Sam Buffie, Roadtrips’ Lead Event Planner
Roadtrips’ Lead Event Planner, Sam Buffie, recently spent a week in Tokyo in preparation for the 2020 Summer Games. She scouted out accommodations, interviewed local partners, and spent some time checking out the neighborhoods and the best things to do in Tokyo – all to make sure we provide our clients with the very best of Tokyo. As one of our most experienced event hosts and a lifelong traveller, she’s seen more than her share of travel destinations and Tokyo was definitely a highlight. In our last blog, Sam provided some helpful tips on the best places to stay in Tokyo for the 2020 Summer Games. In our latest blog below, Sam discusses her most memorable experiences involving Tokyo’s incredible food and drink scene.
Like many of you, one of my favorite parts about traveling is sampling the local cuisine. What’s better than unfamiliar but excellent dining experiences to give one a taste, pun intended, of a new culture? Fortunately, Tokyo is one of the best places in the world to do this. It boasts everything from ramen joints to Michelin starred eateries (well over 200 of them, more than any other city in the world). Anywhere you find yourself dining, you’ll notice that the Japanese have an obsession with perfect ingredients and it shows. There were a lot of highlights, just a few of which I’ve detailed below.
Cool Restaurants and Places to Eat in Tokyo
- Misono Shinuku
- Yakitori joints
- Ginza Kappou Ukai
- Hyatt Centric
- Golden Gai
- Robot Restaurant
- Tsukiji Market
- Houtou Fudou
- Mr. Donut
- New York Bar in the Park Hyatt
One of the most memorable meals I had was at Misono Shinjuku. I knew I wanted to experience a Teppanyaki meal in Japan and Misono seemed to be the perfect place to do this. Misono is believed to be the originator of Teppanyaki cuisine, which dates back to the mid-1940s. Misono Shinjuku is located on the 51st floor of an office tower and the first thing I noticed were the stunning views. I marveled as the skilled chefs prepared top grade Wagyu beef in front of me, and I couldn’t wait to try it. I wasn’t disappointed. It was the most incredible, melt-in-your-mouth beef I have ever tasted. The preparation, the presentation, the taste: it was perfection.
Another evening, I headed out to find myself some yakitori. I wandered down a dive strip of yakitori joints literally under the train tracks and stopped at one of the slightly larger ones, packed with the patrons. With a large mug of cold beer in hand, I sampled a whole variety of these grilled skewers, from straight up beef and chicken to the more exotic, intestinal yakitori. It was a loud environment with conversations and tables jammed close to one another. But the quality of the grilling and meat was great, the beer was cold, and the experience felt very authentic.
Ginza Kappou Ukai
Dinner at Ginza Kappou Ukai was also superb. The restaurant, in the heart of Ginza, was beautiful, classy and quiet, with ample space between tables of elegantly dressed Japanese couples and small groups. Our chef showed great skill as he expertly and artistically made the food in front of us. Our seven course dinner was exquisitely prepared, wonderfully delicious, paired with great wine, and very expensive – but worth it.
There were lots of great dinners but the lunches were remarkable too. While visiting the Hyatt Centric, one of our 2020 Summer Games Hotels, I had lunch onsite at their Namiki667. The attention to detail was evident from the flavor to the presentation to the service. And just when I thought I couldn’t eat another bite, they brought out a Valrhona chocolate tart that was heavenly.
Another neat experience was Golden Gai. In a city that’s known for bright lights and towering skyscrapers, Golden Gai was a refreshing change of pace. The “Golden District” in Shinjuku is a series of narrow alleyways, flanked by some of the smallest bars you’ve ever seen. Most have room for only a handful of guests and each one seems to have its own theme. It’s eccentric and quirky and a bit intimidating but also a really cool area to check out.
And perhaps the most memorable of all is the Robot Restaurant, truly an “out there” experience. I can totally see why Anthony Bourdain recommended it and why it is a top Tokyo attraction. It is one of the wildest shows I have ever seen. Laser lights, robots, cabaret, blaring J-pop electronic music: it’s sensory overload in a great way. It also seems to be popular with celebrities; we spotted some of the cast of Vanderpump Rules during our visit. It’s a bit funny that they include restaurant in the name. Though they do have a few Bento box lunches to choose from, and some booze and popcorn, it is the show that carries the day. I would recommend grabbing a real dinner prior to going. It is hard to explain why it is so popular; it’s loud, weird, the story is impossible to follow, it’s garish… and it’s super high energy. It’s that wild quintessential mix of neon noise and anime that us Westerners don’t entirely get about Japan, and it was the coolest thing ever. I would tell all my friends to go, but not my parents.
There were so many more wonderful experiences. Wandering the many shops and sampling the many offerings of the Tsukiji Market was also great; the sites, smells and tastes made for a great afternoon of wandering and grazing.
There was a memorable meal at Houtou Fudou on my way to Mount Fuji, a traditional Udon noodle restaurant popular with locals. I snacked on fried gobo (burdock) root at a fishing pond in Musashino. I had the pleasure of sampling the light-as-air donuts from Mr. Donut. I enjoyed a cocktail complemented by some amazing city views at New York Bar in the Park Hyatt, featured in the Academy Award winning movie Lost in Translation. Each experience seemed to be more incredible than the last.
This trip left no doubt in my mind that Tokyo is definitively one of the world’s top culinary destinations.
If you’d like to experience the best of Tokyo’s food and drink scene for yourself, join us in Japan for our highly anticipated 2020 Summer Games Travel Packages.