The area around Meguro Station doesn’t share the hip reputation of neighboring Nakameguro, but there’s a surprising number of interesting independent restaurants clustered around the station. If you’re struggling to choose between the many hundreds available, you’re in the right place!
This rustic tempura spot strikes a perfect balance between the old-school décor and the casual atmosphere and eating style. Unlike most tempura restaurants, each piece here is served on a skewer. This makes for an easy, laid back place to munch your way through a pile of food between drinks. The easiest way is to just order the recommended sets of 5 or 10 skewers per person. This will ultimately give everyone a chance to try everything once. If you’ve got a specific craving you can order individual skewers too.
With a wide selection of fish, veggies and meat, there’s something for almost everyone. Hardcore vegetarians, vegans and people with allergies may struggle though. I get the distinct impression everything is cooked in the same oil. If tempura isn’t your style, there’s also a broad selection of izakaya favorites, including fried chicken, sashimi, edamame and curry.
The second floor is surprisingly spacious—making it a great spot for larger groups. I’ve sat comfortably with a group of 10, and I’ve overheard folks successfully making reservations for as many as 30. Just be sure to book well in advance if you’re coming with a crowd.
What’s more, if you’re sat upstairs, you can place your order by gachapon! just write what you want on a piece of paper, put it in the capsule and jam it into a tube. This rolls through the restaurant and straight into the kitchen. Perfect for kids and the easily amused.
Best visited with a few friends, this cute little Hiroshima teppan (hot plate) restaurant is as quirky as they come. Hidden away on the 6th floor of a tiny, run-down tower block and scarcely advertised, it’s a genuine hidden gem that’s often overlooked by locals and newcomers alike.
Once you’ve taken off your shoes and entered through the tiny door, there’s a lot to take in. This ranges from seasonal decorations hanging from the ceiling and the whimsical decor to the staff’s matching hats. Even stranger is the music. This consists of video game, movie and pop music covers played entirely on what appears to be some kind of recorder. These songs are randomly interrupted several times an hour by the restaurant’s surprisingly catchy theme song. Yes, they have their own theme song.
On to the food, the main attraction is the delicious okonomiyaki, but the restaurant also shines as an opportunity to try a few home-cooked regional favorites that you don’t see too often in Tokyo. These include gansu (a minced fish pancake with a light onion flavor), tonpeiyaki (a rolled pork and spring-onion omelette) and Setouchi sea salt ice cream. The salads topped with chirimen (tiny, crunchy fish) are also great, and the buttered Hiroshima oysters, when in season, are unbelievably good.
The menus are totally in Japanese, so if you can’t read, you might have a hard time picking what you want. Fortunately the staff are super friendly, and will help you muddle through ordering. If you’re feeling desperate, you can do as I did when I first arrived and just keep saying “osusume” (recommendation). Whatever they end up bringing, you won’t be disappointed.
These two lively standing bars are strangely just four doors apart, and offer identical menus. That means that if one is full you can easily just go to the other. Specializing in meat, cheese, pasta and wine, if you’re looking for food that packs a punch, you can’t go wrong here. The generous portion sizes lend themselves to groups of three or four. Any more people and you might have a hard time finding a spot, especially on weekends.
Of note is a menu section dedicated to cilantro, from which every option comes topped with a heaping handful of fresh cilantro. If you’re a fellow coriander-hater, avoid anything marked with “パクチー”.
The menus are all in Japanese, but since it’s vaguely Western food, they’re largely written in Katakana. So if you’ve a little Japanese under your belt you shouldn’t have too much trouble ordering. Otherwise, you may need to point at what everyone else is eating.
Burger joint by day, yakiniku restaurant by night, this local favorite regularly has a line waiting for entry.
As a burger spot, the chefs apparently use meat usually reserved for yakiniku, resulting in a more robust, meaty flavor than you might find elsewhere in Japan. Also noteworthy is the sheer number of options, from towering meat bonanzas to the “Cheese, Cheese, Cheese”, which proved (to my surprise) that there can in fact be too much cheese. There are also veggie options and a wide range of toppings and build-a-burger choices—though I’ve seen the chef refuse to make changes to the signature burgers. The sizes range from pretty big to really freakin’ big, so bring a healthy appetite.
In the evening, Hungry Heaven becomes Gyubig, a heavy metal-styled grill-it-yourself meat restaurant. The restaurant specializes in horumon (offal), such as beef tongue, liver and harami (diaphragm). For pickier groups and meat-lovers, the thick cut short rib steak is a crowd pleaser. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, check out the surprisingly tasty “Horumon the maximum”. It’s a 30 cm stretch of large intestine. The side dishes lean heavily on Korean cuisine, with plenty of spicy soups, kimchi and bibimbaps to choose from.
The burger menu is totally bilingual and the yakiniku menu has pictures for everything. So if your Japanese is a little rusty, you can just point to exactly what you’d like and the server will understand.
Specializing in Okinawan food, this lively and spacious venue draws a varied crowd—from partying salarymen to young families and older folks looking for a taste of island life.
One of Japan’s lesser known cuisines overseas, Okinawan is often very different from food on the main islands, with ingredients and tastes you won’t find anywhere else, which can be intimidating to newcomers. Champuru (tofu, beansprouts and bitter gourd), umi-budo (sea grapes), beni imo (purple potato) croquette and rafute (slow-cooked pork belly) are great places to start. It’s hearty, down-to-earth food that goes well with a drink (or many). When it comes to drinks, Orion (Okinawa’s signature beer), awamori (a strong, old-school spirit) and fruity seasonal mixed-drinks are the local favorites.
On Friday and Saturday nights, the restaurant often hosts live entertainment in the main room. Highlights include baffling comedy, soulful ballads and traditional musical arrangements. These are all accompanied by the sanshin, an iconic, snakeskin-clad stringed instrument that has defined much of Okinawa’s unique sound. Occasionally revelers will be led in an orchestrated dance around the main table. If you’re sat anywhere near it, you’re going to be encouraged to join in. Don’t fight it—just copy the person in front of you. Who knows? You might just make some new friends.