Located in western Tokyo, the district of Musashino was once a playground of the Tokugawa Shogunate for falconry, a leisurely pastime of the elite. Comprised of Kichijoji and Musashi Sakai, today, this leafy, low-rise haven in west Tokyo still reigns as prime real estate. Musashino consistently ranks as one of the capital’s most desirable residential areas — though the current gentry seem to be the young professional singles and families leading charmingly fashionable lives.
Luckily, you can easily sample a taste of their aspirational lifestyle. Kichijoji is just 15 minutes by train from Shinjuku station (Musashi Sakai is about 20 minutes away) and the area offers a vibrant yet affordable food scene — alongside outstanding shopping — that make it a joy to explore on a sunny weekend. With gourmet adventures in mind, here’s our pick of what to try when you’re next out west.
Historic and traditional food stops
Kichijoji is home to some of Tokyo’s most beloved culinary institutions. Business miracles in a city where restaurant turnover is blink-and-you’ll-miss-it-high, here you’ll find places that have perfected their product through the ages and can truly claim that they are generations-old.
Step out of Kichijoji station’s South Exit and you’ll immediately see Oomura, which serves soy sauce ramen, salt-based ramen and fried rice. Omura retains a decades-old decor — a large part of its charm — but customers both loyal and new stream in constantly; testament to its tried and true recipes.
The restaurant on the second floor — Steak House Satou — sells great-value Matsusaka wagyu (Japanese beef) meal sets starting at ￥4000 at lunch, but it’s the menchikatsu (fried minced meat patties) sold to go at the ground floor deli that’s the real draw here. Located in Kichijoji’s covered shopping mecca, along Daiya-gai, the place is never seen without a long line outside. Try one and you’ll immediately understand why.
Ozasa has supplied yokan (bean jellies) and monaka (bean paste filled wafers) to adoring fans for nearly 70 years. Right next door to Kichijoji Satou, we’re not sure who would win in the bid for longest queue. In fact, queuing here often begins as early as 3 a.m. when shoppers will be given a ticket with a time slot of when they can pick up their prize — and it’s usually sold out before lunchtime. Prepare to do battle with some Japanese grandmothers here.
Like a beneficent grandparent, stalwart institution Iseya has fed generations of Japanese cheap beef and chicken skewers since 1928. Even today, they’re just ￥90 per stick but taste better than what a lot of other newer yakitori shops offer. There are two main branches; one on the corner of Kichijoji-dori and the other just before the entrance to Inokashira Park. At the park branch, there’s a takeout window— perfect for picnics.
Two train stops west of Kichijoji in Musashi Sakai, Chinchintei is the holy birthplace of a classic Tokyo dish — abura soba (soupless ramen) — which they claim to have invented back in 1965. Whatever the truth may be, there’s no denying it’s always busy with customers lining up for its signature dish; a simple yet deeply flavorful bowl of thick noodles, chashu pork and bamboo, all drenched in a meat-infused oil.
Harmonica Yokocho was a post-World War Two black market and has retained its clandestine allure ever since. Yakitori specialist Tetchan is tucked inside this atmospheric lantern-lit labyrinth of shops and diners. It melds old and new with its time-honored recipes combined with head-turning pop art interiors from renowned architect Kengo Kuma. The fun drinks menu has themed takes on classic izakaya (Japanese-style pub) beverages. Be warned though, the measures are strong.
Lively yet laid-back modern eateries
In Musashino, you can bathe in nostalgia or dive into new trends. In traditional Japanese dining culture, an apprentice would serve seven to ten years in a restaurant, then set up their own clone of that shop. Today, greater numbers of chefs are branching out.
Rooftop retreat Colonial Garden bursts with greenery inside and out. It’s popular with stylish families whose members are all impeccably dressed — there’s a good chance the toddlers here have better fashion than you. Something to ponder as you munch on excellently cooked steak, pasta or sandwiches.
Plat Stand Moto
Plat Stand Moto is a contemporary bar offering sake from all over Japan. For fans of Nihonshu, this place is a must-visit, but even those less versed in Japan’s iconic drink will get a kick out of the interesting variations. Try everything from grape sake from Fukuoka to orange sake from Kochi, and pair it with refined bar snacks — the potato, bacon and egg salad is a crowd favorite.
Enjoy at your leisure lemon ricotta pancakes, clam chowder or butter chicken curry at Nordic-styled Cafe Sacai in Musashisakai. It’s one of a current wave of cool Tokyo establishments created in spaces under elevated train tracks, though its atmosphere is far from pretentious. Prices are more than reasonable and they have free Wi-Fi, too.
Kooriya Peace is a beloved kakigori (shaved ice dessert) shop whose creative concoctions include strawberry and cheese or pumpkin and black sesame. It’s even in the Netflix series Kantaro: The Sweet Tooth Salaryman; the lead character goes cross-eyed with bliss indulging here. Following the owner and his fluffy dog on Instagram is a must.
Themed delights beyond cat cafes
Musashino houses numerous schools, is surrounded by several universities and is home to the Ghibli Museum and various anime and manga companies. The air crackles with youthful energy and it’s peppered with unique, playful eateries for young and old.
Hattifnatt could be a cafe designed by elves. Stoop through a tiny door into a fantastical, picture book world spread over three floors. Meals from the ground floor kitchen are pulled upstairs via a chute. Taco rice is the signature dish. Instagram is the platform you’ll be desperate to upload your #foodie pics.
The latte artists at Cafe Zenon can craft your favorite cartoon character in milk foam; you can even order illustrations based off photos. This is a manga-themed cafe with tasty food, including hamburgers and cheese fondue, but also so much more. Across the two floors you’ll find original artworks on display as well as shelves stocked with manga to read and cool merch for sale.
Mahika Mano Hammock Cafe
Soak in Hammock Cafe’s soft-lit, soothing ambiance while lounging in a swaying rope chair. There’s health-conscious options including unusual herb cordials and fruit vinegar cocktails, to round out the beautifully presented European-inspired menu. Despite looking like the playground of your childhood dreams, this concept space is for grown-ups only.
Kugutsusou is a subterranean gothic lair and otherworldly cavern. It’s the sort of place you’d expect to find in Bavaria, or on the set of Game of Thrones. You can imbibe coffee from beans aged over two years and in strengths from a soft blend to deep triple shot in antique cups, all while enjoying cheesecake, curries or the classic kissaten (traditional Japanese cafe) dish of pizza toast.
Kichijoji is Tokyo’s jazz heartland and Sometime, opened in 1975, is its legendary live venue. The audience packs the musicians from all sides in this cosy hideout, which also serves fine food and drinks. Their original menu is almost as famed as the acts they pull in — head there early for a good spot from which to see the stage, and tuck in to the kitchen’s offerings.
How to get there
Explore what else is edible at the Musashino Tourism Office in Kichijoji’s Chamber of Commerce building, or at the Kichijoji Machi Informational Center inside Atre Kichijoji, attached to the station. The official website (link below) also has plenty of advice for where to fill your stomach. Itadakimasu!
This content was originally published here.