As a tourist in Tokyo, there are several things that one would naturally do. Having dinner at a sushi conveyor belt restaurant, trying out refined tempura and unagi (eel) , and maybe head for some of the most renowned ramen or soba shops.
Sometimes however, picking out a random suburb and seeing what cuisines its commercial district has to offer can provide surprising results. It’s also an interesting way to get familiar with the local food culture and will show sides of the Japanese cuisine you wouldn’t expect.
I went bar-hopping (or hashigo-suru in Japanese) in Nishi-Ogikubo, or “Nishi-Ogi” as the locals like to abbreviate this niche and cozy Tokyo suburb. Only 20 minutes away by train from Shinjuku, it’s a good way to get an idea of what the locals might have in store for you!
Let’s take a look at 5 of the most yummy, atmospheric, and most importantly, typically Japanese restaurants and bars you will find in Nishi-Ogikubo, all walking distance from each other.
1. Papapapapine Ramen
The name already gives it away, but this ramen shop serves “Pineapple Ramen” instead of your average soy or miso ramen. Pineapple is used as the dashi (soup stock), and together with familiar faces as chashu and nori, actual pineapple fruit and a pineapple flavored egg create a unique ramen that tastes great too!
Papapapapine’s main dish, pineapple ramen.
The shop is also famous for creating other peculiar sorts of ramen, which include chocolate and Calpis ramen that are served for limited periods. The most important thing though, is that the owner is not creating ‘unusual’ ramen for the sake of a gimmick, but rather, is trying to cook up yummy dishes that have an element of fun to them. This is definitely evident in the names of other dishes like the “Cacacacacao Ramen” and even the “Tototototoilet”!
Hours: 11am – 8pm Closed Wednesdays Address: Nishiogi Minami 3-12-1 Nisshin Nishiogi Plaza 1F, Suginami Access: A 3-min walk from Nishi Ogikubo Station (Chuo Line) URL: http://www.papapapapine.com/（Japanese)
Ebisu is an old-fashioned yakitori bar that has been around for 40 years, and lets you sit on stools on the side of the street with a master grilling your order on charcoal fire in front of you.
Besides Yakitori and alcohol, Ebisu offers a wide variety of dishes that range from Japanese classics as oden and tempura to other delicacies such as raw horse or fusion dishes like a mentaiko omelette. Ebisu has a strict limit for the amount of drinks you can have for each type of alcohol, ensuring that everyone gets home safe and sound!
Hours: 1pm – 12am, Open every day Address: Nishiogi Minami 3-11-5, Suginami Access: A 2-min walk from Nishi Ogikubo Station (Chuo Line) URL: http://www.yakitoriebisu.co.jp/entry/ (Japanese)
3. Nigi-Nigi Ichi
Japan has quite a lot of restaurants where you stand while eating, but such establishments are usually reserved for more casual dishes like soba or drinking bars, rather than for something as refined as sushi.
A wonderful plate of Nigiri-zushi, savored best while standing.
Eating sushi from a wooden board that is balanced on two empty beer cases with some sake or a cocktail while standing on the side of a small alley, is a lot of fun, as it makes for a much more casual and informal experience. The fish though, is just as fresh as ones from the more traditional sushi restaurants.
Hours: 4pm – 11pm, Open every day Address: Nishiogi Minami 3-11-8, Suginami Access: A 1-min walk from Nishi Ogikubo Station (Chuo Line)
It took me quite a while to find out the name of this ramen shop due to the lack of a signboard, and the small noren (shop curtain) hung up in front of the entrance during business hours is never visible due to the endless queue in front of the shop. Hatsune is often referred as “the illusive ramen shop” – and it’s easy to see why!
A bowl that has salivated the locals for more than 50 years.
Established in 1961, Hatsune is a veteran ramen shop that has dedicatedly served its famous tanmen (salt ramen with lots of vegetables) with great success for more than half a century. Hatsune closes as soon as they run out of soup, which is usually around 4 pm. Be prepared to queue, as the shop is widely loved by Tokyoites. But once you reach the inside of this narrow shop and get your hands on that ramen bowl, you will know why people keep coming back after so many years!
Hours: 11am – 5pm (as soon as there is no more soup), Closed Sundays, public holidays, first and third Monday of the month Address: Nishiogi Minami 3-11-9, Suginami Access: A 1-min walk from Nishi Ogikubo Station (Chuo Line)
Shinpo does not serve flying cows or have you eat as a robot like some more ‘exotic’ cafes might, instead, it chooses to focus on delivering you the best dishes and drinks in a cozy atmosphere.
The fresh seasonal seafood and liquors collected from throughout the country go perfectly together. This has given Shinpo a great reputation, and anyone that visits this Izakaya once instantly becomes a regular customer. My personal favourites are the yaki onigiri (grilled rice balls) grilled on charcoal with shiso (perilla).
Hours: 5pm – 11pm, Closed Wednesdays Address: Nishiogi Minami 3-38-14, Suginami Access: A 3-min walk from Nishi Ogikubo Station (Chuo Line)