The casual observer could be forgiven for thinking that fast food chains dominate the Tokyo hamburger scene – being confronted with golden arches, bearded kings and their Japanese competitors cannot be avoided, no matter where you are in the city. However, once you dig a bit deeper, there's a huge selection of speciality burger joints that compete for the juiciest patty, the most imaginative toppings and the tastiest buns, making Tokyo an unlikely haven for those partial to America's greatest culinary export. The west side of the city has long been known as the better burger side, although noteworthy eateries have begun to rise in the east as well in recent years. Here are our picks of the best burgers in Tokyo, ranging from cheap eats to Kobe beef-based luxury choices and from simple classics to some highly unlikely topping combos. And if you'd rather go for some pizza, we've got that covered too.
You'll find hotdogs, sandwiches and fried goods on the menu at Fire House, and, of course, a large selection of burgers. Opened in 1996, it's been serving up its greasy wares to satisfied customers for almost 20 years, and those in the know will know that the real reason to go is for a meaty fix. Large, freshly cooked patties come with a range of toppings, including cheese, avocado and even apple.
Situated in Ryogoku's Yokoami neighbourhood and fit for a sumo grand champion (yokozuna), visitors here will find burgers of three thematic sizes: yokozuna, ozeki, and komusubi. Hop in the ring for a round of made-in-Japan, just-right beef patties, weighing in at a hearty 160g for the yokozuna size. The specially ordered buns are toasted for a crispy bite that goes perfectly with the meat.
The well-known decadent offerings from Ningyocho's Brozer's are also available at their branch in Ginza’s Shintomicho. The attractions here include firm 11-cm buns, 100% beef patties (very juicy!), and nicely folded fresh lettuce on top. Go with the Lot Burger (¥1,500) for the full monty, including lettuce, tomato, bacon, cheese, egg, and pineapple – a heavenly harmony circling around the salt and pepper-spiced patty.
This small and slightly shabby diner, located close to Sangenjaya’s Taishido elementary school, oozes a thick faux-American atmosphere. The menu is far more authentic though, listing burgers, sandwiches, steaks, and so on. Their signature burger, a seriously beefy creation, is worth a shot, along with the Ratatouille Swiss Melt Burger (¥1,260), an unusual but commendable combination.
Martiniburger – owned and operated by native New Yorker Eliot Bergman – aims to serve up authentic New York dishes in true New York style, in the unlikely surrounds of Kagurazaka. Try the 'Little Italy' burger – a thick beef patty topped with a chunk of fresh mozzarella, a thick slice of beefsteak tomato and pungent homemade pesto. Spicy tomato sauce is served on the side, and is best applied liberally.
Whoopi Gold Burger, Charlotte Gains-Burger, Kevin Bacon (burger): the names are pun-tastic at this unpretentious fast food joint, which moved to Shibuya from Nakameguro in 2011. Cheap gags wouldn't merit a repeat visit, but the generously stuffed burgers – with plump, juicy patties – definitely do.
The patties are 100% Japanese beef, but the atmosphere is pure California at Burger Mania, one of Tokyo's best burger restaurants. The menu includes esoteric choices like a blue cheese burger topped with Roquefort and gorgonzola, a 'platinum' burger made with sliced wagyu steak, and a surprisingly good and always popular cherry burger (anointed with cherries and cream cheese).
These guys are particular about their bacon, to say the least. After aging it for four days, they douse it with water to remove the salt, air dry it, then slowly smoke it for another eight hours. As for the patties, 100-percent beef is brought in every morning, translating into a thick patty that looks as if it’s ready to spill its juicy splendour all over you. Crisp lettuce, rich cheese, and tomato add just the right bite for a thick complement to the patty.
Located just across from the west entrance to Yoyogi Park, Arms likes to open their windows on nice days and let the breeze caress their burger and sandwich establishment. The Bacon Cheeseburger (¥1,250) comes highly recommended, thanks to its crisp lettuce and heavenly flavours of the grilled patty, nicely balanced by cheddar cheese and bacon.
You'll not find anything particularly fancy at Homework's, but this little Hiroo stalwart does a very solid burger should something a little up-market take your fancy. The meat is 100 percent pure beef – none of your preservatives nonsense here – and each chunky patty comes served in a large toasty bun (brown or white, your choice), packed with fresh salad.
This diner at Komazawa Park is liberally decorated with classic American memorabilia, such as toys, an old refrigerator, and various posters. They also cook up a mean burger - try the 'Hot Rod' (¥1,890), topped with tomato, grilled onions, lettuce, tartar sauce, a fried egg, cheese, avocado, bacon, chili, and...just kidding, that's it.
Authentic’s burger patties are made from 80% red meat and 20% prized, fatty wagyu beef seasoned only with pepper and salt and made without a binder. To add to the succulence of the burgers, they make their own sauce aurore in-house and source tender, bite-friendly soft buns from a bakery in Shinbashi. The showpiece burger is their Broccoli Cheese Burger (¥1,270), which marries crunchy broccoli and creamy Monterey Jack.
This Ebisu joint is run by renowned supplier Yazawa Meat. Go for gold with the star of the show, the Kuroge Wagyu (Japanese black) beef patty which combines a rough ground texture with an impeccably juicy bite. Bread masters Maison Kaiser collaborate with Blacows on the buns, which sandwich square-cut onions and a healthy portion of tomato-based BBQ sauce for a burger that gets better with each bite.
Look for the yellow signage and neon presence of this California-style diner along Gaien Nishi-dori. The chef, a French cuisine maestro recently returned from Los Angeles, gives careful attention to the homemade ingredients and patties made from Kobe beef and kuroge Wagyu (Japanese black beef). Their signature item is the Kobe Burger (¥900), which features an ample serving of the famed delicacy.
This is the establishment for all you burger lovers on a budget. Getting there might be a bit of a challenge, but locals in the know love this no-frills joint in Setagaya's Wakabayashi. You’ll get a satisfying and delicious everyman’s meal here, and rarely need to fork out more than 500 yen.