Light and crispy or dripping with oil—tempura is the Jekyll and Hyde of Japanese food, but we know where to find the best in Tokyo.
If you’ve had good tempura, you’ll be a fan—it’s as simple as that. The only way you can possibly dislike the crisp, fresh delight is if you’ve had the misfortune of eating a sub-par selection, and that is disappointingly easy to do (even in Tokyo). While not strictly Japanese—it was originally brought over by the Portuguese—tempura has been wholeheartedly adopted into the national roster of specialties. It is served as a topping on steaming bowls of noodles, as the star of high-priced set meals and even as quick snacks in the supermarket.
With chains like Tenya serving up cheap tendon meals (tempura-topped rice bowls) for a few hundred yen, it can be easy to find the Hyde-kind (oily coating of limp veg), but a little tricker to get to the Jekylls of the tempura world. While we usually love lower prices, with tempura you’re going to want to treat yourself. It isn’t an everyday dinner, so aim a little higher and enjoy that crunch at these tempura restaurants in Tokyo.
A great place to start is soba restaurants—known for their simplicity and focus on quality ingredients, they often have great tempura. Since it complements the simple noodle and broth combinations so perfectly, it’s usually an add-on to set meals with hot or cold noodles. We’ve shortlisted our favorite tempura spots from across the city—some specialty and some offering soba too.
1. Sobakiri Mimaki | Akasaka
One of the most affordable options without skimping on quality, this small soba shop opened in 2016 and has had queues ever since. Using flour from Hokkaido’s Asahikawa, they use different noodle types throughout the year and dishes start from as little as ¥540. The tempura is airy, crisp and better than many a fancy restaurant, and you can add a selection of shrimp and vegetables to your noodles for around ¥800. Reservations aren’t accepted here so you’ll have to join the queue, but it’ll be worth it.
2. Kyourakutei | Shinjuku
A long-standing favorite, Kyorakutei was once Michelin starred but has since slipped down the ranks, now resting as a Bib Gourmand spot. Don’t let this put you off though, the food is still fantastic and it makes the place a little easier to get into—silver linings! Known for their handmade soba, fresh tempura and creamy yuba, the sets here will set you back a little more than the first place, but it is an experience. Starting at around ¥2,400 yen for a noodle and soba set, prepare to enjoy some of the lightest tempura in town—it’ll convert even the strongest of disbelievers.
If you’re looking for some Michelin-starred food, try out our guide to the most affordable spots in the city; there’s some surprisingly manageable options out there.
3. Tempura Tsunahachi Rin | Shinjuku
A dedicated restaurant with a history of serving celebrities, sumo stars and kabuki actors galore, this Shinjuku hotspot offers a true tempura experience. Opened in 1923, it is in the heart of Shinjuku, just a few minutes walk from the busy station. Since the prices get pretty high in the evening, the lunch sets are the way to go, starting from as little as ¥1,500. Served as a set with fluffy rice, pickles and delicious clam miso soup, the tempura is to be savoured.
Nab a counter seat and you’ll have your meal—fresh, hot and crisp—placed in front of you by the chef himself. One of the highlights here is the specialist salt selection: choose from wasabi, shiso and konbu as well as high-quality sea salt. Vegetable-only sets are available, although they cost a tad more than the lunch set.
4. Kawakami An | Azabu + Aoyama
Another soba restaurant with a reputation for tempura, Kawakami An has two branches in Tokyo and two in Nagano, the restaurant’s home prefecture. Known for buckwheat flour and clear waters, the area’s soba traditions are revered, and this is the perfect place to try it in Tokyo. We know you’re here for the tempura though, and don’t worry, that quality has carried over. The basic lunch set is ¥1,800 but comes with four appetizers, soba, vegetable tempura and even dessert, so you’ll certainly be full. They have simpler tempura and soba options as well as tendon, in case you want to keep things simple.
5. Kyobashi Tempura Fukamachi | Kyobashi
Michelin-starred but still within reach, this place is dedicated to showcasing the best of their ingredients. Using two fryers set to different temperatures, they cook vegetables and seafood separately to ensure every item that appears on your plate is perfection wrapped in the lightest of batters. Another spot to hit up at lunch time, you can get a set for ¥3,000 and enjoy the seasonal treats chosen by the chef that day.
If you’re a foodie and your bucket-list plan for Tokyo is just a google map of restaurants, try out our foodie itinerary for some ideas.
There are certain times in the year that can make your visit to Tokyo less than idea.