Tokyo is the best food city in the world; in fact, it has the most number of Michelin-starred restaurants in the world. As of 2017, the city racked up a total of 314 Michelin stars, shared by 234 restaurants – and this is not even counting the many restaurants that were conferred the Bib Gourmand honour for their 'exceptionally good food at moderate prices'.
While eating at a Michelin-starred restaurant is high on many travellers' must-do list, most people fear the bank-breaking high prices that these places usually charge for a meal. Truth is, you can still eat cheap at some of these top-rated restaurants. Moreover, many of these restaurants offer affordable lunch sets, which are often a taster of the more elaborate dinner menu. Here are some of the Michelin-starred and Bib Gourmand restaurants where you can enjoy a meal without busting your budget.
The Michelin cheap list
One Michelin star / ramen for ¥900
Sobahouse Konjiki Hototogisu is only the third ramen restaurant in the world to get a star (awarded in 2019, after Tsuta and Nakiryu). The signature shouyu soba is made from three types of soup stock – pork broth, wa-dashi (Japanese stock) and hamaguri clam dashi – and topped with truffle sauce as well as porcini oil and flakes for that bold umami punch.
However, the restaurant recommends the shio soba – and we concur. The elegantly balanced base stock blends two types of salt (Mongolian rock salt and Okinawan sea salt) and it’s the perfect foil for the hamaguri clam and red sea bream soup’s distinctive seafood sweetness. The noodles are then finished with Italian white truffle oil, porcini mushroom sauce, pancetta bacon bits and inca berry sauce. This adds a pesto-like robustness and depth in the overall flavour. It is moreish, and you’ll be compelled to finish the soup till the last drop.
Bib Gourmand / onigiri starting from ¥280
Located just behind Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, Yadoroku is the oldest onigiri specialist in Tokyo. Choose from a range of different toppings including salmon, ume (plum), tarako (pollock roe), shirasu (white bait) and okaka (dried bonito flakes), all for an affordable ¥280-330. Lunch sets are available from ¥690 and include two rice balls, miso soup with tofu, and takuan (pickled radish). The place stays open until 2am – perfect if you're craving a late-night snack.
Bib Gourmand / dishes for ¥1,000 or less
This restaurant serves Okinawan and Chinese food but the taco rice they offer features Ozaki wagyu beef. Remarkably, even though Ozaki beef is rare, the restaurant has managed to keep the price down to below ¥1,000. Wine aficionados will appreciate the bottle-lined wall – the prices are written on the bottles so it’s easy to choose and order one that fits your budget. The restaurant stays open until 3am, so it’s ideal for ending off a night on the town.
Bib Gourmand / oyakodon set lunch from ¥1,100
This chicken specialist in Suehirocho does a stellar job at presenting the best of the bird in a myriad of ways. A dinner easily sets you back upwards of ¥10,000 a head. For that, you'll be getting a whole lot of good chicken.
For those with less cash to splash, Shizendo's lunch options offer an introduction on the magic they can work with chicken in various guises. On the menu is oyakodon, served up in six different varieties, starting from ¥1,100. Be prepared to queue. If you really want to get a feel just how good Shizendo is with chicken, you can splurge on their specials, available to 20 diners only every day: the tokujo (extra special) oyakodon (¥1,800) and the tokujo motsu-iri oyakodon (oyakodon with giblets, ¥2,100), both made with premium rice, premium eggs and of course, premium chicken.
Bib Gourmand / weekday set lunch from ¥1,100
One of the best Chinese restaurants in Shibuya, Jasmine specialises in the spicy Chinese cuisine from the Szechuan province. While the dishes are executed with the flair and refinement befitting the restaurant’s simple elegant setting, the flavours are spot on: bold and punchy, and they leave a mild tingling sensation at the back of your palate.
Dinner costs upwards of ¥4,000; the weekday lunch menu, however, is a steal in comparison. The rice sets are priced at ¥1,100, and they each come with a main, rice, soup, side dish and dessert. Plus you get to add on a small serving of the restaurant’s signature mapo tofu for a mere ¥250 – and you should. Our favourite lunch main dish is a toss up between the immensely addictive pork in sticky black vinegar sauce and the refreshing chilled chicken in spicy sauce.
Bib Gourmand / barachirashi ¥1,000
A 10-odd minutes' walk from Yutenji Station, Meguro Sushi Taichi was awarded Bib Gourmand status in 2018. For lunch, they serve barachirashi (scattered sushi) to 12 diners daily. If you want anything else, you'll have to order their alternative set menu (¥3,250) three days in advance; unless you really, really want nigiri, stick to the barachirashi.
If you manage to be one of the lucky diners, the set is a steal: a big bowl of barachirashi, a sizeable chawanmushi, miso soup, and even a little dessert are all included in the ¥1,000 price tag. The barachirashi comes with a daily changing selection of chopped sashimi, plus the usual diced omelette, shredded nori and refreshing bits of cucumber.
Bib Gourmand / tonkatsu from ¥1,000
A new entry in this year’s (2018) Michelin guide, Ryogoku stalwart Tonkatsu Hasegawa uses premium Hiraboku Sangenton pork from Yamagata. As such they would advise you to enjoy the meat with pink salt to bring out its natural sweetness.
The lunch and dinner menus are similar, but for lunch, certain sets (which come with rice, miso soup and pickles) are offered at a lower price. For example, pork-loin cutlet meal is ¥1,000 at lunch, instead of ¥1,500 for dinner. But if you’re looking go the whole hog, so to speak, get the super premium pork-loin cutlet meal (¥2,800; pictured). The thick slab of pork is beautifully marbled while the creamy white fat is meltingly good and packs lots of umami flavour.
One Michelin star / ramen from ¥800
The prize: one of the cheapest Michelin-starred meal in Tokyo. The catch: you have to get there before 8am on the same day to guarantee yourself one of the spaces at the counter. Tsuta, Japan’s first starred ramen joint, has long attracted queues even before the Michelin men came knocking because chef Yuki Onishi is a ramen perfectionist.
Onishi prepares soup bowls with measured, almost balletic grace; a dash of black truffle here, some enoki mushrooms there. The broth, made from a blend of soy sauces, is rich and complex, while the soba noodles are firm and smooth with a clear, nutty flavour, and the pork is roasted to juicy perfection. There’s only one drawback, and it’s not the early start or the strict rules (no photos of the kitchen, only one bowl per person etc): it’s that you’ll be ruined for life – no bowl of ramen will ever live up to it.
One Michelin star / ramen from ¥850
The second ramen restaurant in Tokyo to get a Michelin star after Tsuta, Nakiryu ('crying dragon') is known for its house special dandanmen, a testament to its quality. A noodle dish originating from Szechuan in China, dandanmen is characterised by its spicy soup and distinctive use of sesame seed.
Lesser restaurants tend to produce a heavier soup that can get a tad cloying – but not Nakiryu. Their red pepper-based version is as light as shoyu ramen, a very refined bowl but still gutsy. There’s a good punch of chilli heat coupled with the rich nuttiness of sesame seed, while the noodles are firm to the bite. You can even opt for extra spicy for an additional ¥50.
On the menu, you’ll also find shoyu and shio ramen, along with rice bowls. Topping (all day) and side order (evening only) options include thin and thick pieces of grilled pork, shrimp wonton and more. Don’t mind the queue; since everyone is limited to just a bowl of noodles, you won’t have to wait that long, relatively speaking.
Bib Gourmand / udon from ¥450
Originating from Kagawa, the prefecture synonymous with udon in Japan, Ippuku has a great reputation – and we’re glad to say it doesn’t disappoint. Ippuku serves Sanuki udon, whose noodles are known for their characteristic square shape, and are served smooth, slippery and chewy, all the hallmarks of good udon.
To appreciate the noodle’s texture, we suggest you go for the simpler preparations: the classic kake udon (noodles in clear dashi broth), bukkake udon (dashi dipping sauce poured over noodles), or the kamatama udon that comes with a raw egg. Make sure to go big on the side orders as the selections here are extensive.
Optional toppings include seaweed, Japanese plum, onsen egg and even mayonnaise, while side orders range from beef, daikon and konnyaku oden to squid tentacle tempura and three types of fish cake.
One Michelin star / set lunch from ¥800
For a Michelin-starred restaurant, Nakajima serves possibly the cheapest lunch in town. While their kaiseki courses are priced upwards of ¥15,000 during dinner, you can enjoy the set lunches from a mere ¥800. These are substantial meals too, complete with rice, miso soup, pickles and tea.
Sardines are the star at lunch, and there are four main course options: you can have them deep-fried; simmered in shoyu stock; as sashimi marinated in sesame and ginger; and our favourite, the yanagawa nabe set. The latter is classic comfort food – a casserole dish of deep-fried sardines in a bubbling shoyu broth, topped with egg and onions.
Do note that the lunch queue starts even before the restaurant opens at 11.30am, and that the restaurant advises against bringing children aged under six.
Bib Gourmand / gyoza set meal from ¥972+tax
In a lot of ways, Anda Gyoza comes across more like a Taiwanese restaurant than a Japanese one. For one thing, its gyoza are rounder than the usual crescent-shaped dumplings found throughout Tokyo – they look more like plump tortelloni. Then there’s the liberal use of herbs, deployed to great effect as flavouring. As such, the food feels wholesome but still tasty.
What’s even more surprising are the gyoza fillings, featuring seasonings and condiments that are more south-east Asian than Japanese. There’s a chicken dumpling flavoured with coriander, dried shrimp and coconut, which reminded us of Thai tom yum. Other delights include pork with carrot and curry powder, and chicken with ginger, fish sauce and dried basil.
We recommend ordering the suigyoza set meal, which will get you eight boiled gyoza (two pieces each of four different fillings), an excellent corned pork rice studded with cubed carrot, cucumber and pickled daikon, and a bowl of seaweed soup. The best part is that you can order this throughout the day.