“What should I eat when in Tokyo? Where’s the best yakitori?”
We hear these questions all the time.
Yakitori. Eat yakitori when in Tokyo. If you love grilled foods, in this case chicken, you will love yakitori.
In this guide we enlisted the help of my local friends to pick some of the best yakitori shops in Shinjuku… which is essentially the food mecca of Tokyo. We’ll do more of these in the future for other parts of Tokyo too.
Yakitori is grilled chicken skewers, often enjoyed at an izakaya with your favorite adult beverage, and friends. They’re incredible. Great yakitori is one of those things that you WILL miss dearly after leaving Japan. There’s just something special about it.
It’s affordable. It’s delicious. It’s ready quickly. It’s easy to eat. It doesn’t make a mess. There is a huge variety. In many cases, it’s very healthy. It’s literally the perfect food.
And while the Shinjuku area is packed with yakitori (izakaya) shops, some rise to the top. And my local friends are here to help show us where to go for the best.
These are the best yakitori shops in Shinjuku, hand-picked by my local Japanese friends, plus some of my decades of experience added on top for helpful tips.
It’s not all about Omoide Yokocho (memory lane, or aka “piss alley”) either. There’s far more outside that tiny alley maze.
Oh, before we get started. It’s pretty much a given that yakitori is meant to be eaten with a great beer to wash it down. It’s practically a tradition in Japan now (no, not really, but maybe it should be).
~¥8,000 per person
Ohkusa, previously Torimitsu, but recently relocated from Kabukicho (and renamed), is a little on the pricey side — as far as yakitori shops go. But the price goes along with the quality.
The moment you take your first bite into the juicy, yet perfectly crispy, grilled chicken skewers, you’ll know you came to the right place.
And there are a ton of other options on the menu to try too.
It’s tiny. Really tiny. The new location is small, out of sight, and not really easy to find.
That’s a good thing. That also means it’s far less busy (from tourists anyway) — at least until they read this guide and pack out the place.
This is the type of place you likely wouldn’t find on your own.
With just 8 counter seats you’re front and center watching Mr. Ogusa masterfully craft your yakitori — on those awesome little yakitori grills, you’ll find only in Japan.
The quaint atmosphere and closeness to the owner will give you a real Japanese experience in Tokyo.
This is about as “Japanese” of an izakaya/yakitori dining experience you’ll find in Tokyo. A small, privately own shop where the owner pours their heart into the business.
One you won’t want to miss if you can find the time — and love amazing grilled yakitori.
~¥4,000 per person
Now, this is a legendary yakitori shop in Shinjuku. It’s nearly impossible to get reservations (only a couple of tables on the second floor can be reserved). If you want to try, call 090-1777-8101 (+81-90-1777-8101).
A long line will already be forming before the place opens at 8:00 pm (Fri/Sat).
You pretty much need to know you want to visit and start queuing an hour or so before it opens.
Pro tip: this shop opens at 7:00 pm on Mon, Tues, and Thurs. Get there at 6:00 pm.
It’s busy because the price is right, the quality is fantastic, and the atmosphere is fun. It’s cramped, tiny… shoddy almost. It’s a shack, seemingly in rambles… but this is so typical.
This is the classic tiny yakitori shop you’ll find in the “memory lane” alleys (or yokocho) — and it is in Kabukicho, right in the middle of things.
Of course, the yakitori here is amazing. Michishirube feels as if it existed before time itself. It is almost as if the owner lives there and makes use of everything they can to add to the ambiance of the shop.
In short, it’s a remarkable time and one that will leave a lasting memory you can tell family for decades to come.
But I’m going to be straight up with you though. If you don’t get in right when they open, have a backup plan at another yakitori place. The line doesn’t move fast and people tend to stay put for a while.
~¥5,000 per person
Okay, now we’re leveling up the experience a bit. Taking it out of the tiny hole-in-the-wall type place.
A shop with proper elbow space, some glitz, some glam. The dark wood interior and mood lighting really bring out a comfortable feel. Not too classy and uptight.
Just enough to feel like you’re splurging… you know, treating yourself to a great evening — without actually breaking the bank we might add.
With 100 seats available the extra space here means there’s a good chance you’ll get in when other local places are totally booked up.
The food is nothing short of spectacular. The grilled crisp, balanced seasoning, excellent presentation… all of it is superb.
They offer a great variety, but the dish we hear the most about is the tsukune (chicken meatballs with a tiny bit of cartilage mixed in).
I’ve never personally had it at this shop, but tsukune is tasty– and comes with a raw egg yolk to dip it in (and yea, raw egg is common here in Japan).
This is a major win on your itinerary for sure.
~¥4,000 per person
Started back in 1985, this small hole-in-the-wall yakitori shop has been a hallmark of the Shinjuku yakitori scene for decades.
A testament to the flavor and value it has brought loyal patrons over the years.
It’s a proper charcoal grilled yakitori shop. The type of place you imagine — the old master of his craft haunched over a tiny grill. Hand-crafting the perfect yakitori sear just for you.
And after decades of experience, Torihana has nailed it the flavor.
When we said small, it’s small. Like Ohkusa, it’s a tiny jaunt with only 10 counter seats — right there so you can see the grill while your mouth waters with anticipation.
And the grill is truly something else. It looks as if the charcoal has aged the grill over the decades creating a unique flavor that cannot be replicated anywhere else.
~¥6,000 per person
Look at this place! Tell me you don’t want to just soak this in.
Toriya is awesome. It’s not huge, but it’s also not teeny tiny. With about 25 seats there’s a bit of room.
But we recommend you call ahead for reservations – 050-5868-2332 (+81-50-5868-2332).
The atmosphere here is so good… we want to say all sorts of adjectives. Hip, modern yet traditional, dark, earthy tones, great natural accents, and perfect lighting.
But that still doesn’t do it justice.
The thick, heavy slab wood countertop is so… cool!
When you walk in you almost exclaim “Yes! THIS is what I was hoping for!”
And then the food arrives and your jaw hits the floor.
Honestly, this is the second way we think you should experience yakitori. Amazing quality food in a fantastic atmosphere.
(The first way is in one of those cramped little shops we mentioned above).
Or this could also easily be a great surprise date spot for your significant other. It’s that good.
Explore even more yakitori in Shinjuku
Toridori: At about ¥3,000 per person, this yakitori shop has a vast menu where you’ll be able to try all sorts of things and pick your favorite new dish from.
Sumibiyaki Kuruma: At ~¥5,000 per person, this high-quality shop seats about 38, serves incredible yakitori (among other dishes) and has a wholesome, earthy atmosphere with dark wood and amber lighting.
Yakitori Ogawa: At over ¥10,000 per person, this is a yakitori craftsman show. The level of quality is unmatched. The peculiar and endearing flavors created by the chef seriously take yakitori to a whole new level; into the stratosphere.
And there you have it, some of the absolute best yakitori shops you’ll find in the Shinjuku area — hand-picked by my local friends.
Time for a beer! Writing this has made me very hungry. Let’s see… which one to head out to tonight? Hmm…