Food in Tokyo is known to be expensive—it will definitely eat a large part of your budget especially if you’re aiming for high end dinners and classy bars.
But like with any city, expenses are a choice. Don’t think that all the local Tokyo citizens spend hundreds of dollars every meal every day. Of course as a traveler, most of the time you want to experience the best of the best but I believe it’s also important to balance that out with food and drinks that are simple, authentic and give you a stronger grasp on the local culture.
Luckily, I was able to round up several places that offer high quality food and drink for a gourmet night out without breaking the bank (that much). Ranging from cheap vendo-machine style diners to Michelin-starred restaurants, Tokyo shows that gourmet can be right around the corner.
We will be coming out with 2 more blog posts following this one. One covering shopping and the other, museums and beautiful natural spots in Tokyo.
Once they are all up, we will be posting our Video Travel Guide to the city on YouTube!!!! Make sure you subscribe and hit the bell, to make sure that you don’t miss it: http://goo.gl/TAhuPT
Google map the locations below, and then from there plot out your routes and itinerary, to know what areas you are going around on what day.
- Butadon, grilled pork on top of steaming bowls of rice, is the star of the show in Butayaro. You can order different sizes (small, medium, or large) of this dish depending on your hunger and budget.
- Average price for 2: 2,500 yen
- If you want to take a break from the Japanese food but don’t want to venture out of the Asian flavor profile, try out Kaithong. Located near the Shibuya station is this specialty shop serving only Hainanese chicken rice, and for quite the bargain. Each plate costs only 800 yen.
- Average price for two: 1,600 yen including drinks
- For Michelin-star quality dining on a budget, a good tip is to go during lunch service. Kien serves up authentic multiple course meals (kaiseki) and set meals (teishoku) so good that you’ll come back for more.
- Average price for one: starts at 1,600 yen
- Sushi Katsura
- The fresher the seafood, the better tasting the meal. Head to the Tsukiji Fish Market for the some of the best sushi in Tokyo. Sought-out places like Sushi Katsura tend to get expensive come dinner time, but their lunch menu offers good meals starting at 950 yen.
- Average price for one: 1000 yen
- Harajuku Gyoza
- For a twist on gyoza, head to Harajuku Gyoza where they’re known as “Japanese dumplings of happy”. This hip restaurant features interesting fillings in their gyoza, such as pork and kimchi, lemongrass chicken, and cheese. Izakaya dishes such as edamame, takoyaki, and agedashi tofu are also available as sides to their wide selection of cocktails, spirits, and beers.
- Average price for 2: 1,000 yen
- Commune 2nd
- Enjoy Tokyo culture in an open-air venue featuring a variety of food stalls. Commune 2nd, formerly known as Commune 246, has everything from vegan food with a Hawaiian twist, Spanish tapas, and Thai dishes chock full of cilantro. Japanese favorites like karaage and fresh seafood are also available, pairing nicely with a cold bottle of beer.
- Average price for 2: 2,500 Yen including drinks
- This izakaya style restaurant located near the Yoyogi-Uehara station features an amazing selection of sake. They serve fresh seafood sides and bar bites like nuts for an enjoyable night out.
- Kanda Matsuya
- Noodles are such a great option when youre eating out in Japan. Because they are made with basic ingredients and are extremely filling. Even some of the best Soba, Noodle or Ramen shops, keep a very decent price point per dish. This place is considered one of the two traditionalist, unpretentious, Soba restaurants in the city.
- Anywhere from 1000 to 3000 yen.
- 300 Bar
- You might be hard pressed to find a cheap bar in Ginza, but 300 Bar boasts the cheapest prices in one of the most expensive areas of Tokyo. Drinks like cocktails and beers here run for 300 yen each, and this bar offers plenty of small dishes like fries, salads, pizza, and cold cuts also at 300 yen apiece. This bar uses a ticketing system, where each ticket costs 300 yen. Men are required to buy a minimum of three, women two, but these tickets can be used indefinitely.
- Average price for one: 900 yen
- Tasu Ichi
- Just a couple of strides away from the famous Shibuya crossing is this standing-only bar. Squeeze in here for drinks that cost 300-500 yen each, and strike up a conversation with the many foreigners and locals that gather here.
- Average price for one: 500 yen
Cheap Craft Beers
- If you’re more of a beer person, head to this tiny beer bar nestled between Ginza and Yaesu. IBREW features 10 taps of Japanese beers ranging from 421-745 depending on the size of the glass.
- Average price for one: 800 yen
- Two Dogs Taproom
- Located in Roppongi, Two Dogs offers a whopping 24 varieties of Japanese and international beers on tap. Pints of Japanese beers go for less than a thousand yen while some international brands go for higher. Smaller glasses are also available at cheaper prices. For the best bargain, go during their Hoppy Hour, where pints are medium price and mediums are small price instead.
- Average price for two: 500 yen.
If you have a bit more budget to go around, these are some of my favourite bars in the city:
- Bar Rage: One of the first bars I’ve ever experienced the fruit selection process in. You choose your fruit, your spirit and talk about the drink profile you enjoy and let the bartender do the rest.
- Bar Trench: Cocktails done right.
- Bar High Five: One of the OGs of the Japanese bar scene.
- Gen Yamamoto: An omakase, coursed, cocktail experience.
- Bar Tram: Cocktails done right.
- Odin: For great whisky.
- Sushi Ro
- Conveyor belt sushi is a popular choice when visiting Tokyo, and chains like Sushi Ro can be found all over the city. The novelty of getting sushi from the conveyor belt or ordering through iPads at the table comes cheap at just 108 yen per plate (2 pcs of sushi). Menus are available in different languages including English.
- Average price for two: 1000 yen
- Mawashi-zushi Katsu
- This Japanese-only restaurant may require you to pull out the online translator for the menu, but they offer delicious, fresh sushi at cheap prices. Plates go from 100-500 yen each, and are all served on the conveyor belt.
- Average price for two: 1000 yen
Budget Fast Food
- If you’re planning to eat well without breaking the bank, head to one of the many Matsuya restaurants around Tokyo. Food is ordered using a ticket machine before it is prepared and served by the waiter. They offer a variety of dishes, though they’re mostly known for gyu-don (rice topped with beef). This is the cheapest way to get a truly Japanese eating experience.
- Average price for two: 700 yen
Take Out Options
Another way to save on spending for good food while in Tokyo is to hit up convenience stores and cook or eat at your place of lodging. Convenience stores offer a variety of ready-to-eat meals, snacks, and drinks at low prices. This is great especially if you’re feeding a large group of people, and want to try a lot of different food. If you visit convenience stores before closing, you can score hot meals at discounted prices (usually half off) as they want to keep stocks fresh.
How To Get Around on a Budget?
Navigating around Tokyo to hit up all of these restaurants and bars may seem like a challenge, but touring the city will be a breeze with the with Tokyo Subway Ticket (available for 24h/48h/72h). Each ticket allows you to have unlimited train rides to all of Tokyo’s stops. Tokyo Subway Tickets are available for purchase at the Narita and Haneda airports, as well as the Tourist Information located in train stations of Tokyo Metro.
Tourist Information desks that sells Tokyo Subway Tickets are located in Shinjuku, Ginza, Omote-sando, Ueno stations; from 9:15 to 17:15.
The best value ticket is the Tokyo Subway 24-hour Ticket, for 800 yen for adults and 400 yen for children. It gives you access to all Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway lines.
In a city where taxis and Uber can be really expensive, this is your best bet. Just show up to any of those location with your passport and get your card.
For an even more seamless trip, use the “Tokyo Subway Navigation” app to check your itinerary and get directions to your next destination. All you have to do is type in your departure station and your destination station. Then the app will easily tell you how to get to the proper station. A little trick I use when I get confused with the names, I just use the letter and number combination, attached to each station, to get around. Best part is, you can use it offline.