Best places to eat and drink in Japan: readers travel tips

It might not be hard to find great sushi in Tokyo, or a gem of a saki bar, but where would you go for the best okonomiyaki pancakes, takoyaki octopus balls, gold ice-cream or udon noodles?

Winning tip: Takoyaki, Nishiki Market, Kyoto

Ive eaten the most rarefied meals of my life in Japan, but its hard to beat the charms of a 2 portion of takoyaki fluffy balls of eggy batter studded with boiled octopus, ginger and spring onion in a polystyrene tray. These are anointed with takoyaki sauce (Japans answer to HP) and mayonnaise, then sprinkled with dried pink bonito (skipjack tuna) flakes, which writhe in the heat emanating from the molten core. You spear each ball with a notched cocktail stick and nibble while trying to avoid singing your lips. Its like eating mouthfuls of octopus-flavoured cloud. Osaka invented them, but you can find them pretty much everywhere in Japan. Among the best are the ones served in Kyotos Nishiki Market, where you buy a ticket from a vending machine before placing your order with the cook juggling the golden balls.

Tofu temple, Kyoto

Photograph: Guardian Witness/MoragR

You need a good-luck talisman (and some instructions printed from the internet) to find Shoraian, hidden in the glorious Arashiyama mountains to the west of Kyoto. To reach it I followed the jade waters of the Hozu river, then took a steep path into the forest to a lonely hillside clearing with a wooden house, which seems to belong in a fairytale. Shoraians fame rests on its tofu-based menu. It sounds ascetic, but this is Japan, where simplicity means invention and elegance. All its tofu is made in-house, which results in something completely unlike the stuff packaged in supermarkets. We ate in a room overlooking the river and shaded by rustling trees. We chose the cheapest of the set menus, at around 25 per head (lunch is always a more affordable option than dinner in Japan). The meal starts with homemade plum wine served with a scoop of tofu as creamy as burrata, served with a pinch of salt. Vegetarian delicacies follow, an artwork on a plate. Then a bowl called sunrise, served with a calligraphy poem, based on a preserved egg as bright as a pocket-sized sun. Then comes yudofu (tofu hot-pot) blocks of tofu simmered in tasty broth. Dessert is tofu ice-cream nutty, toffee-ish and textured. I will never eat a more magical meal.
Ukyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, +81 75 861 0123,

Sushi Tokami, Ginza, Tokyo

Hiroyuki Sato preparing sushi at Tokami. Photograph: Guardian Witness/pfrosty

Ginza is where the best sushi places in Tokyo are found and must be among the best in the world. Sushi Tokami is my pick of the lot, run by Michelin-starred Hiroyuki Sato, one of the young guns of the sushi scene, who loves a joke and is happy to chat and explain while making exquisitely flawless nigiri. The place is a tiny basement affair with 10 seats in total but when you also learn that Tokami means 10 gods then you realise this restaurant is a small but beautiful offering to the world of sushi.
Sushi (10 pieces) from 31 including soup and appetiser, Ginza Seiwa Silver Building B1F, 8-2-10 Ginza, Chup-ku, +81 3 3571 6005,

Jumanji 55, Roppongi, Tokyo

Photograph: Facebook

You dont get much better than Roppongi for a fun cheap night out in Tokyo. For just 6 you can drink as much as you like here for four hours, and the service is fantastic. It has everything: bizarre interior design, a fine selection of western and Asian music and a real buzz. It also has a great selection of traditional snacks.
3-10-5 Mariner building 1F, +81 3 5410-5455,
Natasha Alexa Searle

Bar Track, Ebisu, Tokyo

Ebisu is known for its izakayas (informal bar and eating joints) and as a cool spot away from the crowds of Shinjuku and Shibuya. A simple sign saying Bar on a nondescript building leads to a warm and hushed interior. Theres a huge selection of rare Japanese and Scotch whiskies and US bourbons. The bartenders play old jazz and blues records from a collection of thousands through vintage wooden speakers. There are simple bar snacks to keep you going banana chips, wasabi peas and rice crackers.

3-24-9 Higashi Shibuya +81 3 5466 8871, on Facebook
Sam Seager

Kushiya monogatari, Shinjuku, Tokyo

Photograph: Getty Images/Flickr Open

This is a brilliant restaurant in the Shinjuku area offering a range of tabehodai and nomihodai (all you can eat/drink) options. It specialises in kushiage various meats, veg and fish on skewers. Each table has a small fryer in the middle, you pick out the skewers you want and batter/fry them yourself at your table. The best thing is you can have as much as you want in 90 minutes for about 2,500 (15.50) including drinks. I have eaten in many different types of restaurant in Japan but this definitely ranks at the top of my list. Not only is the food excellent but it is a fun and unique dining experience and great value for money.
1-3-1 Nishi-Shinjuku, 5th fl, Sunflower Bldg, +81 3 5321 6166,
Roy Searle

Sushibar Hamacho, Nozawa Onsen

Photograph: Alamy

Nozawa Onsen is a great little ski resort, still very traditional. Its tiny streets have a great selection of eating places. My favourite was Sushibar Hamacho, a one-room place with seating at the bar or on the floor of a raised, matted platform. The place is usually busy with seemingly random opening hours. But the fresh, plump salmon and tuna are beautifully presented and of perfect quality, taste and texture. Four of us shared the platter and then polished off another one. Most meals cost around 9.
9519 Toyosato Nozawaonsen-Mura, +81 2 6985 2591

Hida beef and sake in Takayama

Photograph: Getty Images/AWL Images RM

Kill two culinary birds with one stone with a visit to Takayama, a historic town in the mountains 200 miles west of Tokyo, famous for both its hida beef and sake. Once youve explored the numerous shrines and temples sprinkled around the surrounding hillsides, keep an eye out for the distinctive balls of cedar hanging from a building which signify a sake brewery; where the cedar ball has turned brown it means the sake is ready to drink. Several of the breweries offer tastings, and tasting cloudy sake is definitely an experience. In the evening, head to a specialist hida beef restaurant, such as Maruaki, to experience the best steak youll taste in your life.
6 Chome-8 Tenmanmachi, +81 577-35-5858,

Noodles at Gamou-Udon, Shikoku island

Photograph: Alamy

For the true udon experience, go to Kagawa prefecture on Shikoku island. The signature foods here are soup and the al dente udon noodles. Gamou-Udon sits in the middle of farmland, dedicated to serving mainly udon and soba (thin buckwheat noodles) available only during its season from Nov-Apr. The menu is simple: small, medium or large noodles and you can add your own toppings (selection of tempura, fried bean curd and poached egg). I recommend to stay within three toppings to actually enjoy the noodles. This small hut that seats about 15 people gets very busy. People come, slurp the noodles and leave. Locals as well as Japanese tourists queue up during lunch hour. If you go too late, they will run out for the day so go early. It doesnt do dinner. Best udon Ive ever had (Im Japanese).
762-0023 Kagawa-ken, Sakaide-shi
Alvin K Shimoju

Somen noodles, Shodoshima island

The small island of Shodoshima off Okoyama often gets overlooked by visitors to the Seto inland sea who favour its nearby arty, even smaller, neighbour Naoshima. Shodoshima, however, is a food paradise, from roadsides lined with olive groves, to the smell of sesame oil wafting through the air; food is central to life here. Highlights for visitors include Yamaroku, a small family soy sauce producer who estimates the age of its business through the ancient barrels its soy sauce ferments in. It is free to visit and you can climb up and look into the dark vats as well as sample a delightful spectrum of soy sauce products. Around the corner you will also find Nakabuan, a local somen noodle-maker where you can watch the thin wheat-flour noodles being hand-rolled, while eating the one dish on the menu, a bowl of fresh somen with dipping sauce.

Gold ice-cream, Kanazawa

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