1. Omoide Yokocho
    Photo: Kenn Reynon/UnsplashShinjuku's Omoide Yokocho
  2. Sankaku Chitai | Time Out Tokyo
    Photo: Time Out TokyoSangenjaya's Sankaku Chitai, one of Tokyo's many old-school yokocho
  3. Nonbei Yokocho
    Photo: Keisuke TanigawaNonbei Yokocho

10 best yokocho alleys for eating and drinking in Tokyo

Enjoy a fantastic night out at Tokyo's traditional alleyways, which host many tiny restaurants, bars, pubs and shops

Kaila Imada
Written by
Kumi Nagan
Contributor
Kaila Imada
Advertising

Hidden in between and behind shiny high-rises, massive station complexes and other architectural monsters, Tokyo's old-school alleyways or yokocho are treasure troves for anyone looking to experience the city's less sterile, more down-to-earth side.

Found all over town, Tokyo's yokocho host thousands of tiny eateries, pubs and shops, some of them dating way back to the early postwar years, and provide opportunities for slipping back in time to the smoky, change-filled decades of the Showa era (1926-1989). Recent years have seen some yokocho become trendy locations for opening hip new restaurants, adding another flavour into the diverse mix of tastes, attitudes and customs found on these backstreets.

If you don't mind a little neighbourly physical contact (many joints seat less than ten patrons), yokocho eateries and izakayas are cheapo heaven. People's booze, such as highballs, shochu and beer, is often available for ¥500 or so, and the food maintains the same dirt-cheap standard without sacrificing quality. The alleys are also ideal for discovering the less stuffy sides of Japanese culture and making new drinking buddies. Do avoid going in big groups though, as there simply won't be enough space for all of you.

Don't know where to start? Here's our top ten list of fascinating yokocho – crawl through them all and you'll have learned more about the city than many people ever will.

RECOMMENDED: 8 best restaurant food halls in Tokyo

Tokyo's top yokocho

  • Restaurants
  • Shibuya

When to go? 6pm-late night
Where is it? Shibuya

The street that's now known as Nonbei Yokocho ('Drunkard’s Alley’) once hosted the Tokyu railway corporation's head office, but things here changed drastically in the early postwar years. Since the early 1950s, yakitori shops and similar eateries have continued to rule the alley, but you’ll also find bars, izakaya and a few other interesting haunts including a French bistro and a wine bar

The alley is right by bustling Shibuya Station and has become easier to access thanks to the recent addition of Miyashita Park, which is right next door. Although it's now a tad touristy, this is still one of Tokyo's most representative yokocho.

  • Restaurants
  • Ebisu

When to go? 5pm-early morning
Where is it? Ebisu

Built on the remains of the old Yamashita shopping centre, Ebisu Yokocho is a lively food alley with plenty to offer courageous gourmands. Entering the street is like opening a door to a different, vibrant world where the liveliness spreads and welcomes you to enter Chinese eateries, seafood joints and sushi shops such as Niku Sushi, which specialises in beef sushi. 

Some of the shops have less than five square metres of indoor space, which explains the many desks and chairs lined up near the entrances. If you don't mind squeezing into a tight space for your meal and are open to meeting new and interesting people, head on over and forget about the time – most businesses here operate until sunrise.

Advertising
  • Bars and pubs

When to go? 8pm-early morning
Where is it? Shinjuku

Approximately 280 tiny drinking dens are crammed into seven ramshackle streets in Shinjuku's Kabukicho. Each place has a unique vibe – ranging from high-end cocktails to hard rock. Choose your spot wisely and you might find yourself engaged in conversation with writers, poets or cartoonists, all the while getting drunk on cheap wine and chewing on some grilled chicken. 

We particularly enjoy the lemon sours from Open Book and to finish a night in Golden Gai with a bowl of ramen from Sugoi Niboshi Ramen Nagi, which is open 24 hours a day.

  • Restaurants
  • Japanese

When to go? 8pm-early morning
Where is it? Shinjuku

Also known as 'Piss Alley' – charming, right? – this ramshackle collection of tiny bars and eateries can be found on the west side of Shinjuku Station, crammed between the railway tracks and the Ome-kaido highway. Some of the buildings here have survived frequent fires and other disasters in past decades, as evidenced by the burns and similar damage visible on the walls. 

You'll find everything from yakitori joints to cafés and soba eateries to enjoy here. Try out Kabuto for freshly grilled unagi skewers and sake or swap your beer for a cup of coffee from old-school coffee shop Tajimaya.

Advertising
  • Restaurants
  • Sangenjaya

When to go? 6pm-late night
Where is it? Sangenjaya

Sangenjaya's 'triangle' features pubs lined up in a maze-like alley just a few minutes’ walk from Sangenjaya Station. The area's inability to keep up with the constant redevelopment going on makes for rather chaotic but charming surroundings. Patrons of all ages gather here and hang out at the selection of both new wave and old-fashioned shops, including yakitori joints and curry eateries. There are even quirky drinking holes like Yakushu, which specialises in herbal spirits. 

The alleys may be narrow and space at a premium, but stepping foot into this late-night ‘hood opens up entirely new, unexpected views of the city.

  • Restaurants
  • Kichijoji

When to go? Lunchtime-12midnight
Where is it? Kichijoji

First built as a flea market in the early postwar years, this collection of alleys on the north side of Kichijoji Station is now best known for its many small but excellent restaurants, which began popping up in the late '90s. You'll also find grocery and clothing stores here, along with specialist shops for goodies like yokan (sweet bean jelly), pork cutlets and taiyaki (fish-shaped pancakes filled with anko bean paste). 

The bustle is turned up at night, when diners crowd the trendy standing-only bars and miniature eateries. For the complete experience, try spending an entire night bar-hopping without exiting the harmonica-like mini-maze. A good place to start is at Ahiru Beer Hall for Belgian draft beer and Minmin for juicy gyoza.

Advertising

Daiichi Ichiba, Gado-shita

When to go? Lunchtime-11pm
Where is it? Koenji

Koenji's two yokocho areas both have their own characteristics: the Daiichi Ichiba used to be a produce market but now consists of around ten short alleys hosting mainly Asian restaurants and a few traditional watering holes. Try out bánh mì sandwiches at Vietnamese spots like Chopsticks or fill up on freshly deep-fried tempura at Koenji mainstay Tensuke  – all great stops on a Koenji gourmet tour. 

Gado-shita, on the other hand, is an underpass teeming with bars and yakitori places. The accepting atmosphere and fair hustle and bustle are what keep patrons coming back.

Ameyoko

When to go? 11am-11pm
Where is it? Ueno

This maze of streets next to the railway tracks between Ueno and Okachimachi stations houses the Ameya Yokocho, another old-school spot that started life as a postwar black market. Shops here originally peddled everything from candy to leftover supplies discarded by the American military, which is how the 'Ame' (for both 'candy' and 'America') part of the name came into being. 

Ameyoko now hosts more than 400 shops specialising in clothing, cosmetics, souvenirs, jewellery, fresh seafood and more, with many products sold at wholesale prices – haggling is also acceptable at times. Don't forget to check out the market inside Ameyoko Center Building's basement, where Southeast Asian and Chinese food and groceries are on offer. Aside from the market, you can’t go wrong with the many kebab stalls or handmade gyoza from Shoryu.

Advertising
  • Restaurants
  • Asakusa

When to go? Lunchtime-10pm
Where is it? Asakusa

No need to fret if this street doesn't ring a bell – this Asakusa alley, named after the classic beer-like beverage and also known as 'Stew Street', isn't exactly high on the list of standard tourist attractions in the area.

Hoppy Street boasts an impressive collection of storefront bars that offer drinks and food at very reasonable prices. Traditionally, patrons at these watering holes were a hard-drinking crowd, sipping beers as they scanned the latest horse-racing broadsheets, but young locals and travellers have also discovered the spot in recent years, leading to a change in atmosphere. You can’t go wrong with the hearty stews from Suzuyoshi or Izakaya Koji for ham cutlets and simmered yellowtail.

  • Restaurants
  • Shinbashi

When to go? 11am-late night
Where is it? Shinbashi

You'll never go hungry between Shinbashi and Yurakucho stations, as eateries line the street all the way from north to south. Known as 'salaryman heaven', this area is home to countless yakitori joints, standing-only bars, Chinese restaurants and Korean barbecue houses. Prices are cheap to say the least, but quality is rarely sacrificed. You'll see more smoke and bustle the closer you get to Yurakucho, whereas the drunken, jolly atmosphere is present throughout the street. The noise and vibration from the trains passing by above only add to the charm. 

Grab drinks for just ¥300 at 300 Bar 8-chome or get your fill of monjayaki (savoury pancake) at Tamatoya Hibiya. There’s also the Hibiya Okuroji complex under the train tracks offering even more eating and drinking options.

More great food in Tokyo

Advertising
Recommended
    You may also like
    You may also like
    Advertising