When the Royal British Navy first came to Japan during the Meiji era, they brought over items and ideas that were previously unknown to Japan. One such dish was curry, which originated from India, and ever since its arrival, curry has become one of Japan’s most popular dishes, recognized as a national dish on the level of ramen. Curry in Japan took on a life of its own that differentiated itself from its origins. Altered to better suit Japanese taste buds, Japanese curry is sweeter, with a more mellow taste than its Indian counterpart. With whole aisles in supermarkets dedicated to ready-made curry packets and with curry shops at every station, it is no surprise that Japanese curry is seen as one of the national dishes of Japan. A trip to Japan would be incomplete without a taste of Japanese curry, so make sure to check out five of the best Tokyo curry restaurants for kare raisu, Japan’s celebrated “curry rice.”
Considered the best curry restaurant in Tokyo, Tomato in Ogikubo is one of three kare raisu restaurants to be awarded the Bib Gourmand title. Bib Gourmand is awarded by the Michelin Guide, and certifies that a restaurant provides delicious and affordable meals, and is often a stepping stone on the path to a Michelin star. According to Tablelog, a Japanese ranking site with a harsh grading curve, Tomato is ranked #1 for Japanese curry in Tokyo. This feat was achieved by Kyoji Omino, Tomato’s founder who perfected his recipes through a trial and error process, ending up with his current iteration that uses a mixture of 35 different spices. Located just a 5-minute walk from Ogikubo Station in the western part of Tokyo, Tomato is one of the best Tokyo curry restaurants. Tomato is well on its way to graduating from Bib Gourmand status and gaining a coveted Michelin star, so make sure to visit this Tokyo curry restaurant before it gets too crowded.
2. Little Curry House
Though its outward appearance may make it seem a bit run down, you’ll regret overlooking this kare raisu restaurant. A quick walk away from Okubo Station and neighboring Shinjuku, it’s easy to see how this tiny store can be lost amidst the excitement of the city. However, if you’re looking to get a great meal that is easy on the wallet, then you’ll want to line up early to get a seat at Little Curry House. The beef for the curry is stewed for half a day and added to the curry in generous servings, paired with a heaping amount of rice. Come by early to avoid the lunch rush and to ensure that you get a plate of Little Curry House’s delicious Japanese curry, because as soon as they sell out they’re done for the day.
3. Kare wa Nomimono (“Curry is Drink”)
Kare wa Nomimono translates into “Curry is a drink,” and once you get here you’ll see that the store is aptly named. At first, the unique curry at this shop may seem watery, but it is actually packed with flavor, so you’ll definitely want to try out this spin on kare raisu. Kare wa Nomimono only has two pleasantly surprising options on the menu: a tomato-based red curry served with chicken that takes inspiration from Indian curry, and a black curry whose color is achieved through the use of various spices. Accompanied by your choice of three toppings (from ten different options) you’ll want to come more than once to get the full experience. With locations all over Tokyo, in locations like Akihabara, Ueno, Suidobashi, Shinbashi, and Asakusa, you have no excuse to not try the unique curries at Kare wa Nomimono.
4. Yamituki Curry
Hidden away in the side streets of Shinjuku, Yamituki Curry is a haven for those who want to enjoy a peaceful Japanese curry dinner. Located next to Waseda University one of Tokyo’s premier universities Yamituki is well known among the students and is a popular spot amongst the locals as well. With a seasonal menu which offers new options every once in a while, you’ll want to come back every once in a while to get the kare raisu specials they offer. With a high amount of traffic from students who study abroad at Waseda, Yamituki is accommodating to foreigners and tries to always have at least one English speaking staff member on hand at all times.
5. Curry Bondy
Among the bookstores that line the streets of Jimbocho, Curry Bondy stands out. Having won first place in the Kanda Curry Grand Prix, Bondy boasts the best Japanese curry in Jimbocho. Located on the second floor of a bookstore, you’ll be sure to find a long queue of curry-lovers lined up to get a seat here. With every meal, you’ll be treated to a piping hot potato topped with a generous amount of butter, which you can eat as an appetizer or pair with your kare raisu. Once you get your curry, make sure to dig in right away as Bondy’s Japanese kare raisu is in high demand, and more likely than not there will still be a line at the door as you leave.
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.