Japan has long been rich with culinary treasures. The capital, Tokyo, wears the crown as the culinary capital of the world, with a total of 12 Michelin three-starred restaurants this year, more than any other city — even Paris.
Culinary crown aside, though, this country is a playground for food lovers everywhere and offers the opportunity to explore a cuisine that is heavily informed by cultural customs and age-old traditions. In Japan, you can tuck into a kaiseki — a traditional, almost ritualized multicourse Japanese dinner still served in many restaurants, especially in Kyoto; however, it is also possible to find an array of restaurants offering everything from Italian to Korean to French cuisine. Japan is also home to the famed Sukiyabashi Jiro, helmed by Jiro Ono, probably the world’s most revered sushi chef — which tops our list at the number one spot.
Japan’s culinary stardom led The Daily Meal to put together a list of its 10 best restaurants, drawing upon our recently published and annual list of The 101 Best Restaurants in Asia. In choosing our 101 best, we called upon more than 50 experts who either live in Asia or spend time there frequently — restaurant critics, food and lifestyle writers, and bloggers with extensive restaurant-going experience (the roster was slightly different from last year's, which in part probably accounts for the fact that some restaurants that ranked highly last year dropped down the list or disappeared this year, as well as the presence of so many new places). This pool of experts was supplemented by The Daily Meal’s well-traveled editorial staff. We asked all the respondents to help nominate additional places to build upon last year’s ballot of 202 contenders, then evaluate the selection and vote for their favorites, country by country (meet The Daily Meal's panelists).
It may come as no surprise that Tokyo dominates the list with eight out of 10 entries. Check out our list, and see if it doesn’t make you want to book your next round-trip (we’d even go so far as to say one-way) ticket to Japan.
#10 Aragawa (Tokyo)
Established in 1967, Aragawa is a high-end restaurant specializing in the finest cuts of meat (the name means "animal hide"). Accordingly, it has also been ranked as one of the priciest restaurants in the world: an average meal here could cost as much as $550 per person. The décor is rather tired and the food is presented very simply, with minimal adornment. Nonetheless, some gourmands find sheer perfection in the generous serving of Beluga caviar with toast and celery, the chilled scallops with cocktail sauce, and the restaurant's signature dish, a charcoal-broiled Sanda Kobe steak (only about 1,000 Sanda cows are raised a year) in various grades and sizes.
#9 Nihonryori RyuGin (Tokyo)
Seiji Yamamoto, chef–owner of RyuGin, was awarded three Michelin stars for 2013 for his interpretations of traditional Kyoto cuisine, celebrating seasonal ingredients with respect and skill (the establishment also ranks #33 on the San Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants list). Some find the dragon-themed dining room on the plain side, but the food is anything but. There is a large à la carte menu, but the way to go here is to order the fixed-price menu, a constantly changing presentation of "Japan's richness on a plate." Expect such dishes as a "Joy of the Sea" sashimi platter, a seasonal shabu shabu hot pot, fresh local fish grilled over Bincho charcoal, an imaginative rice dish, and more. The knowledgeable, English-speaking staff will explain the nuances of the presentation, and the kitchen is accommodating to food preferences and allergies — though Yamamoto warns that if you don't want fish (or raw fish), don't like vegetables, are allergic to seafood-based stocks, or have bean or gluten allergies, the kitchen will not be able to "responsibly [prepare] dishes that we feel are satisfactory" and thus "cannot accept such reservations."