I spent a week and a half eating my way around Tokyo and Kyoto. Here are my top six places to dig in.
Higashi-Ikebukuro Taishoken: There are two go-to orders here: regular ramen or Taishoken’s famous morisoba ramen, in which you dip cold noodles into a super-concentrated broth. Both are brilliant. Either way, you’ll have to order through a vending machine just outside; it is labelled in Japanese only. Beg for help and somebody will sort you out. 4-28-3 Higashi Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo (a short walk from the Higashi-Ikebukuro subway station).
Asakusa Okonomiyaki Sometaro: Be sure to allow at least a couple of hours to wander Tokyo’s nearby restaurant supply district before dinner. An English menu is available, and helpful staff will cook for the newbies. 2-2-2, Nishiasakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo
Morimoto: As with many cheaper Japanese spots, lingering is discouraged. Drink, eat, then get out of the way to allow other customers in. English menu available. Hamanoue Bldg, 1F, Dogenzaka 2-7-4, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Saiki: An old-school izakaya in a cramped little room, bedizened mostly by loyal regulars. Just enough English spoken. Frozen sake is a specialty here, along with fried crab croquettes. Ebisu-nishi 1-7-12, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Sushi Dai at Tsukiji Market:You’ll need to ask for help finding this 12-seat sushi counter; the three-hour lineups outside should be a help. Once you get in, the other customers will spend most of the meal photographing their food, tweeting photographs of their food, and asking you to help them photograph their food. You will resist the urge to smack them. All of this is worth it: I’ve never had better sushi. Not even close. Eleven life-altering pieces for about $39. (Skip the o-toro bluefin belly if you don’t fancy eating endangered species.) Open 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. Cash only. Part 6 Bldg. 5-2-1 Tsukiji-shijo, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Yoshikawa Inn Tempura: Reservations a must; have the front desk at your hotel make them. Set menu. Cranky cook. Killer tempura. 604-8093, Tominokoji, Oike-sagaru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto-yoshikawa.co.jp