I often joke with new Japanese friends when they inquire about my favorite foods, “My favorite food is a cheeseburger. This is one of the ways you can tell I’m 100% American.” My mom, on the other hand, enjoys reminiscing on how she used to order extra dill pickles at McDonald’s to get me to eat my Happy Meal cheeseburger as a kid. Needless to say, my affection for the burger began early.
As a life long burger lover, I admit I’m a hopeless incurable addict ever in search of my next fix. Particularly when it comes to those handmade, goopy, cheese laden sandwiches. When I arrived in Japan way back when, my first burger experience was at MOS Burger— one of Japan’s national fast-food chains. At the time, it was the best burger available in the town I lived in. Exciting as it was to break away from a month of eating nothing but Asian food, the encounter was traumatic.
My first bite of what was to be ‘melt in your mouth savory goodness’ caused my sinuses to practically ignite in flames. I made the mistake of requesting mustard on my cheeseburger in addition to the standard ketchup topping. Something got lost in translation and the staff used karashi (Japanese spicy hot mustard) instead of the milder, more familiar American style yellow mustard. To say my first burger experience in Japan was heated -in the most literal sense- is an understatement. That mouthful of karashi was excruciating and to this day, I can’t handle the stuff.
A Burger Lover Bonanza
Over the years, I’ve explored a fair amount of burger joints in Tokyo. I like to think I’ve scoped out some of the good ones. Not a difficult accomplishment considering CNN reported Tokyo topping out on Saveur’s 2015 World’s Best Food City list. For residents, it’s simply a long known fact that when it comes to good eats, Tokyo is one of the best places on the planet to partake. While beloved American classics like In-N-Out (they came once for 4 hours in Harajuku in 2013) and 5 Guys have yet to make the jump across the Pacific, there’s plenty of worthy alternatives in this city to make up for their absence.
Tokyo Best Burgers
Recently and quite by accident, I came across a website called Tokyo Best Burgers which is dedicated to trying out and rating burger shops in Tokyo proper. It was a happy discovery made even better after learning I’d visited several on the their list. All of which I recommend to fellow burger lovers, such as yourself:
- Blacow in Ebisu
- Bubby’s in Futakotamagawa
- Golden Brown in Omotesando Hills
- Kua’aina in various locations or visit the original in North Shore at Haleiwa, Hawaii (It’s well worth the visit, trust me.)
- J.S. Burgers in Shibuya and Shinjuku
- T.G.I. Fridays in Shibuya and Ikebukuro
- The Great Burger in Shibuya
- Village Vanguard Diner in Shimokitazawa
I’ve also been to several burger serving venues that aren’t on Tokyo Best Burgers list. They aren’t dedicated burger shops but, they’re certainly worthy of mention:
- Hard Rock Cafe in Roppongi and Ueno
- Outback Steakhouse in Shibuya
- Rigoletto Bar and Grill in Roppongi
- Roti in Roppongi
One Burger Lover to Another
One burger lover to another, Leonard Mouillet, creator of tokyobestburgers.com has done an excellent job curating his collection of gourmet outposts. With mouth watering, appetite inspiring images, the photos tell your eyes everything your tastebuds need to know about a shop before you get there. As if that weren’t enough, he also developed a customized evaluation system. Shops are categorized by “Top Burgers” “Good Burgers” and “Other Burgers” and highlighted with a corresponding three, two or one star rating.
Be sure to check out Leonard’s suggestions and detailed reviews before planning your next lunch or dinner out on the town. I know I saw several shops I couldn’t resist adding to my ‘places to eat in Tokyo’ list. And for the love of the burger, don’t forget share in the comments section below which burger joints in Tokyo are on your list of favorite eateries.