Top 10 mapo dofu in Tokyo

Stay warm on the inside with this spicy delicacy
Photo by Takeshi Tojo Chengdu-style mapo dofu at Hashoku
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By Takeshi Tojo

Mapo dofu, that most characteristic of Sichuan-style dishes, gets its fiery reputation from the unique punch that comes from the melding of two elements: the 'ma' (numbing flavour) of Sichuan pepper, and the 'la' (spiciness) of the pepper-and-bean chili paste. Although this sweat-inducing combo is reportedly loved in southwestern China primarily as a means of combatting the hot-and-humid climate, the tasty dish is also great for preventing the cold of winter from invading your insides. As the winter freeze grips Tokyo, we've rounded up ten shops in and around the city that provide top-class mapo dofu for your enjoyment. Beginners be warned, however – most of these eateries aren't big on toning down the peppers.

Top 10 fiery mapo dofu

Restaurants, Chinese

Ryu No Ko

icon-location-pin Harajuku
A long-running home of Sichuan cuisine, Ryu No Ko first opened its doors in 1977 close to the entrance to Harajuku's Takeshita-dori. Owner-chef Tetsuji Yasukawa studied under the late Chen Kenmin, known as the father of Sichuan cuisine in Japan, and serves up one mean mapo (¥1,700). Go during lunch time for a very affordable meal (prices start from ¥945).
Restaurants, Chinese

Yunrin

icon-location-pin Awajicho
If you ever find yourself hankering for outstanding Chinese food in Awajicho, there's no better place than this. The quality on offer at lunch time is particularly good value; you can get your hands on their famous mapo dofu, prepared with home-made chili oil, for a mere ¥1,000. The dish might not seem particularly spicy at first, but once the peppers kick in, you'll be waving frantically for more rice.
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Restaurants, Chinese

Chi-ran

icon-location-pin Itabashi
This Sichuan eatery is located in a residential area close to Chikatetsu-Akatsuka station. Having been in business for over two decades, the shop is run by Chen Kenmin disciple Shinji Shimokaze, ensuring the authenticity of the flavours. The 'Chen Mapo Dofu' (¥1,100 for lunch), the recipe for which was passed down directly from Chen Kenmin himself, is an absolute must-eat; it takes the standard dish and adds Sichuan pepper for a numbingly fiery experience.
Restaurants, Chinese

Senkoen

icon-location-pin Shinjuku
Looking for something delicious to numb the ol' palate in the Kabukicho area? Senkoen is your destination. The atmosphere is laid back to say the least; staff have been known to sit down in the customer area and eat dishes they've prepared for themselves. The reception is similarly warm and friendly, so you'll be well taken care of while you're there, and the spice level of the 'mapo' (¥980) would have a native of Sichuan nodding excitedly in approval. 
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Restaurants, Chinese

Dongpo

icon-location-pin Harajuku
The mapo dofu (¥2,500) here is awash with dusky-red Sichuan pepper, as becomes clear from the intensity of both the aroma and the appearance of the dish. A mouthful or two will leave you with the oral equivalent of pins and needles, but compared to the numbing 'ma' half of the flavor, the spicy 'la' side of things is relatively tame, which mercifully means that the pain won't linger on your tongue for very long. As practice makes perfect, those able to overcome the initial shock may soon find themselves addicted to this dish.
Restaurants, Chinese

Shinsen

icon-location-pin Nippori
This cozy Yanaka dining hall's mapo dofu and rice (¥800) is rich with Sichuan pepper. The sauce, layered on top of the rice, owes its spiciness to green chili peppers and a significant amount of Sichuan-variety pepper, producing a well-balanced and delicious dish with a 'la' (spiciness) that doesn't go overboard. The most noteworthy thing here, however, is that a well-seasoned mapo at this price is almost impossible to find elsewhere.
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Restaurants, Chinese

Ron-a-ru

icon-location-pin Hongo
Ron-a-ru in Hongo offers down-to-earth, homemade Sichuan food, with a selection of simple and honest but deliciously spicy dishes. The mapo dofu (¥1,000 at lunch) here is made with a roughly cut cotton tofu (the firmer variety of tofu) and flavoured adequately, despite its light, 'less oil, please' appearance.
Restaurants, Chinese

Goshisan

icon-location-pin Kanda
The mapo dofu at Kanda's Goshisan is served in a hot earthen pot so as not to damage the flavour of the Sichuan peppers. The large dish (¥1,500) features a hearty amount of sauce and an equally generous helping of rice, and is seasoned with doubanjiang paste and chilies. Couple that with the quality of the ground meat and the exceptional 'ma' and 'la' components, and you have an ideal match for the rice.
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