Unagi is the Japanese word for freshwater eel in Japan. For those with any familiarity with Japanese cuisine, you’ll recognise it as one of the toppings available at sushi restaurants. But, there are also entire restaurants specialising in serving just grilled unagi!
The hitsumabushi set meal. - image © Florentyna Leow
Dig even just a little into unagi in Japan and you’ll find two culinary camps: Kanto-style and Kansai-style. What’s the difference between these two? Kanto-style (East Japan) sees the eel being sliced open along the back and steamed prior to grilling, giving it a more tender texture. In West Japan or Kansai, they dispense with the steaming altogether. The eel is sliced along the belly and grilled immediately, rendering it beautifully crispy on the outside.
Tokyo eel restaurants serve unagi mainly in the Kanto style. Eel isn’t the cheapest meal around. It’s a little more expensive than your average meal in Tokyo, and given the dwindling supplies of unagi from overfishing, an above-average meal of eel will set you back at least JPY3,000. So if you’re going to eat some eel, it may as well be good. We’ve put together a list of some unagi restaurants that are definitely way better than average!
- Hitsumabushi Bincho Ginza (Ginza; mid-range to expensive)
If you’d like a refined meal of unagi while exploring Ginza, then this Nagoya-style restaurant is sure to please.
- Izuei Honten (Ueno; mid-range to expensive)
For an unagi experience of a lifetime, visit Izu-ei Honten in Ueno. Any restaurant that’s been going strong for over 200 years is doing something right with their food.
- Kabuto (Shinjuku; mid-range)
Kabuto, in Shinjuku’s Piss Alley, takes you back to 1950s Tokyo with its no-frills head-to-tail (unagi) eel dining experience.
- Unatetsu (Shinjuku; mid-range)
If you love eel and you’re feeling adventurous, head over to Ganso Unatetsu in Shibuya. This hole-in-the-wall unagi specialist serves skewers using all parts of the eel from head to tail. Grilled over charcoal, it’s a real treat for eel-lovers!
- Tsukiji Miyagawa Honten Isetan Shinjuku (Shinjuku; mid-range)
We love the Shinjuku outpost of Tsukiji Miyagawa Honten, an old-school eel restaurant that’s been in operation since 1893. The Isetan branch is modern and comfortable, but keeps the grilled eel standard as high as the original. Plus, there are English menus!
- Akasaka Fukinuki (Akasaka; mid-range to expensive)
For some truly delicious classic Kanto-style unagi, where they steam the eel prior to grilling it, you can’t go wrong with Akasaka Fukinuki. This beautiful, traditional restaurant might be one of the best eel experiences in this part of town!
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