Tokyo holds the world record of Michelin-Starred restaurants with 304 restaurants on the list. The high prices associated with these restaurants are often justified by the culinary expertise required, quality of ingredients, consistent execution, and innovation. The best way to taste the best of Japan and save a few bucks is to visit during lunch!
Lunch specials are the culinary equivalent of a tease. They allow customers to indulge in the experience of fine dining with just a glimpse of the technical artistry and innovation that has earned them their enviable reputation. Here are some affordable Michelin-starred lunches to put on your list the next time you head to Tokyo!
1. Ginza Uchiyama 銀座うち山
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Kaiseki Ryori (懐石料理) is the Japanese version of multi-course haute cuisine showcasing the highest sophistication of Kyoto’s culinary culture. Ginza Uchiyama has been featured in the Michelin guide for 10 consecutive years for their Kaiseki meals and top-notch service.
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Dinner at these fine establishments are always an expensive affair. The dinner menu starts from ¥13,000 up to ¥25,000. However, go during lunch and get the same quality, albeit lesser courses for only ¥1,500.
The lunch set consists of Uchiyama’s signature dish - Tai Chazuke (green tea poured over sea bream and rice), which can be enjoyed two ways. First, try the fish seasoned with goma-dare, a thick sauce of creamed sesame richly seasoned with dashi fish stock and soy sauce on its own. Next, place the remaining fillets on top of the piping bowl of rice and pour over with the green tea. This mildly blanches the fillets, giving them a different texture to enjoy with the soupy rice.
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Each set includes a few starters – including yaki-gomadōfu, a sesame tofu that is fundamental to the cuisine, suimono, a clear soup and light dessert to end the meal on a sweet note.
Price: Lunch: ¥3,500 V.S Dinner: ¥22,000
Address: Light Bldg. B1, 2-12-3 Ginza, Chuo Tokyo From Higashi-Ginza Station (Exit A7), walk along Showa-dori (toward Kyobashi) and turn right at the third side street. Turn right again at the first intersection, and the entrance to Uchiyama is on your right.
Opening Hours: Monday - Saturday: Lunch: 11.30am – 3.00pm (Last order 12.30pm) Dinner: 6.00pm - 11.00pm (Last order 9.30pm)
Sunday/Public Holidays: Lunch: 11.30am – 3.00pm (Last order 12.30pm) Dinner: 6.00pm – 10.00pm (Last order 8.30pm) (Closed on the first Sunday of every month)
*Pro-tip: Go for two lunches! Ginza Ibuki is just round the corner within walking distance. As lunch seating lasts for only 3 hours, get into the first seating to make it in time for the last seating of the second restaurant.
2. Ginza Ibuki ぎんざ一二岐
Image credit: Ginza Ibuki
Enjoy flame-seared bonito (Katsuo no Warayaki), a type of tuna, all year round sourced from the waters of Kochi, Kyushu and Chiba prefectures. This is Chef Sadahisa Yoshizawa signature dish, well-loved for the earthy smoky flavor infused by the straw-lit fire. The bonito is best consumed warm and the fatty meat is elevated with ichiban salt (sourced from the Goto Islands) to bring out the flavor of the fish.
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Dinner at Ginza Ibuki can reach a whopping ¥13,000, but go during lunch to enjoy the exquisite flavors of the bonito for only ¥1,500. Each set comes with starters (deep fried tofu + stewed dishes), dessert (Sakekasu ice cream) and the quintessential rice, miso soup and Japanese pickles.
If you’re visiting for the second time, try the seasonal grilled fish lunch set (everything else in the set remains the same except for the main) at ¥1,300, or have the best of both worlds for ¥2,600.
Price: Lunch: ¥2,600 V.S Dinner: ¥13,000
Address: Dai-2 Matsuoka Bldg. B1F, 2-14-6 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo A three-minute walk from Shintomicho Station on the Tokyo Metro Yuraku-cho Line or a five-minute walk from Higashi Ginza Station on the Tokyo Metro Hibiya line.
Opening Hours: Monday - Saturday: Lunch: 11.30am - 2.10pm (Last order 1.10pm) Dinner: 5.30pm - 11.00pm (Last order 9.30pm) (Closed on Sundays)
*Pro-tip: Ginza is Tokyo’s version of Orchard Road in Singapore. Take a stroll in one of the many department stores around the area after your meal or grab a coffee at one of the 6 luxurious brand cafes (Gucci, Bvlgari, Hermes, etc).
3. Katsu Zen
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Katsu Zen is the only Michelin-starred tonkatsu restaurant in Tokyo with Chef Etsuo Nagai perfecting the art of deep frying over 50 years. The finer and lighter crispiness is achieved with homemade panko breadcrumbs. Of course, sharing the limelight is the black Berkshire Kurobuta pork, specially sourced from a free-range farm on the hillside of Mount Kirishima in Kyushu.
Good things come to those who wait, and wait you must as the cutlets are cooked to order. The fatty loin takes about 15 minutes to fry up while the lean cuts take about 20 minutes at a slightly lower heat, ensuring its tenderness.
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Dinner would set you back ¥8,000 for a full-course meal. Get a more value for money option during lunch which includes amuse-bouche of seasonal vegetables, tonkatsu, rice, miso soup and cabbage salad for only ¥3,800. All vegetables served are organically grown seasonal bests.
Price: Lunch: ¥3,800 V.S Dinner: ¥8,000
Address: Kojun Building 4F, 6-8-7 Ginza, Chuo-ku,Tokyo Subway Marunouchi Line Ginza Station Exit A1, exit and keep walking away from Station, upstairs above Barneys New York.
Opening Hours: Tuesday - Sunday: Weekday Lunch: 11.30am – 2.30pm (Last order 2.00pm) Weekday Dinner: 5.00pm - 10.30pm (Last order 9.30pm) Weekend/PH Lunch: 11.30am – 3.00pm (Last order 2.30pm) Weekend/PH Dinner: 6.00pm – 9.30pm (Last order 8.00pm) (Closed on Mondays)
*Pro-tip: Katsu Zen is conveniently located on the fourth floor above Barney’s departmental store. Walk off some of the calories window shopping.
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Nakajima may be hidden in the basement of a nondescript building, but it is well worth the search. This is where you are likely to get your cheapest Michelin-starred meal in Tokyo. Lunch sets are offered at a bargain price of ¥800!
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The star, Iwashi (sardines) are transported fresh daily from Tsukiji market. You can enjoy it in 4 different ways - deep fried with panko (Furai), sashimi-style with seaweed and sesame, simmered in a soy sauce dashi (Nizakana) or rendered into an eggy casserole on a sizzling hot plate (Yanagawa Nabe) for ¥100 more. The set menu is rounded off with Japanese rice, pickles and miso soup.
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In the evenings, the restaurant serves up exquisite kaiseki dinners in their beautiful wood-decked kappo-style dining room. Reservations are required for dinner but only walk-ins are accepted during lunch.
Price: Lunch: ¥800 V.S. Dinner: ¥8,600
Address: B1F, Hihara Bldg, 3-32-5 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo Exit at Lumine 2 or Flags, go through the passageway towards Takashimaya. IDC is on your left, walk past it and turn into the first small lane where Sukiya is. The first building right next to the car park is where Nakajima is.
Opening Hours: Monday - Saturday: Lunch: 11.30am – 2.00pm (Last order 1.45pm) – No reservations allowed Dinner: 5.30pm - 9.30pm (Last order 8.00pm) – Reservations recommended (Closed on Sundays and public holidays)
*Pro-tip: Walk off the food coma at nearby Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. Check out the Japanese-style garden, which is inspired by the traditional imperial ones during the Meiji era.
5. Kyourakutei (石臼挽き手打 蕎楽亭)
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Enjoy a steaming bowl of soba complemented with unbelievably light but crisp tempura at Michelin-starred restaurant, Kyourakutei. They specialize in the te-uchi (hand-rolled and cut) tradition of making soba noodles using grain like seeds sourced from Aizu in Fukushima prefecture, where the owner is from. All noodles are freshly milled with their very own millstone on the day they are served. Witness this process at the millstone that is placed right at the entrance.
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When served, the soba takes on the soy and dashi flavors of its dipping broth while retaining its springy texture. The tempura amazes with its freshness and golden crispy texture which is far from greasy. A pot of sobayu (broth) is then offered to complete the meal.
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For first-time visitors unsure of what to order, opt for the ¥2,400 Ten Zaru and Kisetsu Ten Zaru sets as they offer the perfect soba to tempura combination. Otherwise, the lunch menu is extensive and provides a variety of options.
Price: Lunch: ¥1-2000 V.S Dinner: ¥5,000
Address: Kagurazaka hall 1F, 3-6, Kagurazaka, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, 162-0825, Japan Subway Yurakucho Line Iidabashi Station 4-minute walk.
Opening Hours: Monday: 5.00pm - 9.00pm (Last order 8.00pm) Tuesday - Saturday: Lunch: 11.30am – 3.00pm (Last order 2.30pm) Dinner: 5.00pm - 9.00pm (Last order 8.30pm) – Reservations taken for the first three tables only (Closed on Sundays)
*Pro-tip: Have a go at Pachinko - a Japanese arcade game where the objective is to fire balls that will then fall through a maze of metal pins. Espace Pachinko Parlor, one of the most popular, is in the vicinity. Never played before? You might be hit with some beginners luck!
6. Lugdunum Bouchon Lyonnais
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Situated in the upscale district of Kagurazaka, Shinjuku-ku is French restaurant Lugdunum Bouchon Lyonnais. Don't be put off by its complicated and hard to pronounce name as Owner/Chef Christophe Paucod seeks to create a welcoming and relaxed atmosphere. The entire restaurant is decorated with paintings of Lyon enticing you to someday visit the place itself.
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The menu is inspired by his hometown Lyon, serving up local dishes like pistachio sausage, tablier de sapeur and tarte à la praline dessert. Burgundy and Rhône wines account for the majority of the list. There’s two lunch sets to choose from, the Le Menu Express ¥1,850 yen is only available on weekdays or the Le Menu du Déjeuner ¥2,850 yen. The Le Menu Express includes a salad plate, Lyon style bowl, and a choice of seasonal main dish (fish or meat).
While the express menu is much cheaper, the three-course Le Menu du Déjeuner is truly value for money, offering luxurious ingredients like foie gras, rabbit confit, quenelle (a poached, dumpling-like mixture of fish and chicken) and boudin noir (blood sausage). My choice for sure.
Price: Lunch: ¥2850 V.S Dinner: ¥8000
Address: 1st Floor, Ebiya Building, 4-3-7 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 162-0825 4 minutes on foot from JR Iidabashi Station (West side Exit). 3 minutes on foot from Tokyo Metro Iidabashi Station (B3 Exit). 4 minutes on foot from Metro Ushigome Kagurazaka Station (A3 Exit).
Opening Hours: Lunch: 11.30am – 3.30pm (Last order 2.00pm) Dinner: 6.00pm - 11.30pm (Last order 9.30pm) (Closed on Mondays and every 1st & 3rd Tuesday of the month)
*Pro-tip: Fight the afternoon lull after a satisfying meal with coffee at one of the best coffee houses – Blue bottle coffee. To maintain optimum freshness and taste, all beans are used within 48 hours of roasting.
7. KIEN あか坂 帰燕
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Kien means returning swallow in Japanese, reflecting the Chef’s wishes for customers to revisit. Like Ginza Uchiyama, Kaiseki (traditional Japanese cuisine) is served here. While a truncated version is served during weekday lunch, it does a fine job of showcasing the main elements of this cuisine at a modest price of ¥1,700.
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Dishes in Kaiseki both complements and contrasts in terms of textures, flavours and appearances for an amazing experience. They draw inspiration from the four seasons for ingredients and decorative elements. The lunch set shown below consists of - steamed egg custard, tuna with Sesame soy sauce, autumn mackerel wakasa yaki, autumn chicken eggplant, rookie koshi hikari, miso soup, Japanese pickles.
Customers opting for the lunch set will be guided to a shared dining area. The main dining area is nicely decorated with Japanese ceramics and illustrations are reserved for customers opting for the multi-course option. While I’m all for communal dining, the space as compared to the rest of the restaurant did pale in comparison.
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The restaurant is hidden from sight in a small alley and tucked away at the bottom of a residential building. Look out for the overgrown bamboo leaves sticking out around the concrete walls to locate the restaurant. The beautifully decorated exterior with varieties of the bamboo plant makes it a destination restaurant for locals and tourists alike.
Price: Lunch: ¥1,700 V.S Dinner: ¥15,000
Address: 2-18-8 Akasaka Minato-ku, Tokyo Subway Tameike-Sanno Station Exit 12 3-minute walk, Subway Namboku Line Roppongi-Itchome Station Exit 3 5-minute walk, Subway Chiyoda Line Akasaka Station 5b exit 7-minute walk.
Opening Hours: Lunch: 12.00am – 3.00pm *Lunch set only served between 11.30am - 1.00pm Dinner: 6.00pm - 11.00pm (Closed on Sundays)
*Pro-tip: Slightly farther out from Akasaka is Roppongi Hills. Learn more about the Japanese culture with a relaxed afternoon at Roppongi Art Triangle museums.
8. Nakiryu 鳴龍
This ramen store is the second of its kind (after Tsuta, which is available in Singapore) in Tokyo to slurp its way to achieving a Michelin Star. They serve up traditional flavours like shoyu (soy sauce) and shiok (salt), but they’re best known for their tantan tsukemen which also comes in a shoyu version.
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Tantanmen is the Japanese version of the spicy Sichuan dish filled with scallions, chili oil, and minced pork. Nakiryu unlocks a whole new frontier of flavour by combining the spicy Sichuan flavours with ramen. The broth is made with a ‘triple stock’ as its base - the combination of chicken, beef bone and oyster gives it its umami flavor. Don't be afraid of the vibrant orange, it whets your appetite immediately and is only mildly spicy.
Price: Lunch/Dinner: ¥1-2000
Address: Tokyo, Toshima-ku, Minami Otsuka 2-34-2 Take JR Yamanote-line (Y) to JR Otsuka Station or Shin-Otsuka Station (next stop from Ikebukuro Station) and walk for about 8 min. The shop is right across the street from a big residential building and has the sign “鳴龍”.
*Pro-tip: Tsuta, the other Michelin –starred ramen place is just a few minutes down the street. While available in Singapore, checking out the original outlet might bring surprises!
This list would’ve proven that exquisite cuisine doesn’t come at a ridiculous cost! They’re all situated (relatively) near various places of interest so one-up your upcoming Japan trip with these Michelin-starred restaurants on your itinerary. Remember, punctuality counts as queues start forming almost immediately. Show up earlier if you can and savor the best of japan while loving your wallet!