This post teaches you how to search for your own value sushi lunches in Ginza and Tsukiji Fish Market. Sets start at ¥1000 for 8-10 pieces of nigiri, plus rolls and miso soup. Below is a guide of how to use Tabelog (Japan’s Yelp) to search, what to expect for sushi lunches, and my list of personal lunch recommendations (sushi, ramen, and tempura) around the area.
The local Tokyo under everyone’s noses:
- Fresh fish daily from Tsukiji fish market. Tsukiji is primarily a commercial market, which means its best catches are carted off before sunrise to Tokyo’s best restaurants. Many are right next door in Ginza, where well-heeled businessmen are.
- No tourist lineups. If there is a small queue, it’s mostly local office workers.
- Personal service from the chef at the sushi bar. Places can be as small as 10-20 guests total, with only one chef doing everything. Sit at the bar and you will be getting personal service.
- A sample of everything. Nigiri sets have 1 type of fish per piece. The great thing is you get to sample what’s in season and many types that aren’t found outside Japan. Some type of tuna (maguro, toro, etc.) is usually included.
How to search your own Tsukiji Sushi Lunch:
You can find places that you want by simply going on Japan’s equivalent of Yelp or Foursquare: Tabelog (in Japanese it means “eating log”). Search for sushi lunches by doing the following:
- Location: Tsukiji,
Tsukiji Maket, Ginza, Higashi-Ginza Station
- Genre: Sushi
- Price Range: Select “Lunch”, then scroll the bar until your desired limit. You will even find sushi places for ¥1,000.
- Choose anywhere with a 3-star rating or above. Japanese are extremely picky eaters. A 3-star restaurant is already very good/excellent. 4-star restaurants, though incredible, are also incredibly priced (i.e. for sushi, they will likely not have lunch discounts and are booking only).
- Avoid Tsukiji Fish Market in general if you want to avoid the lineups. 🙂 Otherwise, of course there are decent places in the market too…
For the adventurous, try using the Japanese version of Tabelog, which has far more options. I have translated the interface for the Japanese version.
Things to know about value lunches
Below are some general guides and things to expect for your lunch:
- Weekdays only (mostly). These restaurants are for office workers, so weekdays and Saturdays mostly. Check the hours.
- 11:00-1:00 are the general lunch set hours
- 11:00-12:00 times generally have no lineups
- Lunches are sets, not a la carte. Ordering individual items = regular price.
- Lunch items included are nigiri, miso soup, and usually a finish off of 1-2 maki rolls
- 1 sample piece of everything. You do not choose what fish you want. Some staples include aji (horse mackerel), salmon, shrimp, 1 type of tuna (maguro or toro), maybe squid or octopus, 1 egg, and what’s in season.
- Nigiri are one slice of fish on top of a piece of rice. Eat it in one go. See photos below.
- How to eat: from lightest flavour to strongest flavour. Generally, going from white fish to darker fishes is about right. Eat the egg last. It’s dessert.
- Tell them if you don’t want wasabi. Not all places do this, but a dash of wasabi may be put into the nigiri as it is put together. Say wasabi iranai (wa-sa-bee ee-ra-na-ee), which means I don’t want wasabi.
- Prices are proportional to quality & quantity. There is no “better value” in the pricing system. More expensive sets have more pieces. You will also get more choice cuts.
Alright, onto the food (find the map for the restaurant locations at the bottom).
Sushi Dai (Honkan)
I have never seen the lineups at Sushi Dai because I have never been to the stall inside the Tsukiji Outer market. Instead, I go before 12:30pm to the original Sushi Dai just around the corner, which is in a standalone building.
It’s starting nigiri set is about ¥2000, but I would recommend the ¥3000 if you’re going to come. My two main reasons are that the ¥3000 set is the fresh shrimp sashimi and the much more interesting deep-see fish and quality shellfish.
This place serves one piece at a time. The chef waits for you to finish before serving more. Ginger (the yellow stuff on the side) is refilled if you finish it.
As I recall, they have an English menu.
This is my personal favourite sushi place. Sushi Marui is just behind the Mitsukoshi and Takashimaya Department Stores in Ginza. As you can see with my set wasn’t the most basic, but I don’t think it was beyond ¥1800. As you can see from the photo, I had 4 pieces of tuna in a 16-piece set (that came all at once). Of course, it came with soup and finishing rolls on the side.
With the exception of the shrimp (fresh shrimp sashimi are much smaller, moist, and pearly-pink), the set overall was the most interesting and diverse of the ones I’ve had because I’ve never had another place that also served the little white fish on the bottom left. In that regard, it is better value for money as compared to Sushi Dai. The uni, which many places fall short on, was top notch.
English site & menu available (Note: lunch value sets are not mentioned on the site.)
I’ll be upfront, I like this place because I like the grandpa chef who runs the place him himself. He has a cheerful energy as he slices the fish and bustles his way into the back kitchen to restock the soup and rice. Of the places I’ve listed, this is the only place that has the authentic neighbourhood corner-stall vibe. When I went with one friend, there was already another middle-aged lady who was sitting in a corner chatting away with the chef while slowly taking her time with every single piece. After we finished, we were also in no rush to leave. This is an upstairs reprieve from the onslaught of shoppers just metres down the block.
This is one of the approx ¥1000 lunches, which provides a great sampling. If you only have 1 lunch, I would recommend treating yourself. If you have a few days, then try this place as a baseline to fully appreciate the more expensive sets.
Note that the restaurant is on the 8/F of the Matsuoka Ken Corp Building (松岡銀緑館) and you take the elevator up.
Sushi Katsura is about the same level as Sushi Gen to me in terms of quality. I think Kasuura is marginally better, but it has also had one or two slips that average things out.
Sushi Katsura has one lovely touch by serving pieces on a bamboo (?) or reed leaf. They serve pieces as they go, which has a relaxed, yet brisk, rhythm. They often present 2-3 pieces with a flourish. Generally, if you pace yourself for eating, they replenish just as you finish each piece. Sometimes, as in my case when I talk too much to friends, they fill my leaf and stop when they can’t fill any more.
The reason I come here is because it is the closest place to turn in from after taking friends to Tsukiji’s Outer Fish Market. The other reason is because as someone who used to live in Tokyo, I sometime just wanted something decent — not mind-blowing — just honest fresh fish that hit the spot, like comfort food.
Tempura Kurokawa is the antithesis of the sushi bars I’ve just recommended. This place is in a tiny alley just beside the Sushi Dai Honkan. Its cramped interior makes it feel like a shack (though it’s much more sturdy). The lady who will probably seat you is brief and gruff (and doesn’t speak English). You will be squeezing in beside someone else and won’t have much luck as a big group.
So, what is so appetising here despite the list of caveats above? The simple answer is good tempura. Now, good tempura as defined in the Japanese sense is (I think) slightly different from outside Japan. Good tempura should have a thin, crispy batter that is flavourful, but not too oily. The fried item should be the perfect temperature to accentuate its original flavours, still moist at the heart. In addition, good tempura is not defined by its size. The shrimp pieces you’ll get here are much smaller than the bread sticks I see in North America.
You can order a ten-don, tempura rice bowl. I think this is below ¥1000. My friend and I tried the first and second tempura sets of the 3 options on the Japanese menu (I think they were named something like tsuki (moon) and yuki (snow). Basically, just point to the set price based on the amount you think you want to eat, but a warning that it will be a lot of tempura.
Tempura sets are served in rounds. You will get items individually. That means you will get you shrimp, your little fish, pimans (little green peppers) and vegetables, and additional items for larger sets. Seafood items are seasonal. Again, one of the biggest differences between the first and second sets was the shrimp — the second set had fresh shrimp (pictured above) with the shrimp heads, which should be eaten as a crunchy delicacy.
Ramen: Mugi to Olive
I have also included here one of the more interesting ramen places in this central area that serves clam-based ramen soup stock. This has a lighter flavour without sacrificing the texture. You can order thick or thin noodles, and also tsukemen (ramen with the broth on the side) which is also delicious.
Note that you order by choosing your item on a vending machine by the door. You order by inserting the bill, then clicking the item you want. When you are done your orders, switch the knob for your change and give the tickets to your server.
This place will likely have a lunch-time lineup as it’s on a ramen eating street. The place next door serves duck ramen!
Ramen: Kyushu Jangara
Finally, I’ve included another ramen shop on the same street as Mugi-to-Olive. Kyushu Jangara is a the namesake dish of the restaurant. The signature Jangara uses a “mild tonkotsu” variant with vegetables to balance out the flavour. Another popular option that’s not as common in Japan is the Karabon — a spicy broth ramen.
That’s it for now! Happy eating through Tokyo!
I’ve also created a map of the places I’m recommending below. Note that the red restaurants are the ones I have tried while the blue ones are ones that look interesting to me. You can save it onto your phone and it works offline if you pre-load it before you lose your WiFi connection!