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16 Reasons Why Eating + Drinking in Tokyo Will Change Your Life

photo: Edward Guk
In a city of a million delicious ramen noodle shops, where anything (really, anything) is accessible out of a vending machine and innumerable neon-lit back alleyways boast the most-mind-bogglingly amazing soba noodles to slurp, Tokyo is also the undisputed fine dining capital of the world with more Michelin stars than anywhere else on Earth. So where to begin when exploring this inspiring urban food scene? It’s actually quite simple. Tokyo does so many things beautifully, but there is something so memorable about pulling up a seat at one of its intimate chef’s counters and letting said chef unfurl his life’s work through food. It's the chef artisans, helming small shops and counters, who have devoted their lives to honing their particular specialities, who are unmissable when in Tokyo.

Here are 16 reasons why eating and drinking in Tokyo will change your life.

Reporter: Katie Bush
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Bar Trench

Tokyo, Japan
Acclaimed by World’s Best Bars, Bar Trench is a small, magical, Parisian inspired cocktail bar in Ebisu with an old Hollywood feel. Golden-aged Americana classics are served here as well as absinthe with the traditional sugar cube for the more progressively inclined. For the real daredevils, order the “Try If You Are a Man,” which pairs blowfish and squid-infused shōchū with persimmon and chilli.
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Photo: Table All
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Jin

Tokyo, Japan
Jin is an intimate chef’s counter serving new and inspiring cuisine. Punctuated by deep umami flavors and a boundless wine cellar, Jin is hidden under the bars, clubs and eateries of the bustling city. Fourteen dishes take each diner through rivers, fields and the sea, plated by Chef Kei Sato who dreamt of being an artist, an ambition clearly reflected in his beautiful food.
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Photo: Table All
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Cignale Enoteca

Tokyo, Japan
Located in Shibuya, Cignale Enoteca serves Italian cuisine with a Japanese sensibility. It’s a hidden neighborhood treasure you do everything you can to find on purpose – unexpectedly cozy yet modern with large glass windows, vintage Americana wood countertops and pops of greenery. The chef is a former photographer and “puts an Italian filter on delicious ingredients to create his own unique cuisine.”
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Photo: cho_kandakko
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Nunotsunesarashina

Tokyo, Japan
A classic, yet understated soba shop near Tsukiji, Nunotsunesarashina is as nondescript as you’d both expect and want it to be. Slurp the freshest of house made noodles in a dense umami broth, topped with thick slices of duck, green onions and a dash of yuzu.
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Bar Benfiddich

Tokyo, Japan
Called one of the city’s most “groundbreaking bars” by PUNCH, Bar Benfiddich uses homegrown plants and a mortar and pestle to flavor cocktail classics with bases of whisky, gin, absinthe or amaro. Helmed by Hiroyasu Kayama, known more as an alchemist than bartender, his fascination with infusing the natural world into his creations has made him famous the world over.
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Photo: Kikanbo
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Kikanbo

Tokyo, Japan
Where there are soba noodles on a Tokyo list, ramen cannot be far behind. Kikanbo is a ramen shop in Tokyo, where the noodles are hand made by “artists” and meant to tell a story. The noodles, miso base, spice and additional components are a superb and intoxicating mix, giving the mouth a pleasant numbing sensation.
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Gen Yamamoto

Tokyo, Japan
Located down a little side street in the Azabu-Jūban district, Gen Yamamoto is an eight seat counter offering a seasonal, carefully curated cocktail tasting menu reflecting “kigo,” which is Japanese seasonality. The progression of flavors allows each person to taste the seasons and is not set but created bespoke for each customer.
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Photo: Table All
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Tokuyama

Tokyo, Japan
In a city known for its plethora of dining choices, one of its more beautiful culinary offerings is certainly a seat at intimate chef’s counter, Tokuyama. In lovely juxtaposition to the bright lights and bustling city, Tokuyama is minimal, cozy and private in Nishi-Azabu, the bustling bar district. Known for the mystical (and poisonous if not prepared correctly) fugu, or puffer fish, Tokuyama was actually the first establishment to serve it at a counter. Bring a group of four if you dare, inhale the delicious dashi smell and watch a master chef display his craft before you.
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Photo: Jesse Hsu
9 / 16
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Koffee Mameye

Tokyo, Japan
Welcome to the coffee counter of your dreams. Koffee Mameye, formerly Omotesando Koffee, inspires legions of caffeine-fueled fans from all over the world. Like an intimate chef’s counter for coffee, it’s a bespoke bean experience, selling 15-20 varieties of coffee beans for you to brew at home or two options for takeaway - coffee or espresso. Less a coffeehouse and more a choose-your-own-at-home-coffee-adventure, you tell the the barista how you like to drink your coffee at home and they match it with your perfect beans.
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10 / 16
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Mixology Experience Roppongi

Tokyo, Japan
Like a mad modern mixologist’s laboratory in a beautifully gussied up setting, Mixology Experience Roppongi is truly that, an experience. Utilizing centrifuges, vacuum machines, dozens of spices, smoke guns and liquid nitrogen, the menu is original and the experience one-of-a-kind. Paired with creative cuisine and served in a variety of beautiful barware, it’s an intoxicating environment for any spirit lover.
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Photo: Table All
11 / 16
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Umi

Tokyo, Japan
Umi is a family-owned, two Michelin starred sushi restaurant with a pedigree of over forty years. Just a short walk from Gaiemmae metro station, Umi is a sushi institution that both literally and figuratively highlights the flavors of the ocean. The sushi itself is like a love letter to Japan, procuring the best fish each region has to offer.
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Photo: Table All
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Higuchi

Tokyo, Japan
While the Harajuku and Jingumae areas of Tokyo bring to mind funky shopping districts, it’s also home to the utterly lovely, quiet and exquisite chef’s counter that is Higuchi. With dark wood walls and a garden water feature, the counter is both warm and inviting while the menu is seasonal and fresh. Expect reconstructed and modernized Japanese dishes with ingredients fresh from the world-renowned Tsukiji Fish Market, helmed by a chef who’s serving his life’s work one dish at a time.
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Mixology Salon

Tokyo, Japan
Modern concrete walls and copper time-worn doors open to a Mixology Salon of the highest and most intimate caliber. Using a variety of modern techniques such as centrifuge, vacuum distillation and vacuum cooking, it makes grand use of tea leaf infusion and its mocktails are also works of art. Sip the “Matcha Godfather” and allow the spirit of cocktail creativity to infuse your palate and your soul.
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Photo: Table All
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Tempura Uchitsu

Tokyo, Japan
Tempura Uchitsu specializes in tempura, as the name suggests, and is a magnificent counter seating no more than eight. The counter itself faces the chef, lit by a massive glass window overlooking a beautiful garden of pine, bamboo and cherry blossoms, depending on the season. It’s elegant, minimal and utter perfection for presenting the world renowned “omotenashi,” how the Japanese define their unique approach to hospitality. The tempura is light as air, cooked à la minute and flavored with the freshest accents of each season.
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Photo: Elezo House
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Elezo House

Tokyo, Japan
Taking farm-to-table (and secrecy for that matter) to the next level, Elezo House is French-inspired and driven by the delicate flavors of fresh game. Nestled in a free-standing house in the upscale neighborhood of Shōtō in Shibuya, there are no signs outside nor a phone number to call. You learn about Elezo House strictly by referral and once inside, find yourself enveloped by a refined warmth, including a seven seat counter, cigar room and Japanese garden terrace.
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Photo: Jesse Hsu
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Maisen

Tokyo, Japan
With 12 restaurants in Tokyo, Maisen is worth a stop to enjoy the “Tonkatsu that can be cut with chopsticks.” Each outpost boasts its own unique personality and besides the main restaurant in Shibuya which was once a bath shop, most are intimate, counter-like affairs for small groups, couples or simply to enjoy alone.
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