Tokyo has some world-class vegetarian restaurants, which range from strictly Japanese places to pan-Asian and international places. Here, Mario and Shiori Leto introduce three of their favorite vegetarian restaurants in Tokyo.
Nataraj Ogikubo entrance - image © Mario Leto
I'm starting strong here. Nataraj Indian restaurant is without a doubt one of my top restaurants in Tokyo. Why? Because it's Indian food. Full stop. But also because it's vegetarian and vegan, because they have four locations across the city, because they have three of their own organic vegetable farms, because their nan is made with natural yeast, and because they have an amazing lunch buffet for around 10 USD. Yes, I know that I have previously warned about the dangers of gluttony inherent in the all-you-can-eat culinary philosophy, but with Nataraj, all bets are off. Some things are simply worth the suffering.
The path to gluttony - image © Mario Leto
The branch that I frequent is the Ogikubo branch (9 minutes from Shinjuku,￥170). This branch is the oldest of the four current branches. The original Nataraj was opened in Takadanobaba in 1989, but popularity soon exceeded capacity and so the owner, in 1999, moved everything to Ogikubo, including head chef Sadananda, who is supposedly still plying his Indian cuisine trade to this day. The other branches are in Ginza, Minami-Aoyama, and Shibuya.
There is only one menu item that needs to be mentioned: Buffet Lunch (￥990 for adults at Ogikubo branch, ￥500 for kids ages 4-10). All four shops offer it on weekdays from 11:30 to around 15:00, the Ogikubo branch going until 16:30. There is a 90-minute time limit, but if we have anything in common, it should take you just shy of a half hour to place yourself into a curry-nan coma. The Ogikubo branch usually has the following items on offer: four curries, two kinds of nan, rice, salad with two kinds of dressing, coffee, tea, and dessert. All. You. Can. Eat. And for the price of a pint of Guinness. Snap!
Lunch buffet curries - image © Mario Leto
Of the four curries that are offered, three are usually vegan and one is vegetarian, each slightly different than each other. My two personal favorites are the dal and the soy-meat curries. The dal curry is mild and surprisingly satisfying in its simplicity. You could eat it alone as soup. The soy-meat tomato-based curry is sharp and tangy and perfect with nan or rice. The juicy chunks of soy meat are palatably orgasmic. Can I say that? I just did. Other kinds include kabocha pumpkin curry, mushroom curry, bean curry, and potato-cauliflower curry. You can't wrong with any of them.
Is your mouth watering yet? - image © Mario Leto
If you're a conscientious eater like my wife, then you'll try to fill yourself up with the healthier stuff first. Massive plates of shredded cabbage and lettuce leaf are standard fare at our table. The veggies are organic and it's simply courtesy to ease your stomach into the gluten-n-oil onslaught that will inevitably occur. Dressings usually include a carrot dressing and a Japanese-style dressing, the former of which usually made with soy or coconut milk.
Vegetarian or vegan nan? - image © Mario Leto
Here are a few other notable features of Nataraj and its cuisine: One of the nan is always vegan and made with Japanese mustard spinach (komatsuna), which explains its green color. Vegan and gluten-free options are always available. Just ask the staff. English is widely used on the menus and buffet signs, as well on the tongues of some staff members. And finally, if you become as enamored of Nataraj as I did, then you might want to consider buying the Nataraj cookbook which contains all of their signature dishes. Unfortunately it's in Japanese, but even a little Japanese language proficiency will divulge the secrets of your favorite curries.
Tapioca pudding and coffee for dessert - image © Mario Leto
What to do if you can't make it for the weekday lunch buffet? Go for dinner. You'll pay more for basically the same stuff, but it's worth the money and you'll have more options, including vegetarian varieties of samosa, pakora, and tandoori delights (￥500~￥1000). You can also get healthier versions of menu items, like genmai brown rice (￥429) instead of the turmeric suffused white variety (￥381). And with your wallet dictating the extent of your consumption, you're more likely to walk away a bit lighter in step and thinner around the waist.
Can you smell it? - image © Mario Leto
Overall, Nataraj is a must for travelers and locals alike. The decor is comfortable and undeniably Indian, the price unbelievably right for the lunch buffet, and the food nutritionally and ethically conscious. In fact, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Asia-Pacific named Nataraj one of the top ten vegetarian restaurants in Asia, and Asia ain't no small place. See you in the buffet line.
Name: Nataraj, Ogikubo branch
English address: Tokyo-to, Suginami-ku, Ogikubo 5-30-68, Fukumura-Sangyo Building, Basement
Japanese address: 東京都 杉並区 荻窪 5-30-6 福村産業ビル B1
Hours: 11:30-23:00, last order 22:30
Smoking environment: Separate smoking section
Nearest station: Ogikubo Station, Chuo/Sobu line
Reservations: Yes, but unnecessary
Outdoor seating: No
Customer reviews: tabelog.com
DevaDeva Cafe is a cute little ethically conscious kitchen-style cafe on the backstreets of trendy Kichijoji. It offers the standard vegetarian and vegan fare, including veggie burgers, soups, and salads, and has a small selection of baked goods on hand to eat in or take out. If you like the motherly feel of mealtime that includes ladles swinging from hooks over the stove and bandana hairnets, then this is the place for you.
DevaDeva Cafe kitchen - image © Mario Leto
The name DevaDeva is the Sanskrit word "Deva" written twice. The single word is the masculine term for God in Hinduism and can be found in the Hindu scripture of the Mahabharata. The double Deva word "Devadeva" is a common boy's name in India and means "God of Gods". While the food at DevaDeva Cafe has little resemblance to Indian cuisine, the cafe concept attempts to incorporate Indian philosophy to create, in the translated words of the owner, "dishes and sweets [which] hint at natural eating and ecological Vegetarianism wisdom..."
The DevaDeva promise - image © Mario Leto
There are a couple things to note on the menu in the photo above. Besides the inconsistently written cafe name, notice that gluten-free options are available, and that the food is based on Buddhist vegetarianism. In Japanese, this cuisine is called shoujin ryouri (精進料理), which is commonly translated as "devotion food". In addition to avoiding the flesh of sentient beings, Buddhist temple cuisine in Japan also tends to avoid pungent ingredients like garlic and leeks because, and I quote, they "excite the senses". Oh my, I do say, is it warm in here or have I just eaten a leek?
Map for the directionally challenged - image © Mario Leto
DevaDeva Cafe is located on the north side of JR Kichijoji Station on the Chuo/Sobu line (15 minutes from Shinjuku, ￥220). It's about a seven-minute walk from the station in a semi-residential area three blocks off of Kichijoji-dori. It's on the second floor of a three-story building and is, according to reviews, notoriously difficult to find. How anything is difficult to find with Google Maps is beyond me, but I've included a map, pictured above, for the technologically challenged. If you can find Tokyu Department store, you're getting close.
Yogi Burger - image © Mario Leto
One of the supposed highlights of the cafe is its Yogi Burger (￥1300), which is a veggie burger made with vegetables, beans, and oats. The bun is made from a Bulgarian bread recipe and uses natural yeast from Hokkaido, the northernmost island prefecture. During the week you can partake of the lunch set for the same price (￥1300) which includes fried potatoes, soup or salad, and a drink. My own experience of the Yogi Burger was tepid. The burger was bland and the buns were over-toasted and dry as a result. Too bad because the Samuel Smith Organic Lager (￥850) was spot-on and ready for a burger dance partner.
Samuel Smith Organic Lager - image © Mario Leto
If you go for lunch and get the lunch set, there are more options than just the Yogi Burger. You may swap out for the veggie or teriyaki chicken cutlet or for the tofu fish fillet, none of which I've had the opportunity to try. Also note that if you go on the weekend and miss out on the set meal, the burgers do come with a few complimentary fries. There is also the option to add toppings to your burger for an extra charge (￥50~￥100), like real cheese, pickles, avocado or...ahem...ketchup. Yeah, ketchup. Your guess is as good as mine.
Little fingers and a vegan cheese olive pizza - image © Mario Leto
There are of course other options, like pasta, curry and rice, and pizza (￥1450) which comes in the vegetarian Hokkaido cheese variety and the vegan non-dairy cheese variety. My children and I got the non-dairy cheese variety (shown above) and it didn't take long for those little fingers to rob that plate clean. The crust, apparently also from a Bulgarian bread recipe, was light and crispy, and the natural flavors of the tomato sauce, olives, and vegan cheese were unimposing and dangerously pleasing. The kids begged me for more, but at that price I had to use my daddy voodoo to distract, confuse, and evade.
Come on in - image © Mario Leto
And of course there are the baked goods if you're a dessert person. They even sell a few products, like dehydrated soy meat, across from the register to assist in your own vegetarian cooking endeavors. Overall, DevaDeva Cafe is one of its kind in the Kichijoji area. If you're vegetarian or vegan and looking for a cozy place to have an ethically conscious meal, DevaDeva has you covered. I will personally pass on the Yogi Burger next time I'm in town, but the curries and pastas look tempting. And the pizza is a certified hit. How could you go wrong with the God of Gods?
Name: DevaDeva Cafe
English address: 180-0004, Tokyo-to, Musashino-shi, Kichijojimoto-cho 2-14-7, Kisho Bldg. second floor
Japanese address: 〒180-0004 東京都武蔵野市 吉祥寺本町2-14-7 吉祥ビル2F
Hours: Monday to Thursday 11:30-17:00 (last order 16:00); Friday to Sunday 11:30-21:00 (last order 20:00)
Smoking environment: No smoking
Nearest station: Kichijoji Station, Chuo/Sobu line
Outdoor seating: No
Website: Deva Deva Cafe
Customer reviews: Happy Cow
Lotus & flower's One
Where Nataraj is your ethnic Indian food option and DevaDeva Cafe is your faster food local kitchen joint, Lotus & flower's One is your fine-dining experience. Located a short walk from Higashi Koenji subway station (7 minutes from Shinjuku on the Marunouchi subway line, ￥170), this is the place to take that special someone. So throw on a pair of khakis, a nice cotton sweater, and prepare yourself for the most affordable ethically conscious haute cuisine you've ever had.
Lotus & flower's One - image © Mario Leto
Lotus & flower's One is probably the most pleasing vegetarian experience I've had in forever. Eating out as a vegan, you start to develop expectations along the lines of veggie burgers, fries, and salads. Lotus & flower's One defies all that and instead delivers a course meal with food that has been coddled, loved, and cared for. It's the kind of place that makes you say, "I didn't know they could do that with food." And I'm not even referring to vegetarian food. I'm just talking about food in general.
A fine dining atmosphere - image © Mario Leto
The concept of Lotus & flower's One is organic vegetarian with an emphasis on health and nutrition. The website states that 75% of their vegetables are organic and chemical-free. In addition, it also claims that 90% of the customers are non-vegetarian. It's that good. To be exact, it is a lacto-ovo vegetarian restaurant, which means that dairy and eggs are occasionally used. Vegan options are also available.
Burdock-root soup - image © Mario Leto
The Main Dish Set menu is shockingly affordable at ￥1500. The course trajectory begins with soup and continues with salad and then main dish before winding down with a drink. Dessert is separate, but I'll get to that later. The soup, seen above, was a burdock-root soup, lightly salted and slightly creamy from the addition of soy milk. It's officially a potage, but was not as thick as the original French would seem to indicate.
Main Dish salad - image © Mario Leto
The follow-up to the soup was a lovely salad with fresh leaves and the addition of burdock and lotus roots cooked in port liquor. The dressing was a sparingly used soy-based cream. The whole combination was tasty earthy flavors and the only down-side was that it didn't last so long. Luckily, the waitress was discreetly attentive and every successive dish arrived in a perfectly timed fashion.
Organic mushroom and red wine stew - image © Mario Leto
My main dish was an organic mushroom stew simmered in Cabernet wine. The flavors were rich and deep and enhanced by the vegan culinary secret of creamed cashew nuts. This particular dish at Lotus & flower's One is considered vegan, but my wife later pointed out that most red wine is not vegan. Animal products are commonly used as "fining agents" in most red wines, so unless they are labeled vegan, they are probably not. If you are a strict vegan, I would advise you to ask about this detail.
Veggie spinach cream sauce burger - image © Mario Leto
My wife got the vegetable spinach cream-sauce burger. It was outstanding. Blackened on one side, juicy, and lighted spiced, it was an ideal combination with the millet rice. The burger included an animal protein and the sauce was made from a dairy cream, so it was vegetarian friendly but vegan taboo. Too bad for vegans.
Vegan apple tart - image © Mario Leto
While dessert was not included in the set menu, we couldn't resist and were so happy for our lack of resistance. We got the vegan apple tart, but vegetarian options were also available in the chiffon cake and the chocolate cake. Overall, the place is rather small with seating for around 15-20 people, but when we went on a Friday around 12:30, there were only two other lonely people dining, and before we left, only one other customer came. We enjoyed the meal so much that we made a reservation for a few weeks in advance to celebrate a relative's birthday. We will surely make Lotus & flower's One a regular stop on our veggie restaurant schedule, despite the inconsistency of its shop-name capitalization.
Name: Lotus & flower's One
English address: 166-0012, Tokyo-to, Suginami-ku, Wada 3-60-11, Kurashima Bldg. second floor
Japanese address: 〒166-0012東京都杉並区和田3－60－11倉島ビル２F
Hours: Open Tuesday to Sunday, closed Mondays. Lunch is 11:30-14:30 (last order 14:30). Dinner is 18:00-22:30 (last order 20:30 weekends, 21:00 weekdays).
Smoking environment: No smoking
Nearest station: Higashi-Koenji, Marunouchi line
Reservations: Yes, but not always necessary
Outdoor seating: No
Website: Lotus One
Customer reviews: TripAdvisor
Tokyo Vegan Restaurants
Still hungry? Discover Mario and Shiori's favorite Tokyo vegan restaurants
About Mario Leto
Mario Leto is assistant professor in the School of Global Japanese Studies at Meiji University in Tokyo. His research and writing interests include travel, literature, and media discourse on food and dietary alternatives.
About Shiori Leto
Shiori Leto studied washoku at Ecole Tsuji Tokyo and macrobiotics at the Kushi Institute of Japan. She has also studied gluten-free cooking and is a certified raw-food instructor. Her website can be viewed here.
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