Chigusa (Teishokuya), Shimokitazawa

"Tonsui" and "Chigusa" are two of the oldest Teishokuya (restaurant specialized in cheap set menus of Japanese fares) in Shimokitazawa. Chigusa, now a true institution in the area, probably attracts more clients as it's a stone throw from the station, but I have a preference for "Tonsui" which is smaller and more convivial.

Chigusa with its numerous celebrities autographs on the walls

Still, conviviality and hospitability is the catch-phrase in "Chigusa". A big wooden sign outside the eatery that says "Shizen-Shoku No Teishokuya" (literally Natural Food teishokuya), which I always assumed to be an allusion to the organic ingredients they use, actually refers to the cuisine you can eat here in a natural and unpretentious atmosphere, just like at your mum's. Japanese man (more than woman) put a lot of emphasis on the "Ofukuro No Aji" (the taste of mum's home cooking) and this eatery takes pride in satisfying such needs with its female staff all comprised of tired-workers-and-hungry-students understanding and cuddling mothers.

If you visit this place which has been in business for 30 years, you should probably opt for their popular Ninniku-Joyu No Age Buta (fried pork with garlic and shoyu sauce) from among their rather extended menu.
The Teishoku (affordable ¥900) consists of a big bowl of rice, a miso soup (which you can refill as many times as you want), a Hiya-Yakko (fresh cut of Tofu with grated ginger and shavings of dry bonito Katsuo-Bushi), some Takuan Daikon radish pickles and the main pork dish.

Ninniku-Joyu No Age Buta Teishoku

The pork they use here is a SPF (specific pathogen free) one from the Iwate prefecture in northern Japan, region known for its good pork farming environment. For your information, SPF pork are known for their tenderness and lack of smell.
The meat is two slices of fillet quickly deep-fried with a thin batter, then seasoned with an appetite-stimulating garlic and soy sauce glaze. It has some fatty parts, but it doesn't have the heaviness in taste and the greasiness that beef fat can have.

The topped sauce has the quality of slightly soaking the fried batter, making it even more tender to the teeth. The garlic flavor is delicate and the salty and little bit sweet soy sauce is perfect with the white rice. This dish has a definite Chinese recipe feel to it.

It doesn't look like a lot of food at first, but you will see that you actually get quite full.
It's far from haute-cuisine but if you want some good, quick, relatively filling Japanese food that's available a minute away from the station, this is an option.

Chigusa is closed on Thursdays and open the rest of the week from 11:30am to 22:00pm
Setagaya-ku, Kitazawa 2-11-4
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Shinsetsuen (Pekinese), Shimokitazawa

Further to a tip from my very good friend and great photographer Mitch Ikeda, I went to the very popular among artists Pekinese restaurant "Shinsetsuen". I am not a big fan of the place as I've always found their food average and rather expensive for what it is (a lot of people LOVE this place so my opinion might be the one of a minority), but I couldn't ignore a friend's recommendation!

Since Mitch told me to go for the "Ebi Tanmen" and no other dish (he seems to share my opinion that the rest of the menu is not worth it), I ordered it right away when I got seated. The Tanmen (Japanese style Chinese "Tang Mian", or noodles in soup) with Emi (shrimp) is rather expensive at ¥1,100 so at least you've been warned.

After less than ten minutes, a beautiful pallet of colors comprising some orange, pink, green, shades of brown and yellow arrived at my table: good first impression. Quickly excited, I immediately plunged the spoon in the very clear Tori-dashi (chicken stock) based broth: umm, quite plain to be honest. I have to say that with all the heavy Ramens I've had the past weeks, my taste buds have been getting accustomed to pretty dense stuff so I might not be able to enjoy a low-salt soup to its full extent. Still, it felt so Assari (plain) that I decided to add a spoon full of vinegar: much much better!

How about the topped ingredients? The quickly boiled vegetables were tasty and provided a nice array of textures to munch through, from the firm baby-corn and Ninjin (carrots), the soft and chewy mushrooms (Shiitake, Fukurotake (Chinese straw mushroom) to the crunchy Kuro-Kuwai (arrowhead). The shrimp were tender and boiled just perfectly.

What was the most surprising was probably the white 3mm noodles with almost no Koshi (firmness) and no taste, as if some Somen (very thin wheat noodles usually served cold and dipped in Tsuyu broth when slurped) had suddenly grown way too big and found their way in that soup. Considering the broth was already quite plain, I would have liked it better should the noodles were tastier...
Anyway, one thing for sure: you can down the whole soup as there is no worries on the calories with that Ramen...

Please note that they are open everyday until 5am! And some TV celebrities are spotted once in a while, so try your luck!

Shinsetsuen is open everyday from 11am to 5am
Setagaya-ku, Kitazawa 2-9-24
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Gohan Gohan (Kappo), Shimokitazawa

After 10 years in Shimokitazawa, despite the fact that we love to eat and try as many places as we can, there are still a LOT of restaurants we haven't been to: that's how many joints there are in this neighborhood. What is more surprising is that we still find some places that we've NEVER seen, neither heard of, though they've been there for a while, and which happen to be delicious.

Tonight, we were looking to eat in a Japanese restaurant in front of the bookstore/gadget vending "Village Vanguard", to find out that it was unfortunately (or fortunately) closed. As we were standing bummed in front of the closed restaurant, a very nice smell of dashi caught our nose (soup stock made of boiling Kombu (kemp) and Katsuo-Bushi (dry Bonito shavings)). The aroma was coming from this place we never really paid attention to (though it's right across my favorite Village Vanguard) called “ごはんごはん” (Gohan Gohan, literally Rice Rice), which we decided to go to after checking out the menu outside, full of relatively cheap dinner fares.

I can not say that we first felt welcome in this place. As we entered, the yakuza-looking cook wearing traditional clothes with a dragon motif on it (how more mafia-like could you get?) first stared at me for a good 3 seconds without a single smile or nod, which doesn't happen a lot in Japan believe me. The kind of introduction that makes you regret you even entered the joint. I'm not even sure he even eventually said hi when we sat in front of him at the counter.

The menu in the restaurant is written by hand and pretty much unreadable if you're not used to read manuscript Kanjis (here again, you wonder whether they actually want to sell anything to customers) so just remember that the place is specialized in "Kama-Meshi" (traditional japanese rice dish cooked in a Kama iron pot. Click here for the wiki article). Wanting to try something else, I asked the slightly more welcoming lady for some recommendations, to which she proposed the "Ni-Zakana" (fish simmered in a water-mirin-sake-shoyu sauce).

While waiting for the food, the lady brought us a pretty good "Ika No Shiokara" (squid fermeted in its own guts) that we munched on with the help of a bottle of beer. We found out at check that the Ika No Shiokara is charged around ¥350 per head, as a table charge fee...Shio-Kara can be very fishy, but this one is delicately flavored. It's still an acquired taste so eat at your own risks.

Ika No Shio-Kara

After 10mn or so, the dishes got to us. While leaving the Ni-Zakana in front of me, the lady told me that it was simmered Shake (salmon) and that I could eat everything besides the white part around the eyes, even the bones. The plate came with a big bowl of rice, some good pickled Chinese lettuce and an EXCELLENT Aka-Dashi miso-soup (made of regular "Mame-Miso" fermented bean paste and "Kome-Miso" fermented rice and bean paste) which was amazingly pungent. I know it sounds weird but the flavorful and dense soup almost remind me of a hot-chocolate.

The first impression I had was that the dish looked very dark in color. Ni-Zakana usually look slightly lighter than the one they offer here. Although it is typical of the northern half of Japan to offer recipes that are generally saltier and densier in taste and darker in color than the southern part cuisine, this Ni-Zakana was still very brown in color and powerful in shoyu and sugar aroma.
The first bite was surprising. It was DELICIOUS. So good that I actually forgot about the lack of hospitality. I even had to tell the cook that I loved his fish. That's probably when the ice broke: from then, he became smily and managed to talk a little bit.
Not only the sauce was good, but the fish parts all kept their characteristics even after a long simmering. A fleshier, drier and fibrous flank, and a fattier and more cartilaginous head. Not the messy puree some restaurant sometimes serve you...
Just like what the lady had told me, the bones were unbelievably soft and eating them was a walk in the park. Seriously, I have NEVER eaten bones stewed to such texture. It's hard to explain, but it would be close to a meringue feel: just a little hard at first and quickly disintegrating in your mouth as the melting process goes on. No fears of choking in this place. A revelation.
I asked the less-scary-by-now chef how he did that, to which he replied with a smile "I let it simmer for 8 hours". The below picture is what was left after 20mn: nothing. Bones, skin, flesh, eyes, name it. Gone. Unbelievable. Good stuff.

I have already rumbled for too long (sorry to anyone still reading up to here), so I'll be quick from hereon.
The Tai Kama-Meshi (sea bream Kama-Meshi) was pretty, as you can see, and good. The fish was deliciously tender and excellent in taste, as well as the rice which was well impregnated with the aroma of all the present ingredients (fish, bamboo shoots, carrots). My wife very much enjoyed the dish.

We ended up paying ¥3,500 for both dishes and a bottle of beer. Given the amount of rice and the quality of the cooking, I think it's a very decent pricing.

Don't expect to get a hug here. You might not even get a single smile, but if you want to eat some good Japanese-style fish dish, I strongly recommend this place. Order what we had if you can't read the menu and you will hopefully like it.

Forgot to ask when they are closed. They also have a lunch. (Shall Update asap!)
Setagaya-ku, Kitazawa 2-9-2
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Kitchen Nankai (Yoshoku), Shimokitazawa

"Kitchen Nankai" green nameboard in the middle of the picture...

In my recent quest for Yoshokuya (Japanese-style Western food restaurant. For a very quick recap, read this or the wiki article), I realised today that I had totally forgotten about this hall-in-the-wall (far from beating Frisco in terms of search difficulty) in the main street of Shimokitazawa, the old-school "Kitchen Nankai". This 7 seater (at most), serving Yoshoku fares for the past 32 years is patronized by a predominantly male clientele largely in its 50s and 60s, looking for cheap and filling food. The decor is particularly humble and the walls pretty much worn down. It is worth noting that the die-hard Giants fan chef works in a restaurant with the same name (Nankai) as the team from Osaka which used to be Giants' arch-enemy in the 60s. A little bit like if this "Chelsea" loving guy was working for an eatery called "Manchester U". Not that the master chose to name this place like that: "Kitchen Nankai" is a chain of Yoshoku restaurant that started in downtown Jimbocho and now serves food in several locations within the larger Tokyo area.

a rather "roots" atmosphere...

This eatery is mostly famous for its Omu-Raisu (ketchup-sauteed-rice-filled omelete) and Katsu-Kare (rice topped with curry and deep-fried pork cutlet), and though I thought the Omu-Raise would provide a nice and vivid picture for this post, I went for the quite filling Katsu-Kare instead.

The ¥600 Katsu-Kare

As soon as I ordered it, the lady in the back provided the master with a slice of pork fillet. He dipped it in the egg-flour-water batter before covering the whole thing in fresh breadcrumbs, and finally dropped the meat in the frying oil. That's a good thing: a lot of cheap places have their items already fried and quickly warmed in the oil right before serving.
As soon as the cutlet was ready, he cut it in thin pieces, topped it on the rice, and covered the whole thing with the curry sauce simmering in a large silver pot.

Their curry is the traditional, sweet and not too spicy neither hot, Kare you will taste at Japanese homes or in any old school eatery in Japan. It tastes miles away from what an Indian curry offers in terms of flavor and spices, but it's good nonetheless. I was raised eating this thing so I'm used to it: don't be surprised if you've never tasted it before as it doesn't taste like a Butter Chicken...
The curry in this joint is probably darker in color and stronger and saltier in flavor than the average Japanese one. As you can see from the picture, it is slightly soupy, probably in order to let the breadcrumbs soak up the sauce more easily.
The meat was tender, with very little fat, and the batter well done, if not a little greasy...It definitely combined well with the curry.

I am not going to complain though at ¥600. There's enough rice (which is well cooked) to satisfy anyone and it tasted good overall. It is probably not ranking among the best B-Kyu Gurume (B-list gourmet) fares in Tokyo, but if you're looking for an authentic Yoshoku restaurant, cheap with some good old atmosphere, this place will definitely do.
None of their fares on the menu exceed ¥800 (even for combination plates) so it's a good place to remember if you're on a tight budget. They also have all sorts of deep-fried items, the Yoshoku-must Hanbaagu (hamburger steak) and a Shoga-Yaki (pork sauteed with ginger) that looks pretty good.

As you can see, the place is tiny. Not even 2m wide...

Kitchen Nankai is open everyday except Thursdays and the 3rd Wednesday of the month.
Setagaya-ku, Kitazawa 2-13-5
Click here for a MAP

Senrigan (Ramen), Higashikitazawa

If you're a Ramen eater, I strongly recommend you go to this place: it's good, filling and fun. OK, it's a little out of the way and you will have to walk a little bit, but that resulting exercise might actually be necessary and beneficiary when looking at the amount of calories and food involved in that one bowl of noodles.

It took me a while to first enter this place, as the orange and yellow nameboard outside saying "Ramen Senrigan Ninniku" (Ninniku meaning garlic) made me think that there would be too much of that Dracula-killer in the soup. I still decided to give it a try one day, as I kept seeing people flocking in the place. Since then, I've been a fan. It's cheap (regular Ramen at ¥680), it's filling with its 300g worth of noodles and it's fun with all the mountain like toppings you can add for free.

You first buy your meal ticket at the vending machine. The choice is simple and limited: "Ramen" (¥680), "Ramen" supersized (¥780), "Buta Ramen" (Ramen with added Chinese-Style pork bbq Chashu at ¥850), "Buta Ramen" supersized (¥950), "Buta Dabulu Ramen" (even more Chashu! at ¥980) and finally the gigantic "Buta Dabulu Ramen" supersized (¥1080).
To make it easier for you, I'd recommend you go for the regular Ramen which will most probably largely satisfy your hunger.

The mountain of Moyashi

The regular Ramen's toppings consist of boiled Moyashi (bean sprout), Kyabetsu (Chinese cabbage) and Chashu. However, when the dish is almost prepared, the cook will call out your seat number (written in front of you on the counter) and ask you if you want some garlic in it.

Seat #3 waiting for the call

Check out the following video to see how that works and the impressive topping of Moyashi:

To which you can reply Nashi (for no thanks), Sukuname (for a little) and Onegaishimasu (for yes please)
You also have a choice of free toppings:
Yasai Mashi (literally More Vegies)
Abura (more fat)
Karame (stronger broth)
Kara-age (deep-fried Tempura batter Tenkatsu with hot chili powder)
Just ask for what you want, and they will add that on your bowl.

Regulars seem to go for Zenbu Kudasai (please top everything), but I tend to like my noodles simple, so I always only ask for Yasai-Mashi and Ninniku Sukuname to make myself feel better knowing that I did order "healthier" vegetables...
The result is colossal, as you can see it from the pictures.

The rather thick, almost milky-textured Tonkotsu(pork bone) and Shoyu based broth is very rich and surprisingly not garlic flavored. Add some garlic only if you like it and you want a little kick, as the soup is well good enough without. I have seen some customers down the whole artery-clogging soup, but I don't have the courage to imitate them as it's already tough enough to finish the ingredients...
The noodles are brown-colored (just like Sobas), quite thick at 3-4mm (not different from the Moyashi width) and with a good koshi (firmness). As you have to fight through 300g of them, you're pretty much full when you've finished chewing them.

The three thick slices of Chashu are wonderfully tender and melt in your mouth, if they haven't already disintegrated while sitting in the soup. They are a bit salty but the combination with the boiled Moyashi and Kyabetsu is good.

No explanations will come close to actually trying it, so if you're into Ramen, the detour is definitely worth it. For your information, "Okame" and "Ramen Yamate" are in the same street.

Senrigan is closed on Mondays and open the rest of the week
from 11:00am to 14:30pm, 17:00pm to 22:00pm Tuesday through to Saturday
from 11:00am to 14:30pm, 17:00 pm to 21:00pm Sunday and on National Holidays
Meguro-Ku, Komaba 4-6-8
It's about 500m from Higashi-Kitazawa (Odakyu Line) and Ikenoue (Inokashira Line), or 15-20mn walk from Shimokitazawa
Click here for a MAP