Chef Anthony Bourdain favorite destination is Japan. He has toured 80 countries over the course of 15 years, delving into their histories and eating as much of their food as possible.
“Japan is endlessly, endlessly interesting to me,” Anthony Bourdain said. And even after going on nine filming trips there, “I don’t think I’ve even scratched the surface and I don’t think I ever will.” He’s especially in love with Tokyo and the Sushi culture.
“If I had to eat only in one city for the rest of my life, Tokyo would be it,” Anthony Bourdain wrote for CNN in 2013 on his Parts Unknown blog. “Most chefs I know would agree with me. For those with restless, curious minds, fascinated by layer upon layer of things, flavors, tastes and customs which we will never fully be able to understand, Tokyo is deliciously unknowable.”
“It’s that densely packed, impenetrable layer cake of the strange, wonderful and awful that thrills,” he added. “It’s mesmerizing. Intimidating. Disorienting. Upsetting. Poignant. And yes, beautiful.”
When asked about his personal Japanese dishes, he replied: “Give me some good uni,” or sea urchin, “a really good soba,” or buckwheat noodles, “with duck dipping sauce — duck dipping dressing is really amazing — and I adore good yakitori,” the grilled chicken skewers.
In Anthony Bourdain Parts Unkown, he looks for the perfect Sushi. “Most people don’t understand Sushi, they go to a Sushi bar and say: I had the best Sushi last night, the fish was so fresh! It was right out of the ocean”.
Dinner with a Sushi Chef is a revelation. When fish is too fresh, it just doesn’t have taste. The best fish for Sushi is aged. Unlike many other chefs, he doesn’t go to the immense fish market, the Tsukiji, in Tokyo at 4 a.m. to buy the ridiculously expensive prime cuts. He waits and buys Tuna heads. His mastery with knives then turns the cheapest flesh into perfection.
Anthony Bourdain on Japan’s “uniquely kooky national schizophrenia,” as he calls it in his 2010 essay collection “Medium Raw,” gels perfectly with the way he approaches traveling.
“I’ve found that you’re not going to have the really great travel experiences if you’re not willing to experience the bad ones,” Bourdain told us. “The great travel epiphanies seem to sneak up on you because you kind of f—ed up, you took a wrong turn, and you ended up in a place where you permitted events to unfold.”
On Tokyo in particular, he wrote for Parts Unknown, “I’m sure I could spend the rest of my life there, learn the language, and still die happily ignorant.”
What are Anthony Bourdain’s favorite restaurants in Tokyo? These 10 picks are in no particular order and a good portion of these places may not even be well known to the general public, which is an extra treat for those that want to try something new.
Anthony Bourdain top restaurants in Tokyo
Japanese soba noodles are only as good as the broth they are served in for certain people. Sarashina Horii not only serves excellent Japanese soba noodles plain, but makes the best soba noodle salad you’ll ever taste. The mysterious flavors only add to the love of the establishment, as they are always looking to try something new. Anthony Bourdain enjoyed a good amount of Japanese Soba Noodles with Chef Masaharu Morimoto, who knows better than any other chef what makes a good meal in Hong Kong. Expect to visit Sarashina Horii more than once if you’re in the area, as their menu is expansive and very well met. It’s just another one of the benefits of eating out in Japan. Make it a point to bring as many friends as possible and spread the word about this great place.
Late night eatery in Japan? Check. Great nightlife and entertainment without being overbearing? Check. Throw in some Jazz and people won’t believe that you are talking about a place in Tokyo. This upscale and fun establishment serves drinks and entertainment on a silver platter. It is extremely small, and can only hold 10 people. Not only is advance registration expected, but it is about the only way you are going to get into the bar! It is considered one of the coolest things you can do in town, and is a great way to unwind in the area. No, you are not going to get a big juicy steak from the Piano Bar, so it is kind of an odd choice to add to the list. But Anthony Bourdain recommends it for a reason, and has made several references to it throughout his career.
Chicken lovers have united and agreed with Anthony Bourdain on his affection for Toriki. The most famous dish from the restaurant is yaktori, and it is professionally made to order with all of the prime parts of the chicken used. The restaurant goes beyond just this dish and has been featured in several publications for their one of a kind chef. Customers get fast and deliciously prepared food, with a recommendation to also try the raw sashimi chicken when available. Non English speakers can request an English menu, so it is a very tourist friendly place while still maintaining its charm as a local favorite.
Beautiful and extravagant, XEX Morimoto normally outdoes itself with the presentation. It probably has the best presentation on the list, which is one of the reasons why it is recommended by Anthony Bourdain. Their rice dishes look more delicious than other restaurants full menus! Chef Morimoto does not shy away from hard to prepare dishes, doing great work with his unagi and monkfish. If you can find monkfish of the same quality in a 5 mile area then you are in luck, and even then you would be missing out on the flashy presentation of XEX Morimoto. The restaurant has received several positive reviews and even a certificate of excellence from some food review sites.
Famously, Prime Minister Abe and President Obama ate at Sukiyabashi Jiro and enjoyed the food. And another celebrity by the name of Anthony Bourdain made his way into the area when he got word of it having the best sushi in the world. The famed foodie Bourdain sampled the best sushi ever in a 15 course meal that only took him 20 minutes to rate. There are no bad reviews for Sukiyabashi Jiro, and there is a good reason why. Even though no ratings are being used on this list, it is very possible this is the best place to eat in all of Tokyo. Don’t take everyone else’s word for it, and go see for yourself why everyone is in love with Sukiyabashi Jiro.
New York Grill in Park Hyatt Tokyo
The name will throw off a lot of people that are not familiar with the area. And mentioning a lunch served in a hotel will cause a lot of people to roll their eyes, not realizing just how good the food is in Park Hyatt. Besides having the best view by default, the lunch itself is a free for all buffet of appetizers and dessert with a customizable lunch stuffed between. This is one of the few instances where getting filled up with appetizers is a very real thing, and completely fine! Anthony Bourdain made a stop in the hotel for a drink and was amazed at how full featured the spread was for a hotel setting.
Chef Yasuda is an aggressive and talented chef that is very much a match for Anthony Bourdain, and introduces him to Mahakala. The hard to find restaurant is a favorite of Chef Yasuda’s, and soon after tasting their delicious skewers, Bourdain became a fan as well. If Master Chef Yasuda of Sushi Yasuda in New York City can recommend this great restaurant, it stands without reason that this is the place to be if you want the best skewers in town. The prices are good and reflect a bit of respect for tourists in the area. Don’t miss out on this place that is sure to climb the ranks of restaurants in Tokyo at its current blazing rate.
A well-known and very busy establishment, Daitoryo is the perfect place to have an izakaya dinner. It’s also the premiere place to visit to get the best selection of wine with the most fulfilling meats and sides. The combo has brought all manner of people from over the world to eat, and their reputation grows considerably every year. Anthony Bourdain made it a point to visit the restaurant with friends, and enjoyed one of the best dinners of his short visit. Getting lost in the wine list is not uncommon, and one should expect to see some very hard to find and quality wine on the menu.
This one is going to be a hard sell for the more undercover foodie, yet is something that all should experience at least once. The outrageous show that takes place inside deserves its own listing, but can’t be left out since it is a major part of the attraction. In the rare case that the food doesn’t catch your interest, you’d have to be insane not to enjoy the antics of all the actors available for the show. But how is the food? Well to be quite honest, it is of average quality. For those asking why it has even made the restaurant picks list, then look no further than the everyman hero Anthony Bourdain. When a foodie like Bourdain recommends a restaurant with hit or miss food, then chances are it is an experience unlike any other.
This bar flew under the radar for many even though it was mentioned by Anthony Bourdain on ‘No Reservations’. Capable of creating the best cocktail and alcohol experience in all of Japan, Bar Ishinohana also serves some pretty good food. Many don’t know that their menu consists of actual real delicious food like pizzas and other Italian dishes. Sandwiched between all of the appetizers and finger food is a really delicious and full featured restaurant. The desserts will give you late night cravings, with mouthwatering favorites like Naruto Orange Sweet Bean Jelly and Almond Chocolate ranking high at the top of the list. What can get lost in the neat presentation of Ishinohana is that it has a really comfortable ambience for both locals and tourists. Consider this great establishment for nightcaps or just a general couple’s night out.
On Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown, this is a bar that gets mention. Located in the Golden Gai area of Shinjuku, this area consists of about 200 bars and restaurants crammed into a small space. For a feel of the well gone era, you need to visit this area cause it has resisted redevelopment post WW2, a reason why the aura remains more of a ramshackle rather than a fancy hangout.
This bar has a thrift shop feel and even though quite small, it manages to fit in quite a lot of customers surprisingly. Go there for the aura!