1. A three-storey commercial building with a large gorilla statue on top
    Photo: Keisuke TanigawaChazawa-dori, Sangenjaya
  2. hanare ハナレ
    Photo: Keisuke TanigawaHanare
  3. Sancha Monica
    Photo: Sancha Monica

20 best things to do in Sangenjaya: restaurants, cafés, bars and attractions

Just two train stops from Shibuya, the lively Sangenjaya is popular for its independent cafés, restaurants and bars

Emma Steen
Written by
Emma Steen
&
Jessica Thompson
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Sangenjaya – or ‘Sancha’ to locals – is a sprawling jumble of stores and winding backstreets that has a neighbourly vibe, but with a grungy edge. Translating to 'three teahouses', Sangenjaya was a place for eating and drinking back in the Edo period (1603-1867), and these days it remains true to the cause.

The area is packed with restaurants, cafés and bars: hotspots include the Sankaku Chitai alleyway, along Chazawa Street towards Shimokitazawa, and the meandering web of streets south of Sangenjaya station. The neighbourhood’s most eye-catching landmark, however, is the bizarre giant gorilla statue that looms over a FamilyMart on Chazawa-dori. The King Kong lookalike has been a resident of the area for so long that even the locals aren’t entirely sure of its origins, but it’s now an indispensable part of Sangenjaya.

On a pleasant day, don’t miss a trip to the top of the Carrot Tower for free views of Tokyo or the chance to explore the green oasis of Setagaya Park.

RECOMMENDED: Our ultimate guide of 101 things to do in Tokyo

Restaurants

  • Restaurants
  • Sangenjaya

Sushi goes hand in hand with nihonshu, but it also pairs excellently with wine. Don’t believe us? Try eating at Sancha Monica, where you can order fresh sushi platters with a bottle of vino in a sleek dining space that could be mistaken for a modern bistro.  

While the restaurant has an unconventional take on sushi dining, the dishes are far from gimmicky. The majority of the menu consists of simple nigiri featuring ikura, fatty tuna, conger eel and amberjack, as well as a few hot dishes like grilled miso-marinated cod and braised pork belly. You can order a la carte or opt for a pre-fixe course (from ¥7,000) that includes a two-hour free-flow of red, white or sparkling, as well as draft beer, umeshu (plum wine) and soft drinks. 

  • Restaurants
  • Sangenjaya

The majority of Japanese ramen shops use wheat in their noodles and soy sauce in their broth, so gluten-free ramen sounds like a bit of an oxymoron. At Ramen Kousuke, however, gluten-free noodle bowls are in hot demand. The owner himself decided to make his noodle business friendly to those on gluten-free diets after cutting out wheat proteins from his own diet a few years ago and hasn’t looked back since. 

Often heavy with pork fat and doused with MSG, ramen isn’t considered to be the healthiest of Japanese dishes, but chef-owner Kousuke says his diet of ramen, rice and natto has him feeling fitter than ever. Astonishingly, the 54-year-old looks a good ten years younger than his age, so the ramen here has the potential to take over acai bowls as the next hot superfood. 

Despite swapping noodles made with wheat for rice noodles, Chef Kousuke doesn’t compromise on the flavour of his ramen. Preparations for the soup bases, flavoured with fish or chicken, begin the night before as it takes nine to ten hours to boil a flavourful broth. Kousuke doesn’t use MSG or other chemical seasonings in his noodle dishes, so it’s imperative to not rush this step to maximise the umami factor. 

The menu changes from time to time, but the standard bowl of gluten-free ramen noodles comes in a tamari soy based broth (¥900) with toppings of chashu (barbecue pork slices), wakame kelp and grated carrot. There are ‘normal’ wheat noodles for those without dietary restrictions, too, which come in varieties like yuzu soy sauce broth, shrimp soy sauce broth and creamy coconut chicken broth.

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  • Restaurants
  • Sangenjaya

The kaisendon (also called kaihodon) at this longstanding shop in Sangenjaya is so much more than just sashimi over rice. With bowls piled high with shimmering assortments of scallops, ikura, uni and other goodies sourced directly from Chiba’s Choshi Market, the quality of seafood served at Umimachidon rivals that of the best sushi restaurants in Ginza at an affordable price point.

Sets start at roughly ¥990 and can be eaten in three ways. To start, season your sashimi with a dash of soy sauce and wasabi and later add some jellied vinegar to enhance the flavour of the dish with a touch of acidity. When you’ve eaten about two-thirds of your rice bowl, you can pour some hot dashi over your rice and enjoy the rest of the kaisendon as ochazuke. 

  • Restaurants
  • Setagaya

Rock up for lunch on a weekend and you’re likely to find a long queue running down the steps of Shiva Curry Wara, but the spiced offers here are worth the wait. This little restaurant serving Japanese-influenced Indian food has been in business for about a decade, dishing up warm and flavourful curries made with seasonal local ingredients.

Appetisers include classic favourites like tandoori chicken and puri (deep fried bread), while daily specials range from South Indian vegetable coconut curry and lamb curry with coriander. To sample a little bit of everything, we recommend getting the curry set, which comes with two curries, cumin yoghurt sauce, cabbage achar (Indian pickles), daal lentil soup and a cheese kulcha (flat bread). It’s good, honest food that’ll leave you feeling full, nourished and warm from the inside out.

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Tokoshima
  • Restaurants
  • Yakitori
  • Sangenjaya
  • price 2 of 4

Chef Tokoshima serves 20 different items of grilled chicken, from the standard – breast, wings, thigh – to the startling. Anyone for ovaries? If you do fancy one of the more unusual options (hearts, intestine cartilage), there’s little to worry about because Chef Tokoshima is a perfectionist who oversees the minutiae of the yakitori process.

This gizzard wizard purchases his chickens directly from a farm up in Ibaraki. Then he embarks on some nose-to-tail cooking on his charcoal grill – the intense flavour, he says, comes when the oil from the meat drips onto the burning charcoal.  The simple seasoning – salt, black pepper and a splash of tare (sauce) – allows the natural flavours of the chicken to shine. It’s a beautiful, elegant restaurant, with dark wood panelling on the walls and the counter that surrounds Tokoshima’s kitchen, offering you a close-up view of the master’s meticulous preparation of each and every kushi.

Los Tacos Azules
  • Restaurants
  • Sangenjaya

Born in Mexico, owner and head chef Marco Garcia weaves seasonal Japanese ingredients through traditional Mexican dishes at this stylish taqueria. Think ayu (sweetfish) taco, shiso salsa and guacamole topped with shirasu (whitebait). Marco also imports corn from his homeland, which he grinds freshly in-house every day and makes into tortillas, which are then cooked on a flat plancha grill in front of diners. For dinner, there’s the reservation-only omakase courses (from ¥4,500) of tacos, tostadas, tamales and more, plus a small a la carte menu for walk-ins. On weekends, brunch is served from 9am to 3pm.

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Gyoza Shack
  • Restaurants
  • Sangenjaya
  • price 1 of 4

As the name implies, this Sangenjaya eatery is low on airs and graces. Thankfully it is big on gyoza, serving up the most innovative bundles of goodness in western Tokyo. Additives are off the table completely, the dough is made with whole-grain flour and the voluminous dumplings are filled with offbeat organic ingredients.

The signature Shack gyoza incorporate heirloom Shonai pork from Yamagata prefecture and are big enough to satisfy even the most ravenous eaters. Some of the gyoza can be ordered in either pan-fried, boiled or deep-fried form, and all dishes contain no garlic or chives – however, garlic oil is provided at each table should you need an extra kick. Wash it all down with a glass of natural wine or some junmai daiginjo sake from Yamagata’s Tatenokawa brewery, and finish off with a plate of banana- and cream cheese-filled ‘dessert gyoza’.

  • Restaurants
  • Pizza
  • Sangenjaya

The oven is the first thing you notice at L'Arte – that, and the certificate from the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana. This restaurant is a sister shop to the long-running Il Lupone in Nakameguro, a superior pizzeria that nonetheless suffers the ignominy of being only the third best place in the neighbourhood. There's a little less competition in Sangenjaya, which might be why L'Arte – all whitewashed walls and Neapolitan ephemera – is constantly packed.

The lunch sets are terrific value: while L'Arte can be pricey at night, on weekday lunches you can have a small salad, pizza and drink for a mere ¥1,200. The margherita is heavy on the cheese and surprisingly tart, with a firm, crisp crust and pillowy, slightly charred cornicione – in other words, very good.

Cafés and bars

  • Bars and pubs
  • Sangenjaya

There’s nothing like a cold, juicy IPA to quench your thirst after a long week. At this hip space three minutes from Sangenjaya Station, you can choose between ten different craft beers on tap and dozens of canned beers with quirky labels on the refrigerator shelves. Both the selections of beer on tap and the canned beers are updated regularly and range from crisp local ales to frothy IPAs from California.

Most of the beers on tap come in either medium (from roughly ¥1,000) or pint-sized pours (roughly ¥1,600), with offerings like the fruity Guava Gose form the Collective Arts brewery in Canada to the Sharkguin from Breweki in Sweden, which has an ABV of 8 percent. Bar space is limited, so there’s no guarantee of getting seated on a Friday night, but you won’t hear any patrons grumbling about having to stand when the booze is as delicious as it is here.

  • Bars and pubs
  • Sangenjaya

Duck under the small arched doorway down the narrow street of Susuran-dori and you’ll find one of the best bars in Sangenjaya. Actually, you’ll find two of the best bars in Sangenjaya, as Cielo is a two-level establishment with separate spaces for gin and whiskey aficionados. On the first landing, you’ll find the warmly lit gin bar with rows upon rows of craft gin. 

Labels range from the Spanish Gin Mare, infused with Mediterranean botanicals like rosemary and olives, to locally sourced bottles like Komasa and Roku. You can’t go wrong with a simple gin and tonic mixed with the bottle that first catches your eye, but it’s hard to resist the cocktail menu that has everything from sweet and strong concoctions like the Coffee Negroni (¥1,200) to light, dry tipples like the Lemongrass Old Salty Dog (¥1,400). 

Upstairs is an old school whiskey and cigar bar for those who like their drinks served neat. There are roughly 100 bottles to choose from, including Scotch, Hibiki and a handful of niche labels from lesser known distilleries for a drink that will put some hair on your chest.

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  • Restaurants
  • Taishido

This lively little standing bar offers an excellent range of craft sake (from around ¥600 a glass), organic wines, beer and izakaya classics like highballs and sours (¥400-600). While the food menu is entirely in Japanese, you can always ask the staff for their recommendations (say the magic word: ‘osusume’). Otherwise, just go with our favourites: seasonal sashimi, the towering potato salad (¥500) and the crisp chikuwa (fish paste) and gorgonzola tempura (¥500). The payment style is ‘cash on’, ie place your cash in the wooden tray in front of you at the start of the night and the staff will take the payment from there every time you order.

  • Restaurants
  • Tea rooms
  • Sangenjaya

For years, Tokyo's caffeine addicts have been spoiled with an overflowing supply of 'third wave' coffee shops, while green tea – Japan's native pick-me-up – has been left by the wayside. But times they are a-changin'. First up is Sangenjaya's austere Tokyo Saryo, which offers single-origin green tea in hand drip form. The folks behind the lightly decorated shop have even developed their own tea dripper, which is supposed to help bring out the full flavours of the leaves. If you're looking to further your tea education, order the tasting set and enjoy a wide variety of aromas and tastes – and don't forget to also explore the sweet selection, which includes a tasty hojicha blancmange, dried fruit and ohagi (mochi balls with anko). 

Note that Tokyo Saryo is only open on Saturdays. We recommend making a reservation in advance.

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  • Restaurants
  • Sangenjaya

The hard-to-spot sign – look for the crescent moon at street-level – and discreet entrance via a steep staircase on the side of an apartment building all add to the hideaway appeal of Moon Factory Coffee. Inside you’ll find a homely all-timber interior, excellent coffee and a tranquil atmosphere, with blues music playing softly in the background. The hand-drip brews are complex but perfectly balanced, with prices ranging from ¥750 to ¥900. The homemade desserts are just as good, especially the cheesecake and chocolate cake (¥600).

Yakushu Bar
  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Sangenjaya

Finding this spot is no mean feat – you’ll first need to navigate the winding streets of Sangenjaya’s Sankaku Chitai and then enter one of the triangular labyrinth’s most narrow alleys to come upon a small door with a green light on it – but the effort will be worth it. Yakushu Bar Sangenjaya is a six-seat, counter-only boozer specialising in herbal spirits flavoured with ginger, goji berries, lemongrass, lavender, broiled eel and much more. The drinks variously tout beauty, anti-fatigue and stamina benefits – tell the friendly bartender how you’re feeling and he’ll pick out a mixture to right your wrongs. If you like the experience, consider also checking out their branches in Koenji and Asakusa.

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  • Bars and pubs
  • Taishido

Living up to its name, Small World has room for only five people at a time, but makes up for its modest size with an eclectic selection of both records and craft beer. Located between Sangenjaya and Shimokitazawa, the shop specialises in carefully curated underground sounds, all the way from avant-garde electronic music to indie rock. When you find a disc you’d like to listen to, ask the staff to play it while you grab a seat by the counter, settle in and decide what to order off the beer menu, which lists several excellent Japanese brews.

  • Bars and pubs
  • Sangenjaya

Don’t let the sliding shoji-style door fool you – this curious little shop isn’t a traditional purveyor, but a prohibition era-inspired hookah lounge. You’ll have to use your head to solve the puzzle on the shop’s website, which puts up a front as a tea shop website. But once you figure out how to unlock the virtual doors (pay attention to the little red arrows on the page), you’ll be granted access to this shisha speakeasy. 

There are roughly eight types of standard shisha (¥2,500) and ten types of CBD infused shisha (¥4,000) to choose from, with flavours ranging from Sprite to lime with cypress and from yuzu with black tea to apple. As for the drinks, Chakemuri actually stocks an excellent selection of Japanese teas like Kakegawa matcha-infused genmaichawari, which is a blend of matcha and brown rice and wakochawari roasted black tea (¥600). If you’re after an alcoholic beverage, however, the shop has a weekly assortment of house-made liqueurs for fruity cocktails like strawberry and pepper sours, spiced tomato sours and lemon sours made with a shochu base (¥800 each). 

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  • Music
  • Sangenjaya

The people behind underground music club Aoyama Hachi opened a sister bar just ten minutes away from Sangenjaya Station. Located on the fourth floor of a corner building on Chazawa-dori (street), Hanare has a bright and cheerful pink interior that makes the tiny space look bigger than it actually is.

While the bar can only fit around ten to 15 people, it caters especially to music lovers and audiophiles with its top-of-the-line sound system by one of Japan’s leading speaker brands, Taguchi Onken. On Hanare’s roster are local DJs active in Shibuya and Sangenjaya, covering a wide range of music genres and generations.

While Hanare is open on most days, check its Instagram before you visit.

Attractions

Temple and shrine hopping

Temple and shrine hopping

Sangengaya is dotted with shrines and temples with impressive landscaping and architecture for a nice respite from the city buzz. If you have time to spare, seek out the Shoin Taishido Walk and Jakuzure Green River Way. These leafy pedestrian paths connect many temples and shrines in the area.

If time is short, head south from Sangenjaya Station to Saichoji Temple. It features an enormous, regal gate (bukeyashiki-mon) that was transplated from an Edo-period residence that once belonged to a feudal lord. Nearby, the incredibly serene grounds of Kannonji Temple are abundant with greenery and dotted with cherry trees, making it a popular spot come sakura season. To the north of Sangenjaya Station, the impressive Taishido Hachiman Shrine often hosts seasonal festivals and events (check its event calendar here).

  • Shopping
  • Music and entertainment
  • Sangenjaya

A stop by Kankyo Records is essential for any music lover looking to establish the right kind of ambience for their home. Whether you're an early riser or a night owl, an avid home cook or a balcony botanist, this nifty record shop will have just the right sounds to suit your vibe. Names you’ll come across on the labels here range from Italian composer and music producer Gigi Mason to the Philly-based band Nightlands. In addition to the rows of vinyl and cassette tapes (from roughly ¥1,200), the shop also stocks a small selection of homeware including graphic T-shirts and ceramic mugs for you to peruse. 

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  • Attractions
  • Towers and viewpoints
  • Sangenjaya

The top floor of this extremely orange-coloured 26-storey building is a great place to enjoy amazing views toward the Bay Bridge while lounging on one of the comfy sofas. Don't expect close-up views of skyscrapers here as Sangenjaya, while just two stops away from Shibuya on the metro, is largely low-rise and residential. On a clear day, you might even get an unobstructed view of Mt Fuji. There's also a restaurant and a more affordable café if you're feeling peckish. 

Other 'hoods to check out

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