkatsu-dedicated restaurant. As we’re fairly new to the world of tonkatsu, the lightly breaded and fried pork is a delicacy in Japan. They have multiple kinds of pork to choose from, ranging from least to high fat. Be sure to reserve in advance here and I’d recommend lunch hour.
- 築地虎杖 別館 – Itadori Sushi bar at Tsukiji Market: We always head to the market at least one morning in Tokyo and this time stumbled into this sushi bar. It’s delicious, it’s bizarre to eat sushi before 9am, and it’s wonderfully great. Pull up a seat here, the price is worth it.
- ØL by Oslo Brewing Co.: Great spot to grab a beer and check out the food truck if you need a bite.
If you’ve been to Ippudo Ramen, try:
- Ramen Jirō Mita Headquarters: This spot we failed to get into last time as the line as too long so we dedicated more time to wait it out. Around 35 minutes to get in, this king of pork ramen won us both over. Topped with raw garlic and only a few stools at the counter, we slurped down noodles with the locals.
- AFURI (Shinjuku Lumine): Another Tokyo staple for ramen, they have a few locations throughout the city. The broth is refined and the dish an elegant take on street-style ramen.
- Fūunji: Another cash-only local spot for hearty ramen.
Where to Grab a Coffee in Tokyo
A full coffee shop guide to Tokyo can be found here. The two spots I’d add to the list that we loved are:
- Onibus in Nakameguro: We made the trek here twice we loved it so much.
- Coffee Supreme near Yoyogi Park: A great espresso and hot cheese bread are delicious.
Alternative Things to Do in Tokyo
There is a lot to discover in Tokyo and somehow we always end up finding something to do. Here are a few new things we loved in addition to what is listed on the first Tokyo Guide.
If you’ve been to the National Museum, check out the Nezu Museum.
The Nezu Museum blew us away. Not only is it a stunning building with a hidden garden in the back, but it also boasts some incredible ancient Japanese art. We spent a few hours here exploring the grounds and loved this zen-oasis in the heart of the city.
If you’ve been to Shibuya neighborhood, check out Nakameguro.
This neighborhood really delighted us to discover. We hadn’t been this way yet and after wandering around the first time up the iconic Meguro Riverwalk, we came back again. The neighborhood is quite large, most of the shops are on the river but the street called Kamimeguro (just look up Tokyobikes) has some wonderful shops. I’d stop in for coffee at Onibus and then go out and explore. Over on the river, there are wonderful shops and Sidewalk Stand for food.
If you need to be indoors, book tickets for teamLab Borderless.
This art exhibit blew our minds. It’s out of this world, it’s beautiful and interactive. You need to book in advance for here and it’s well worth the price point. I’d recommend arriving early as well.
If you need a break from the city, head to Yoyogi Park.
This is listed from the last trip but wanted to include it again. We walked into the park about an hour before sunset and felt like we had most of it to ourselves. It was so peaceful and loved how quiet it is even though you’re right in the heart of the city. The Meiji Shrine is also here and worth a stroll through as well.