Tokyo: 10 Things to Do

8. Dinner and Drinks in Ebisu

Kyodo / Newscom
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You can easily spend a fortune on meals in this city, but it's more fun to rub elbows with salarymen at a standing bar or drink in some local color on the cheap at a small izakaya. Ebisu, a trendy neighborhood in Shibuya-ku, is full of these establishments, which specialize in grilled meat and vegetables, sashimi and other casual fare, cooked in tiny kitchens and served on petite plates. Almost by definition, they also have extensive drink menus, and are easy to spot by the doorway curtains (called noren,) and chalkboard menus propped up out front. You won't have to venture far from the train station to find side-street blocks full of them, and the neighborhood is easily accessible — just one stop away from Shibuya on the JR Yamanote line, and two stops from Roppongi on the Tokyo Metro's Hibiya line.

For a really old-school Japanese pub experience, try Saiki, a two-story joint with a sparsely furnished wooden interior and lived-in feel. The place seats less than two dozen on the first floor, and even fewer in the tatami room upstairs, so don't try to go with a large party of gaijin in tow unless you pre-book the 2nd floor. There's no English menu so you'll just have to wing it (you might study the food section of your phrasebook beforehand). The sashimi plate is a winner; also try the raw veggies with red miso dip. The gyu miso is a fragrant stew of devil's tongue (a.k.a. elephant yam) and tripe; the tempura features a deep-fried ginger root — a revelation. To find Saiki, leave the Ebisu JR station through the west exit (by the escalator and police box, or koban) and cross Komazawa-dori, the main road. Head down the narrow street in front of you. Or if you're using the Metro, take exit 2, and at the top of the station steps, make a U-turn, then your first right. You'll be walking north and should see green signs on utility poles announcing that you are in "1-7" (Chome No. 1, Block No. 7 of Ebisu-nishi, or West Ebisu). Saiki's building number is 12, more than a half a block down on the right. The front door slides open.

There's another street packed with izakaya off Komazawa-dori that starts opposite the SMBC bank building. The road is anchored on one corner by a KFC, with its life-size statue of Colonel Sanders (sometimes dressed as Santa Claus, or in samurai costume) greeting passersby out front, and a Choco-Cro café on the other. The first door on the right, just past the chocolate croissants, leads downstairs and into the terrific Momotaro (open nightly from 5 p.m. to 6 a.m.). Look for the sign with the Japanese Hiragana script and the English words "sumibi yakitori 'n wine." Here you can order individual items — prices are per stick — or if you're feeling adventurous, order the set menu, a generous series of courses priced around $40 that includes the full range of edible chicken parts, from gizzards to hearts to delectably crispy skin.

Buri (open nightly from 5 p.m. to 3 a.m.), a spiffy tachinomiya known for its sake menu, is a couple blocks farther down that same road on the left, and it too serves tasty bits — try the asparagus wrapped in pork — for $2 to $3 a skewer. At the far end of this lane, before you reach the next main road, is Honoji; the signs are all in Japanese, so look for the rather brightly lit room with food and drink prices tacked up on the walls (there's a big picture window in front that gives you a glimpse inside). There's no English menu here, but don't worry; just say to your server, "Osusume" (oh-soo-soo-may), which basically means, "Whatever you recommend." One more phrase to learn: "Nama biru, onegaishimasu" (nah-mah bee-roo — roll the "r" — oh-neh-guy-shee-mah-soo), which means, "Draft beer, please." Honoji is open daily for dinner (5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.), and every day except Sundays and holidays for lunch (11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.).

Japanese bar food isn't the only reason to head to Ebisu for dinner. On the other side of the train station you'll find a two-story Toraji Korean diner, where you can grill your own choice cuts of beef. Take Komazawa dori heading north toward Meiji dori; at the motorcycle parking lot, right before the bridge that spans the canal, turn right and you'll see the big red chili pepper sign straight ahead. Open daily for dinner (5:30 p.m. to 1 a.m., on Sundays until midnight) and for lunch from 11:30 am to 2:30pm, Monday to Friday. Book in advance if you want a private Japanese-style room upstairs, where your shoes have to come off and you sit on cushions, but there's enough space under the table for you to dangle your legs.

Or how about sampling Chinese noodles, Japanese-style? Tonkatsu ramen is a regional specialty from Kyushu, and nobody does it better than the cooks at Ippudo. Unlike soy and miso-based ramen dishes, the broth is creamy with pork fat and is absolutely delicious. Be sure to throw in some spicy bean sprouts or pickled ginger. There's also fresh garlic — whole cloves of it, and a press is provided. Extra noodles only cost a couple of bucks more. A trip to Ippudo will take you across the Ebisu border and into Hiroo, one block east from the Shibuyabashi intersection, where Komazawa dori meets Meiji dori. Look for the pedestrian bridge. You will cross Meiji-dori on the east side. Turn right and Ippudo is on your left, past the post office and next to One-Dish Thai. The shop name appears only in kanji; look for the red sign on the sidewalk, which lights up at night. It's open from 11 a.m. until 4 a.m. daily, and if you've had too many shochu sours, a bowl of noodles is just the thing to prevent tomorrow's hangover.

  • 1. Ebisu JR station
  • 2. Ebisu Metro Station
  • 3. Saiki
    1-7-12 Ebisu Nishi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, Japan; 81-(0) 3 3461 3367 35.647432139.709106
  • 4. Momotaro
    Ogawa Ebisu Building, Floor B1, 1-8-8 Ebisu-nishi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, Japan; 81-(0)3-5428-5707 35.647432139.709106
  • 5. Buri
    1-14-1 Ebisu-nishi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, Japan; 81-(0)3-3494-7744 35.647432139.709106
  • 6. Honoji
    1-5-8 Ebisu-nishi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, Japan; 81-(0)3-3770-8381 35.647432139.709106
  • 7. Toraji
    1-6-9 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, Japan; 81-(0)3-3447-4466 35.6480264139.7110004
  • 8. Ippudo
    1-3-13 Hiroo, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, Japan; 81-(0)3-5420-2225 35.6488041139.7126391

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