A while back I was asked to contribute to a feature article on Tokyo that appeared today in New York Magazine. In the end what they ran was brutally truncated (by the layout editor, I was told). This is what it looks like in print (and online)...
But this was the way it was originally planned...
¥ Uogashi Nihon-ichi (stand-up sushi on Shibuya Center-gai)
Why bother with kaiten-zushi when you can have your nigiri made to order just as cheaply? You see the person making it, you can pick out whatever you fancy, and you know it hasn't been chugging around the conveyor belt for hours.
The Uogashi Nihon-ichi chain has outlets across the city, all pretty much identical. The branch that gets my vote is the one on Shibuya's Center-gai — if only for the compelling cast of characters that waltz past the front door day and night.
¥¥ Midori-zushi (large servings, small price: Akasaka Biz Tower)
Another chain with lots of branches, all offering good quality seafood and amazingly generous cuts — the anago is especially huge — at prices that are remarkably affordable. Be prepared to queue: there's always a line outside well before opening time, whichever branch you go to.
¥¥¥ Sushi Bun (breakfast in Tsukiji with the market workers)
The inner-Tsukiji Market sushi-counter experience is an essential part of any foodie's visit to Tokyo. You squeeze in shoulder-to-shoulder with the market workers, neighbourhood office workers and (lots of) tourists of all nationalities, and are served outstandingly fresh seafood with absolutely no formality or standing on ceremony. And you finish up around the time when most of Tokyo is heading into work.
There are several of these hole-in-the-wall sushi shops inside the inner market. Sushi Bun is my pick of the bunch, if only because it's not in so many guidebooks, and that means the queues aren't quite so long — though if you get to the door in less than half an hour you're in luck. And remember: make sure to arrive well before noon, because by 1 pm the whole market is closed.
¥¥¥ Kyubey (high-end Ginza sushiya)
This place is just excellent. In fact, anywhere outside of Japan it would be considered a classic. It pales only by comparison with the very uppler echelon of sushi masters, such as Mizutani, Saito etc. Only sushi-snobs need bother to look any further.
¥¥¥¥ Mizutani (as good as it gets)
There are other hot 'new' places — among them Saito and Umi — but Mizutani remains my ultimate yardstick for premium sushi. Infallible, superb, sublime. Just remember to take cash (plenty of it) as Mizutani doesn't accept plastic.
¥¥¥¥¥ Sushi Jiro (a living legend)
The location is a dingy basement of a nondescript building by the Sukiyabashi crossing in Yurakucho. The sushi is served faster than you want (no breaks in between courses. There's little atmosphere to speak of, and the pretty basic restroom is outside the front door, shared with the other restaurants on this floor. And it boasts 3 Michelin stars.
Jiro Ono is a true artisan — as well as soon-to-be movie star ("Jiro Dreams of Sushi"). He's legendary for his obsessive search for perfection, and he expects similar awareness from his customers. Which is why bookings are not accepted from people who don't speak Japanese.
I wouldn't recommend Sushi Jiro to anyone who’s not eaten a lot of high-end sushi — preferably here in Japan. If you're not familiar with Edomae sushi you're unlikely to get the point — or accept/forgive the price point.