Visiting Tokyo and want to find delicious restaurants? Check out our 3 tips to finding “umai” or “oishii” Japan restaurants!
Japan is full of restaurants, and as with any other cities in the world, there are good and bad apples. To pick the good ones, travelers usually rely on Tripadvisors for review and comments on the best restaurant in the neighborhood. Unfortunately in Japan, probably due to the language barrier, usually there are not too many reviews on TripAdvisors, or the recommended places are often filled with foreigners serving touristy food.
Today we will give you two pro tips in finding the most “Oishii” (美味しい) or “Umai” (美味い) Japan restaurant!
Tip #1: Look for queues
Always go for Japan restaurant with people lined up outside, rather than those you can just walk in.
Japanese are known for queuing or lining up. There are lines for anything in Japan, from waiting for trains, lining up for electronics (iPhone or Nintendo), to lining up to fashion (Goro in Harajuku). And of course, there is a queue that Japanese must battle every day – lining up for good food.
You can always find a scene like this in Tokyo: two restaurants side-by-side, one where you can walk right in, but the other one have queues of 50+ people going around the block, with wait time of over hours. Why would people be willing to waste couple hours of their life just by standing in line, even in snowy freezing winter or melting hot summer heat? The answer must be the reward; the food is so good that it clearly outweighs the opportunity cost of sweating and suffering from boredom standing in line.
Therefore, tip #1: Look for queues. The longer the queue, the better the restaurant.
Tip #2: To eat like a local, you must also use the local food review app
Today we would show you how we found a hidden gem in Ikebukuro, a small ramen shop that is filled with locals and never mentioned on any guidebooks.
One night after shopping and visiting various attractions in Tokyo, we were hungry. Being big ramen fans, we really wanted an authentic ramen experience in Japan. However, we usually relied on TripAdvisor or Chinese guidebooks for restaurant recommendations, and we find a lot of the recommended places are filled with tourists or serving “tourist meals”.
Japan restaurant are covered with stickers on the front window, and one of them is this, and they seemingly appear everywhere.
Curious about what this sticker is, we asked our trusty friend Google. Not knowing Japanese, we had to use creative search phases to finally identifying the site behind this sticker: Tabelog
Tabelog is actually the largest food review website in Japan, and can be thought of as the Japanese equivalent of Yelp. Japanese are known to be very tough food critic, so any place with Tabelog score of 3.5 or above is considered great and definitely worth a visit.
Tabelog is great that it has an English website so it is easy to navigate. Just type in your area, set conditions (Categories, budget), hit search, and you are good to go. Unfortunately, Tabelog does not allow you to sort by ranking for free (it is in the Japanese premium app), so you need to go through the restaurants and find the highest ranked one.
We were very grateful we found mandohanada (review will come in a later post!), as it feels just different to be dining with Japanese locals than surrounded by foreign tourists. You really feel like you are part of the society!
Therefore tip#2: use Tabelog or local food review apps to eat like a local!
Tip #3: Don’t trust free maps
You will encounter a lot of free maps during the trip, usually in hotels, tourist spots, or shopping malls. These free maps are filled with ads. Based on our experience, the restaurants on them are usually not that good.
The rationale is simple: good restaurants usually are already very busy with queues (see Tip #1), so there is not really a need to waste advertising budget, since they don’t have enough capacity to serve customers already. Restaurants on free maps are usually targeting tourists, so they will likely serving you non-authentic Japanese meals catered for foreigners taste. They will likely overcharge too.
Tip #3: Remember, free maps are only good for one thing: maps of tourist traps to avoid.
Hope these tips help you to find the most delicious restaurants in Japan! In the meantime, be sure to visit my Instagram – Mizzmok for more fashion and lifestyle idea!