With plant-based dining becoming a hot commodity everywhere, we rounded up our favorite vegan eateries in a place where fresh fish and Kobe beef is king: Tokyo, Japan.
As an early adopter of anime by age 10 (thanks, Toonami), as a child I knew I wanted to visit Tokyo someday. Growing up in culturally diverse New York also helped expose me to Japanese cuisine. That fateful trip wouldn’t happen for nearly another decade, and by the time my mom and I booked tickets for our long-awaited Tokyo adventure in the summer of 2018, we’d both become vegan. This wasn’t going to stop us from enjoying Japanese food and culture, but it was going to make things a little more tricky.
Fast forward to touchdown at Narita—we were buzzing, thrilled to eat our way across town. Thankfully, Japan’s Buddhist history meant vegan food was fairly commonplace: a tradition called shōjin ryōri, made entirely without animal products, featuring mainstays like soy-based dishes, mountain plants, and seasonal veggies.
Beyond temple cuisine, though, we were surprised to discover that Tokyo had begun to embrace higher-end vegan cuisine. Clean eating and health food is a hit here in eco-conscious Tokyo. Seasoned vegans among you might be wary of green fads, but I’m happy to report that I only ate salads by choice here, not as a last resort. Below, find my top picks for delicious vegan Japanese cuisine in Tokyo.
4 locations across Tokyo – $$-$$$
We’re starting off this round-up with a bang. Ain Soph, you have my heart. I cannot escape your fluffy, delicious “ricotta” pancakes, even in my dreams. Served with seasonal fruits, homemade jam and ice cream toppings, and drizzled with agave syrup… You’re the one that got away. I fawn over your Instagram daily. (I think I had this dish about 10 times during my month-long stay in Tokyo.)
Besides the godly pancakes, don’t miss out on their vegan rendition of chicken karaage and the ultra-fluffy tofu frittata. The mushroom hayashi rice in a red wine sauce is another solid choice for a filling midday lunch. The Ikebukuro location (Ain.Soph Soar) specializes in fast casual burgers and plates if you’re not in the mood for table service. However, the clean decor and homey vibe at the sit-down locations makes for a rejuvenating pit stop for lunch or dinner in fast-paced Tokyo.
Chabara Shopping Mall, Akihabara – $
Located unassumingly under the train tracks and tucked away on the far right side of the Chabara supermarket, this cafeteria-style eatery is subtle, though the flavors are anything but. At Komaki Syokudo, you can customize a lunch plate for under $15, complete with a hot drink, generous sides, and smattering of small plates. The sides change daily, but if you manage to find what I can only refer to as a curry donut—a savory fried dough saucer with a rich, umami sauce on top—grab it. Since I’ve been there, they seem to have added a number of impressive looking desserts.
Good Town General Store, Harajuku/Shibuya – $
The Little Bakery is my favorite place to get vegan donuts in Tokyo. If you’re meeting a friend for a coffee, and perhaps that friend isn’t vegan, this is a great spot to satisfy everyone. It’s located inside Good Town General Store, which also sells non-vegan donuts, burgers, coffee, apparel, and dry goods. The decor is American diner style, and donuts are served on an adorable wooden stump. Embrace all things Harajuku with a pink sprinkle donut and iced latte on the patio before heading over to a nearby cat cafe.
Located inside JR Tokyo Station – $
What’s a trip to Tokyo without enjoying a hot, savory bowl of ramen? Traditional broths, if not pork bone based, contain dashi, or fish stock. But at T’s Tantan, vegans can enjoy a full menu of ramen and small plates, including some of the best karaage I’ve ever had. A lot of times, the vegetarian ramen option at a restaurant will be bland and unfulfilling, but at T’s, the broth is always rich and nuanced. The location tucked inside Tokyo Station might seem daunting, but as soon as you take your first slurp, time slows down completely—you’ll be in noodle nirvana.
Omotesando – $$$
A short walk from the Omotesando stop, this Italian-Mediterranean restaurant lies atop a flight of nondescript stone steps up to the 2nd floor of a classy high-rise. At 8ablish (pronounced ‘eight-ablish’), you’ll find gourmet Italian dishes made from fresh produce, often with a Mediterranean twist. I had fresh pasta and one of the most memorable desserts from my entire month-long trip: a green tea mousse plated delicately with fresh fruit and a smear of blueberry jam. I also had a few cheeky bites of my mom’s dessert: a pecan tart with homemade vegan ice cream. The portions are small, so I’d recommend sharing several plates of food with a friend. While 8ablish is the priciest establishment (8ablishment?) on this list, if you’re looking to splurge on dinner for your last night in Tokyo, this is the place.
Many locations around Tokyo – $
When you visit Tokyo, you must eat curry rice. If you still haven’t tried Japanese curry in 2021, think of it as a mac and cheese comfort-level dish. Kids love it, and you can buy it in premade packets at the grocery store. Unlike Thai or Indian curries, Japanese curry contains warming spices that make it feel more like a home-cooked stew than a red-hot bowl of vindaloo. It’s one of Japan’s most beloved dishes, and an absolute must-try when in Tokyo, right up there with ramen.
CoCo Curry is a chain restaurant that serves up delicious, cheap curry rice all day. Don’t let the franchise aspect fool you: the food is excellent. Best of all, there’s a separate vegetarian menu offered at many of the locations, so you can rest easy knowing you’re ordering from plant-based selections only. The vegetarian curry rice with roasted eggplant is my go-to here. You can adjust the spice levels to your liking, as well as the amount of rice served alongside. With most entrees under $10, this is that perfect late-night post-pub nosh.