The Michelin cheap list
Bib Gourmand / oyakodon set lunch from ¥1,000
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 ¥1,000. 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 (¥1,600) and the tokujo motsu-iri oyakodon (oyakodon with giblets, ¥1,900), 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 / lunch from ¥1,200
This cosy restaurant in Setagaya serves Cantonese cuisine with a refined Japanese flair – think course-by-course dishes that emphasise clean, distinct flavours. Zuisetsu is known for its seafood preparations, and a dinner here can cost anywhere between ¥7,000 and ¥10,000. So go for lunch instead, where a noodle dish will only set you back ¥1,200 – better yet, opt for a set lunch, which starts from a very affordable ¥1,620.
On our visit, our ‘mini course lunch’ consisted of an appetiser, Zeisetsu’s house-made steamed sticky tofu, wonton and glass noodles in spicy oil dressing, a choice between two main courses, a half-sized noodle dish, and a dessert. All this for a mere ¥2,160.
The dandanmen was particularly memorable; it featured strips of cured pork, which added depth and sweetness to the fragrant noodles. There’s a deft hand here in showcasing Cantonese flavours, and it leaves us wanting to try the more elaborate dinner menu.
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 ¥430
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.
Bib Gourmand / set lunch from ¥980
At Masamune, the simple tonkatsu is taken to the next level with premium ingredients. The restaurant serves Koshi Ibuki rice from Sado Island in Niigata, and uses Kuwana rice bran oil for frying, which is rich in vitamin E and antioxidants. The house pickles are infused with chili for extra zing. Even the breadcrumbs are produced from bread made just for the purpose.
As for the meat, expect no less than Waton Mochibuta brand pork. You are encouraged to forego the usual tonkatsu sauce and mustard and instead enjoy your pork fillet or loin with rock salt and a squeeze of lemon – simple condiments that will best bring out the meat’s natural flavours.
While dinner sets are priced above ¥2,000, the cheapest set lunch of minced-meat cutlet – served with rice, tonjiru (pork miso soup) and pickles – will only set you back just ¥980. Otherwise, go big with the thick cut special pork fillet meal for ¥1,680, especially if you like your meat a little fatty. Do note that Masamune is located in a prime office district, so you’ll need to be prepared to queue.
Bib Gourmand / ramen from ¥790
Located a short walk from Meguro Station, Menya Ishin is very proud of the provenance of its ingredients, and rightfully so. The restaurant uses Mochibuta pork, brand chicken from Nagoya and Akita, and kelp from Rausu in Hokkaido. Menya Ishin’s noodles are made in-house at its other outlet in Yokohama, and served in bowls created in Arita, a Japanese mountain town renowned for its porcelain ware.
You’ll be glad to know that Menya Ishin offers light and refreshing yuzu shio ramen, with the standard bowl priced at only ¥850. But you’ll be better off upgrading to the special; for ¥1,100, your noodles come with three wontons, three pieces of chicken and a very good soft-boiled egg that has absorbed all the sweet-salty flavour of the shoyu stock it’s cooked in. The little addition of chicken oil in the soup is brilliant, giving the noodles a savoury, smooth mouthfeel.
There’s shoyu ramen as well, along with tsukemen plus a limited selection of toppings (egg and charsiu) and side dishes (spicy chicken and grilled pork).