Destination Guides Travel & Leisure Travel, Food & Drink

Michelin Star-Worthy: A Tokyo Food Guide

From exploring the freshest seafood to be found in its markets to enjoying sake with the locals, Japan’s capital is the world’s most Michelin-starred city—here’s our Tokyo food guide focusing on unforgettable culinary experiences

As of 2020, Tokyo has 226 Michelin-starred restaurants, once again making it the most starred city for its food in the world. The 13th edition of the Tokyo Michelin Guide welcomes one new three-star, three two-star, and 19 one-star restaurants to its line-up, and with Tokyo, and more widely Japan, firmly on the world food map, you’ll find a tantalizing abundance of flavors, textures, and traditions to be explored. “We’re seeing a real demand for Japan,” says Sarah Kounnou, travel designer for Asia at Jacada Travel, “especially with the 2020 Summer Olympics around the corner. Many of our guests are real foodies who are keen to get under the skin of a cuisine so steeped in history.” Here’s a guide to the variety of experiences on offer.

street food Japan
High-quality street food available in Tokyo is enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. Image: Getty Images

Spend Time at a Ryokan

A ryokan, which means small hotel, is a wonderful way to experience traditional Japanese culture. For the ultimate in luxury, opt for Hoshinoya where you can admire views across the city and enjoy the seasonal sake and confectionary always on offer in its ochanoma, or lounge. Another highlight of the ochanoma is the traditional tea ceremony, which takes place in the morning and is held throughout the year. More than simply the act of taking tea, Japanese tea ceremonies celebrate seasonal colors, scents, sounds, and taste—whether that’s the kimono you’re wearing while drinking the tea, or the taste and smell of the brew itself. These sacred and ancient traditions offer a great insight into Japanese hospitality and culture.

Japanese tea ceremony at Hoshinoya Tokyo
Hoshinoya hosts a traditional Japanese tea ceremony in its lounge, or ochanoma, at 10am all year round. Credit: Hoshino Resorts

Food is the star of the show at Hoshinoya, with award-winning chef Noriyuki Hamada using Japanese ingredients to produce a unique interpretation of ryokan dining. Called Nippon cuisine, his is an innovative French-inspired take on classic Japanese dining not to be missed. Hoshinoya will, however, do more than just look after your stomach. The top floor of the impressive 17-story building consists of two bath halls, divided by gender. The baths are fed by hot spring waters 3,200 feet (4,921 m) below ground. Each hall features an indoor and outdoor bath connected by a tunnel, as well as a spa that tailors its treatments to each guest.

Visit a Fish Market  

Take in the sights, sounds, and smells of Tsukiji fish market, one of the world’s largest, where some of Tokyo’s best seafood is on offer alongside a range of restaurants and street food vendors. Although the famous inner market relocated to more modern facilities at nearby Toyosu in 2018, the outer market is staying put. Arrive early (doors open at 5am) and come hungry—locals recommend a fresh sushi breakfast.

Tsukiji fish market
The iconic Tsukiji Market fish market sells fresh fish and seafood, and there are also other restaurants to explore. Image: Getty Images

Bag a Seat at the World’s Most Elusive Restaurant

Sushi restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro, made famous by the 2011 documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, is ideal for those who like to combine their world-class cuisine along with a challenge: it seats only 10, making it famously difficult to secure a booking. The recipient of three Michelin stars every year from 2007 to 2019, it played host to then U.S. President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe’s dinner in 2014 and has a strict etiquette policy. This includes arriving on time (so the food is at its best), not taking photos of your food, refraining from wearing strong perfume, and eating the sushi in a timely manner (it’s most delicious when first served). The restaurant doesn’t appear in the latest Michelin Guide—not because the quality of the food has changed, but because reservations have become so exclusive.

A tuna trader at Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market at work—the market's tuna auctions are famous. Image: Alamy

For a three-starred dining experience that delivers a fresh, creative take on Japanese cuisine, try Kadowaki. The restaurant has had two-star status since 2009 and has recently been upgraded, with the 2020 Michelin Guide praising chef Toshiya Kadowaki’s inventiveness and stating, “He brings a whole new take on food.”

Enjoy a Glass or Two of Sake

Surely no visit to Tokyo is complete without a taste of sake, Japan’s national drink. Destination bar Kozue not only stocks premium sake from around the country but also offers magnificent views that, on a clear day, stretch all the way to Mount Fuji. A less polished, but no less authentic, option is Shimomiya. Usually packed with locals, it describes itself as “a speciality store of sake” and asks visitors to “please limit yourself to those who love sake.”

Take a Customized Cooking Course

sushi making Tokyo
The art of sushi-making is highly prized in Japan and courses are available for visitors. Image: Getty Images

Head to Hachikari Cooking School, located in Tokyo’s glitzy Ginza district, for a tailor-made cookery class. Lead by the star chefs of Mutsukari restaurant, courses range from the fundamentals of Japanese washoku (the collective name for traditional Japanese food) to mastering vegan techniques, and are taught according to personal ability. There’s an assortment of excellent wine or sake on offer throughout, and you’ll leave with a recipe book and skills worthy of this foodie haven.

Stay Over in Style

When it comes to luxury hotels, you’re spoiled for choice in Tokyo. Consider the five-star Peninsula Tokyo, which offers guests a special Eat like a Local food tour, including a trip to “Tokyo’s bustling culinary underbelly on a three-hour food tour around Yurakucho.” Guests receive a private 20-minute introduction to Japanese table manners and are then guided to the sights, sounds, and tastes that most tourists do not get to experience. Alternatively check out Aman Tokyo, which boasts spectacular views of the Imperial Palace East Gardens, Tokyo Skytree, and Mount Fuji.

Banner image: Hoshinoya’s Five Flavors of Delight dining experience. Image: Hoshino Resorts