No trip to Japan is complete without gorging myself on wonderful fresh sushi. There’s an almost innumerable number of places to check out from the most high-end and exclusive of sushi-yas to cheap and cheerful sushi trains. We were not keen to blow all our money on one meal but had palettes that were a little bit more refined than the standard sushi train. So all of the sushi restaurants we visited in Tokyo sat somewhere squarely in the middle of the two extremes.
My personal list from, best to worst:
If you love sushi and Japan, Sushi Dai needs no introduction. It’s the cheapest Michelin starred sushi restaurant in all of Tokyo, and perhaps the world. Its reputation comes as much from this accolade as the infamous waiting times to get in! The humble little sushi store is located within the Tsukiji inner market, where all of the hustle and bustle happens. Admittedly, we had a very hard time locating the way to the inner market, as we weren’t sure where we were and weren’t allowed! The English signs dotted around as we wandered around in the dark weren’t all that helpful either.
I would say, go straight through the side entrance to the main gate and straight up, then turn left into where all the restaurants and stores are. If you arrive after the trains are running this should present no problem, as there will already be a line of people waiting! If you get there deep in the night, like we did at around 1am, it might take a bit more searching! This map should be somewhat helpful – Sushi dai is in the green coloured row of stores.
We were feeling particularly energetic at around midnight, so we boarded the last train and somehow managed to make our way, guided mostly by streetlights and the moon. We were actually a little bit unlucky because even though we got there at just past 1am which would usually guarantee entry into the first 5am sitting, there was a very large group of around 10 that had already arrived just before us! That said, the hours passed fairly quickly as I wandered around the market by night, caught up on Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure and occasionally watched Ryan play the DS. It definitely helped that it was Summer and the nights mild.
The first thing we laid our eyes on when we were ushered inside was the long well-worn sushi countertop that hundreds of thousands of people had sat at before us. For the most part, the chefs spoke very decent English and were very helpful with their instructions on how to eat the sushi.
There are a few different menu options, from ordering a la carte to the full 10 course omakase for 4000 yen. I’m pretty confident that almost everyone always orders the 10 course omakase and who were we to fight against the norm.
As we got stuck into breakfast the warm miso soup and fluffy egg omelette warmed our bellies for the rest of the meal. Surprisingly, the fatty tuna, (toro) wasn’t all that memorable. Instead, the bright red lean tuna made a bigger impression. So much so that we later ordered another piece.
I love the distinct taste of Pacific saury and mackerel so it made sense that this would be one of the stand out pieces for me! To finish the set course off there’s a selection of hand rolls to make sure that you’re full and to use up the cuts of fish that aren’t perfect enough for nigiri.
Where Sushi Dai really came into its own for me and made me think that all of that lining up was worth it was with the extra pieces that we could order at the end of the omakase. The daily recommendation of bonito really blew me away. It was so fresh and I’ve never had it raw before.
I think the biggest question everyone has for Sushi Dai is, ‘Is it worth it?’ My answer to that is an ambiguous, ‘It depends.’ In the end, it’s a question of if what you value more, time or money. Got a lot of time and but not a lot of yen? Sushi Dai is probably one of the best sushi experiences in Tokyo, and that includes the fun of lining up at all sorts of strange hours! Just make sure to bring a little foldable chair or something comfy to sit on if you’re not one for standing up for hours.
On the other hand, if you’re all cashed up thanks to your high flying job/promotion/investments/parents you’re probably better off going somewhere a little more upmarket. A place where more attention is paid to the rice, your preferences and tea refills or drink pairings.
Of course, if you can’t be bothered waiting for a few hours there’s plenty of other options in Tokyo.
Sushi no Midori
Popular with locals and tourists alike Sushi no Midori is touted as a restaurant with good quality sushi at very reasonable prices. There are a few branches all of Tokyo, but we happened to visit the Shibuya branch, which is also the busiest by dint of it being in a very convenient location. Luckily, we only waited for roughly half an hour or so to get in since we were having a pretty early dinner at 5:30pm.
As a popular dining spot for tourists, there is a comprehensive English menu and most of the staff are used to requirements like asking for no wasabi.
The sets are pretty good value for money as they come with miso soup and chawanmushi. In Australia, the equivalent would set you back almost twice as much for some of the more luxurious cuts such as eel. I wouldn’t say that the sushi here is life changing but the sushi was fresh and there was lots of variety and some more premium types of seafood for a very decent price. If the line isn’t too long I recommend trying it out!
The sushi no midori branches are a little bit different, as there’s a standing only store and also a conveyor belt branch. Please check out their website to see what the most convenient store for you is!
Sushi Zanmai boasts that it is possible to have cheap and tasty sushi with a real sushi chef without the need to spend all your cash. It also operates 24/7, 365 days a year which is pretty unheard of for most sushi restaurants, even in the midst of Tokyo.
There’s so many Sushi Zanmais all over Tokyo, with a number in Tsukiji market. This website has a handy link to all the locations. If you’ve got a late night craving for some sushi or want to low key count down the new year (like a group of my friends did while they were in Tokyo) Sushi Zanmai has your back. I won’t guarantee that it’s the best sushi you’ll ever have, but it’s decently priced, tourist friendly and safe for beginners with some more familiar western maki roll options available.