Caffe La Tana is a tiny Italian spot in a quiet area of Commercial Drive, a neighborhood where you’ll find people who grow their own arugula and are competitive about bike polo. It has olive oil on tap and sells pastries and giant cans of tomatoes, but what you should be prioritizing is their homemade pasta. In the likely scenario that the weather isn’t great, sit inside for lunch and order dishes like agnolotti in roasting juices or pea and pancetta maltagliati. If you’re lucky enough to get a sunny day, rent a bike, pick up some prosciutto to go, and ride over to Trout Lake to have a picnic. Or go at night on weekends when it becomes a natural wine bar, especially if it’s late and you’re craving cheese. It’s a pretty casual spot, but you’ll pay a little extra for their higher quality ingredients (once you try the pasta though, you won’t mind).
Sasagin is technically an izakaya, but we treat it as a bar because it has one of the largest selections of Japanese sake we’ve ever seen, and you can try them all in the casual setting. They may ask you to order a small plate of food or two, but at some point you’ll want it anyway. The old guy with a mustache here is basically a sake sommelier, and he’s happy to give you suggestions of what to try. It’s in a random part of town, which makes it a great way to escape tourist life.
Stand T Bar is a very casual place where you can grab a beer and have some snacks. The main attraction here is the fact it looks right at the old Tokyo train station, which makes it a great place to hang and people watch outside any time of day.
Goss is a self-serve wine bar where you pick wine out from different machines that serve you out of a spout. It sounds silly and touristy, but it’s actually not, and you’ll find mostly locals here. It’s a great place to pop in for a late afternoon drink after shopping, or a pre-dinner drink.
Bar North Marine Drive is a record bar in Shibuya that plays American music and takes their drinks and music very seriously. Think of the traits you’d associate with Samurai warriors, and apply those same principals to cocktails and records.
You’ll find the cool Japanese crowd at Bar Tram. The cocktails here are mostly absinthe-based, and they’ll have you speaking incoherently after one or two. Start with a classic absinthe drip and see where the night takes you. And don’t feel bad if you start the night here and never make it anywhere else - it’s happened to us a few too many times.
Head to Bar Amber for the craziest fruit-based cocktails you’ve ever had. Whatever they have fresh on hand that day will be turned into a drink, whether it’s passionfruit or strawberries. It’s a great place to start your night or end with a casual nightcap.
The Ginza neighborhood is famous for traditional cocktail bars where guys in fancy white shirts are excessively stirring martinis. And Bar Brick is our favorite of the bunch. Stick with classics like an Old Fashioned or Manhattan, or test out the large selection of Japanese whiskeys on hand. It has a classic 1920s speakeasy atmosphere, which is cool to see in a Tokyo setting.
Some conveyor-belt sushi spots can feel grungy, but Mawashi Zushi Katsu does not. While the conveyer-belt spot Miuramisa has a more convenient location, Mawashi wins for sushi quality. There’s usually a line here, but the wait is manageable and they have the seating process down to a science. The sushi chefs will also make some specialty items for you, and they’re willing to keep things basic with tempura or California roll if you need. Just don’t ask for a tempura-California roll - that’s crossing the line.
You owe it to yourself to try a conveyor-belt sushi spot if you’ve never experienced it before. Unlike in the US, conveyer-belt sushi in Japan isn’t considered corny at all. It’s quick, convenient, affordable, and a great way to try a lot of different stuff. Magurodonya Miura Misakiko is far up north in Ueno, but it’s near Ueno Park and the National Museum, two big tourist attractions that you should visit while you’re here anyway. Hit this place for lunch in between sight seeing, or dinner once you finish at the museum and are tired of using your brain. Magurodonya Miura Misakiko is located in a row of other conveyor-belt spots near the train station, but it’s the best of the bunch. Eat here over anywhere nearby, and see how many mini sushi plates you can stack up.
Sushi Ishii is one of our favorites for a nicer meal that’s still reasonable. It’s a simple yet pretty space that’s on the smaller side, with only a couple of tables and a sushi counter. But between the sushi chef who is friendly and will talk your ear off whether or not you understand any Japanese and the flexible pricing (let him know how much you’d like to spend and he’ll tailor the omakase), it’s a great spot to know about.
This is great bang-for-your-buck sushi. This is the kind of place we could eat every day, thanks in part to an excellent lunch special that will leave you pretty full for $15. You can also get a full-blown sushi dinner and drinks for around $60, and you won’t find this kind of quality sushi in a casual setting for that price anywhere else in Tokyo.
In terms of price, Anjo isn’t the lowest of lows nor is it the highest of highs. It’s a nice, modern place where you’ll spend $150 tops for a fantastic meal. The chef here is younger, but his skills are just as good as some of the veterans out there. Our move is to start off with a glass of champagne at the counter while the chef prepares the omakase, then work your way through the sushi alongside a sampler of a few of the chef’s recommended sakes.