48 hours in Tokyo: Unexpected Eats in the City’s Trendiest Neighborhoods
Tokyo is a massive city and if you only have 48 hours, you aren’t going to see all of it. The city can be overwhelming with its sky high buildings, intimidating language and maze of concrete. But you can crack this Japanese edamame pod, you just need to start small. My best advice? Instead of trying to criss cross the city like a pinball, stick to one or two neighboring areas and DIG IN.
On my first trip to Tokyo, I did not follow my own advice. When I boarded my return flight to California, I carried a mental snapshots of standout locations (Asakusa, the top of the Park Hyatt, the Shibuya Crossing) but I had trekked across the city in my limited time to get these, which meant that my most prominent memory was navigating the metro system. The metro is super efficient and clean, but they aren’t always easy during rush hours, those cars will be packed so tightly, you’ll think sardines have a room life.
For my second trip, I did it right. Harajuku and Omotesando are two iconic Tokyo neighborhoods that seem to be on the pulse of the city’s modern culture. They also are scenic, walkable and have a slew of fantastic shops and restaurants. And in two days, you will have time to wander the pedestrian friendly streets, check out some notable hotspots, snap photos of Japanese fashion and maybe even pet a cat or two.
Day 1: Harajuku
Harajuku is synonymous with the wild, often cartoonish, street fashions of Tokyo and Takeshita Street is the epicenter of it all. It is a shiny, bubble gum pink, cute overload — just people watching makes it worth the visit. Wander through the out-of-this-galaxy shops and pick up some unique gifts for friends at home.
Forgo the more gimmicky crepe and rainbow colored ice cream shops to indulge in the very popular Japanese trend right now: pancakes. These aren’t just any pancakes—they come in every shape, size, color and flavor. Go to Gram, on a side street just off of Takeshita. Don’t bank on sitting right away, they only serve 20 every time, starting at 11am, 3pm and 6pm. I came at 11:30am and was able to get a reservation for 3:30pm. Nothing like a mid-afternoon snack of pancakes! More on that later..
While on Takeshita, you can experience another famous Japanese trend: the cat cafe. Cat Cafe MoCha is one of the highest rated with very clean facilities and well taken care of kitties. You leave bags and shoes in lockers at the front and head in with your cameras. The whimsical decor looks straight out of Wonderland, but I was too distracted by the orange, grey, brown and black fluffy patrons sauntering by. The cats here are VERY used to people and are not too interested in having you pet them, unless you catch them asleep. I did notice that if you have treats, you instantly become their best friends. As they charge by the 15 minute interval, make sure to check your watch every now and then.
Since pancakes will be today’s dessert, have a solid lunch to start. I opted for The Great Burger, a vintage Americana style burger joint, located on some winding streets in between Harajuku and neighboring Omotesando. Their homemade milkshakes are simple and just right, while their 35+ options for burgers will definitely make choosing hard. There are plenty of other options, including vegetarian friendly meals, but if you eat meat, do yourself a favor and get one of their perfectly crafted patties.
Dessert time! Gram’s signature pancakes here are not what you’d expect. The originals are served in threes, and they are thick, almost souffle like quality. The airy softness of the cake jiggles as they are presented in front of you, topped with a mound of butter and sidled with a carafe of maple syrup and healthy helping of whipped cream. The restaurant was very quiet because everyone was too absorbed in each melt-in-your-mouth bite —or they were busy Instagramming their plates. I managed to do both at the same time.
Shops in the area stay open until late so work off your delicious day with retail therapy. Personally, I found Kiddyland to be a fun, uniquely Tokyo spot that was perfect for gifts for all the nieces and nephews in my life. Each of the 5 floors was dedicated to different Japanese characters and popular animated figures. Don’t miss the Hello Kitty and Star Wars sections.
For a comfortable stay, I chose the Keio Plaza, a large hotel located right near a metro station just a few stops from Harajuku. Though it might not have the most character as a boutique, the rates are good and the views from the upper level rooms are jawdropping. Plus, the restaurants inside are quite impressive!
Day 2: Omotesando
If you are taking the Metro, get off in Omotesando for breakfast at Bills Pancakes. This Australian eatery is located many floors up in the Tokyu Plaza Omotesando. Though very popular, it’s worth the wait for the fresh green juice, the melt in your mouth omelettes and the caramelized banana pancakes. Actually, every single thing that went by looks too good so don’t worry about what you order. For a kick, their flat whites are a must though.
After, head over to Cat Street where you won’t actually find any cats but you will find a lot of trendy stores, both international and local boutiques. The alleys twist and turn, but don’t worry, just get lost. There’s an adorable mom & pop artisanal store or a high end clothing shop around every corner.
While here, grab an iconic bubble tea at Gong Cha. Schoolchildren and fashionable elite all congregate here for cups of the sweet, caffeinated teas. I loved that they are completely customizable, down to the amount of ice, type of milk and sweet level.
After, nearby Mmmozza is a sliver of an Italian panini shop whipping up delicious mozzarella and prosciutto sandwiches on freshly made bread. Certainly a different flavor profile than most Japanese cuisine, it’s a tasty change and won’t hold you up on your day of exploring.
For a sweet treat, Dominique Ansel’s bakery is just a few twisty turns away! The chocolate chip cookies or legendary Cronuts will out a smile on your face.
Bonus: For a wild night, head to Fuerza Bruta Wa! Though not in either neighborhood, this new artistic spectacle-meets-show-meets interactive play art is sure to awe. You might get wet but you won’t be bored for a second of this non-stop performance. To understand more about what Fuerza Bruta Wa is like, take a look at my video here or below!
Tokyo is always changing but this eating guide should make sure you dine well and enjoy the experience! Don’t worry, in a few months, there will be more trendy spots to try out!