Just three train stations away on the Chuo-Sobu line from bustling Shinjuku, Nakano is like a mini Akihabara, packed with shops celebrating Japanese subcultures, including otaku culture. Home to Nakano Broadway, a commercial complex with around 350 shops touting wares such as anime figurines, vintage toys, model trains, and cosplay outfits, Nakano is a fun place let your geeky side run rampant for the day. This Tokyo neighborhood is also home to the Mandrake flagship store, which has everything from Star Wars collectibles to anime figurines to sports memorabilia. Arguably even better than Akihabara for fantastic deals on niche interest items, this Tokyo neighborhood is definitely worth a visit. And of course, Nakano is also home to hip cafes and bars and insanely delicious eats featured in this Where to Eat in Nakano guide.
As soon as you exit Nakano Station, you’re welcomed with a view of the iconic Sun Mall Shopping Street. This shotengai, or shopping street, is over 200 meters long and filled with eateries and small shops carrying anything from luxury designers brands to quirky souvenirs, ensuring an afternoon of fun as you zigzag between shops. The sheer number of shops and restaurants can be a bit overwhelming, so if you’re stumped about where to eat in Nakano, we’ve covered several of the best places to grab a bite.
1. Bar Zingaro
Located on the uppermost floor of Nakano Broadway, Bar Zingaro is a bar and cafe owned by Takashi Murakami, creator of Superflat, a contemporary art movement which is influenced by anime, ukiyo-e (Japanese woodblock prints), and Andy Warhol-like repetition. This quirky and colorful establishment stands in stark contrast with the rest of Nakano Broadway, with its vibrant and joyful art style. Everything is emblazoned with Bar Zingaro’s cute smiling flower icon, from their pancakes to burger buns to lattes. At this eccentric bar and cafe, you can stimulate your senses with pop culture-inspired art and fantastic coffee with beans from Fuglen Tokyo, while enjoying the special events that pop up in the space.
2. Daily Chiko
After you’ve gotten your fill of coffee and art at Bar Zingaro, you might be in the mood to chill out with some creamy soft serve. Head down to the first floor of the shopping center to Daily Chiko, an ice cream shop famous for its over-the-top creations. Challenge yourself to a 20-centimeter tower of ice cream containing all eight flavors that the shop has to offer for only 480 yen. While the flavors are always changing, a few staples are matcha, ramune soda, and chocolate. But don’t worry about your waistline, because Daily Chiko’s ice cream is quite light, containing only about a third of the calories of the average soft serve. Which definitely means you can eat more, right?
After satiating your sweet tooth at Daily Chiko, scope out the maze of restaurants that snake around Nakano Broadway. As you get lost in the sea of stores and shops, you’ll come across various ramen stores that are plentiful in the area. One that stands out from the rest (likely with a line out the door) is Saikoro, previously called Jiraigen. Praised as Japanese soul food, this ramen is known for its unique broth which is made of a mix of dried sardines and pork bones. Saikoro’s style of ramen, called niboshi ramen, with a soup stock made with small dried fish, is not your average ramen, and Saikoro has a fantastic reputation, so you may have to withstand some lines to get your slurp on at this ramen joint. And here’s a bonus tip: if you happen to be in Nakano on the 29th of the month (Saikoro’s Niku Nobu day), be sure to snag a bowl for only 500 yen.
Not in the mood for ramen? Stroll on down to Numabukuro, a sleepy little town bordering Nakano. Be sure to check out Asahian, a small family-run soba restaurant just half an hour walk from Nakano Station. A local treasure, this isn’t your basic soba shop. Asahian makes their buckwheat noodles fresh every day, using locally-sourced spring water and stone-ground buckwheat flour. Their udon is also handmade, using techniques that have been passed down and perfected with each generation. Older folks who frequent this shop claim that the flavor hasn’t changed at all since pre-war years. Beloved by locals, this down-to-earth, homey shop offers unpretentious and simple dishes crafted with sincerity.
After a day of indulging your otaku side as well as your belly, head on over to Unjami if you’re in the mood for some drinks and a tiki bar-like atmosphere. Serving up Okinawan cuisine right in Nakano, you’ll be able to try dishes like Okinawan soba and goya champuru (bittermelon stir-fried with tofu), and find out just why the amazingly long lives of Okinawan people is attributed to their cuisine. This izakaya is filled with Okinawan decorations that will transport you to the sunny beaches of Okinawa without ever leaving Nakano.
If you’re tired of overly-trendy Shinjuku and over-hyped and over-priced Akihabara, and are craving a peek into authentic Japanese subcultures as well as some fantastic local eats, check out the places in this Where to Eat in Nakano guide. Even if you don’t consider yourself an otaku, the area is definitely worth a visit for crowd-pleasing bars and local restaurants tucked away amid the nostalgic toy shops and storefronts cluttered with retro electronics.
Francisco is a student who is currently studying abroad in Japan. He enjoys walking around the streets of Tokyo and discovering great places to eat.