Fried cilantro. That's really all you need to know.
Most people think you fly 5,000 miles over the Pacific to Tokyo for a memorable sushi omakase experience or seemingly bottomless bowls of ramen. Those are unmissable, but the city also nails the art of frying. Here, eight unexpected crispy bites beyond the traditional shrimp tempura—and all of them worth the artery cloggage.
1. Tachinomi's Cilantro Tempura
Named after the standing bars typical of Japan, Tachinomi (AKA Tachinomi Tempura Kikuya) has a more contemporary feel and a few modern additions to its menu. The house favorite is fried cilantro (listed in British English on the menu as coriander). The chef grabs bunches of damp leaves, rolls them in batter, and tosses them in the fryer whole.
2. Gyoza from Harajuku Gyozaro
There are spots for gyoza (pan-fried dumplings, generally filled with pork, garlic, and chives) all over the city. It's hard to find a bad one. What makes this place especially great is the lively scene at the bar and the fact they fry the dumpling edges extra crispy. Sixteen gyoza and an order of palate-cleansing fresh cucumbers with miso sets you back about $10.
3. Fried Udon Noodles
You know those fried noodles you get on a generic "Asian salad"? These, which many udon spots serve as a starter, are like those—just better.
4. The Cinnamon Cronut from Boulangerie Eclin
In Koenji, a neighborhood west of Shinjuku, Boulangerie Eclin takes buttery pastry dough, ties it in a pretzel knot, fries it, and sprinkles it with sugar. If you rent an Airbnb in this under-the-radar neighborhood, which is great for vintage shopping, then this is a sweet morning spot.
5. Tensuke's Deep-Fried Egg
Tensuke is one of those spots in Tokyo that almost always has a line for a reason: The chef of this tempura bar cracks an egg in the fryer, flings the shell over his shoulder onto the floor (someone will pick it up later), sprinkles the egg with tempura, and tosses over a cup of rice. Puncture the yolk, mix it together, realize the 30 minute wait was totally worth it. (Another perk: The chef speaks good English.)
6. Tsunahachi's Fresh Eel Tempura
Tsunahachi offers several different tasting menus, all affordable and all of which include eel that is pulled from a bucket of water. Make sure to grab a seat by the bar, where you can watch the chef nail down the head, take a knife to the eel, and feed battered slices to the fryer. Dip it in sauce and the wasabi salt from the counter.
7. Fukutake's Okonomiyaki
Although they are best enjoyed in their homeland of Osaka, okonomiyaki, savory fried pancakes filled with cabbage and often topped with a mound of green onion and a choice of protein, are not hard to find in Tokyo. Often, they're made in front of you. A waitress heats up your personal grill and drops the batter on so you can brown it to your liking. Fukutake is famous for its extra-fluffy ones.
8. Mr. Donut's Strawberry Donut
If you're fond of the strawberry Pocky, try Mr. Donut's pepto-pink donuts, which have the same creamy taste. There are open-late locations all over the city. The place is self-serve so just grab a tray, fill it up to your heart's content, and head to the cashier.