Top 10 fiery mapo dofu
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.