Tokyo’s hidden food gems—from exceptional unagi to quality onigiri

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Tokyo hidden gems
Photo by JT Fernandez

Explore the hidden gems in Tokyo’s food scene from a hidden onigiri shop at the train station to mouthwatering eel and the finest Wagyu beef


In Tokyo, where modernity and tradition intertwine, hidden food gems await around every corner. As I explored this vibrant city, I discovered that sometimes the best dining experiences stem from the most unexpected discoveries.

Tokyo hidden gems
Photo by JT Fernandez

Here are my top food picks to dine in Tokyo that you simply cannot miss.


Chikuyotei Ginza: A taste of tradition

Our first full day in Tokyo—starting in Ginza—was a whirlwind of exploration.

As we climbed the stairs of the metro, we noticed a small line of locals forming outside a restaurant. With our curiosity piqued, we decided to join them, despite having no idea what the soon-to-open restaurant offered.

As if by fate, the moment we lined up, the doors of Chikuyotei Ginza opened, welcoming us into what would soon become one of our most memorable dining experiences in Tokyo. 

Tokyo unagi
Grilled eel donburi

The ambiance was serene and inviting, with a traditional Japanese aesthetic that immediately set a comforting tone. As we were seated, we quickly discovered that Chikuyotei Ginza specializes in one of Japan’s most beloved dishes: unagi (grilled eel). The menu was straightforward yet promising, featuring various unagi preparations that spoke to the restaurant’s focus on quality and tradition.

The unagi donburi, a classic dish of succulent grilled eel served over a bed of steamed rice, was a revelation. Each bite blended textures and flavors, with the tender eel meat practically melting in our mouths. The tare sauce, a sweet and savory glaze, added depth and complexity without overpowering the natural richness of the unagi. 

Accompanying sides, including a light miso soup and pickled vegetables, provided a refreshing contrast and cleansed the palate between bites.

Tokyo hidden gems
Photo by JT Fernandez


Gyukatsu Kyoto Katsugyu: An interactive beef cutlet extravaganza

After a long day of touring Tokyo, we found ourselves in Shibuya, hungry and craving something substantial. We stumbled upon Gyukatsu Kyoto Katsugyu and a quick glance inside revealed a crowd of locals—a promising sign. 

With only a 15-minute wait, we decided to give it a try. Since opening in Kyoto in 2014, the restaurant has built a solid reputation and expanded its reach across Japan and beyond, all driven by a mission to share gyukatsu (beef cutlet) with the world.

Wagyu Gyukatsu Zen set meal
Wagyu Gyukatsu Zen set meal

Gyukatsu Kyoto Katsugyu’s gyukatsu is a true delight. Each piece of beef is expertly breaded and fried to a perfect golden brown. Unlike traditional tonkatsu (pork cutlet), gyukatsu is served rare inside, allowing the natural flavors of the tender beef to shine. The presentation was impeccable, with the crispy cutlets served alongside a variety of accompaniments, like rice, miso soup, cabbage salad, and a selection of dipping sauces.

One of the highlights of dining here is the interactive experience. As we took our seats, we were greeted by a small personal grill at our table, ready to be fired up for the ultimate gyukatsu indulgence. Each table is equipped with a small personal grill, allowing diners to cook their gyukatsu to their preferred level of doneness.

For the full experience, I order the Wagyu Gyukatsu Zen The aroma of the sizzling wagyu beef was utterly intoxicating, promising a flavor explosion with each bite. It is characterized by moderate fat and a fine texture, allowing you to enjoy the sweetness and richness of Japanese wagyu beef.

Japanese wagyu gyukatsu

The contrast between the crunchy coating and the juicy, rare meat was exquisite. The beef was incredibly tender, bursting with flavor, and the breading was light and perfectly seasoned. The dipping sauces, ranging from tangy ponzu to the classic salt and pepper, enhanced the meat’s natural flavors without overpowering them.

READ: In Osaka, every bite is a revelation


Nikusho Kogiya Entei: A wagyu beef indulgence

Nestled on the third floor of a building in the bustling restaurant-lined streets of Nishigotanda, Shinagawa, Nikusho Kogiya Entei beckons carnivores with promises of Ku-certified A5 black wagyu beef delights.

After a day spent nursing one of the most brutal hangovers of my life, I sought the ultimate pick-me-up, and if anything could revive me, it was this.

Drawn in by tantalizing images of perfectly marbled cuts of meat adorning the storefront, we opted for Nikusho Kogiya Entei over the plethora of yakiniku restaurants lining the street. We eagerly ordered what some might call an excessive amount of meat for two, but with prices this tempting, how could we resist?

Tokyo A5 wagyu beef
Ku-certified A5 wagyu beef

We decided on a set meal boasting a staggering nine different cuts of meat, each offering a unique flavor profile, texture, and level of marbling. From the moment the sizzling meat hit the grill, we knew we were in for a treat.

Each cut, expertly prepared and served with precision, showcased the unparalleled quality of Ku-certified A5 wagyu beef. Whether it was the melt-in-your-mouth ribeye, the succulent sirloin, or the flavorful brisket, every bite was a symphony of savory goodness.

Tokyo Beef tongue
Beef tongue

We couldn’t resist adding an order of beef tongue to our feast, and we were glad we did. Impossibly tender with just the right amount of chew, it was a delightful addition to an already indulgent meal.

Not only did the rich flavors and succulent textures of the beef revive my weary body, but by the end of the meal, I found myself fully recovered from my hangover. 

Tokyo hidden gems
Photo by JT Fernandez


The Onigiri Shop at Gotanda Station

Tucked away behind MyStay Hotel in Gotanda Station is a hidden gem of an onigiri shop. This mom-and-pop establishment, run by a one-woman show, exudes charm and authenticity from the moment you step inside. Throughout my trip, I had been eagerly anticipating the opportunity to try this quaint shop, but for two weeks, it remained elusive, its tantalizing menu outside teasing me each time I passed by.

It was only on my last day, as I waited for my car service to whisk me away to the airport, that luck finally smiled upon me and I witnessed the shop’s door open. Seizing the moment, I stepped inside and was greeted by the delightful aroma of freshly made onigiri. 

Tokyo onigiri
Salmon onigiri

Opting for the salmon onigiri, I was not disappointed. Each bite was a reflection of the care and expertise poured into its crafting. The rice was perfectly seasoned and held together just right, while the salmon filling was bursting with flavor. It was clear that these onigiri were made with love and attention to detail, a far cry from the mass-produced versions found in convenience stores.

As I savored the last few bites of my onigiri, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of satisfaction and contentment. This simple yet delicious meal was the perfect ending to my trip full of Tokyo’s hidden food gems, leaving me with fond memories and a craving for more. 

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