Food & Drink | TOKYO FOOD FILE

Tokyo's burger joints have never been better

by Robbie Swinnerton

It looks as though Tokyo has finally woken up to the idea that there’s much more to a burger than the cheap, bland offerings of the fast-food chains. Premium burgers, made by hand with quality ingredients and cooked with care, are all over town these days and the best of the recent bunch is the strangely named Blacows in Ebisu.

All the patties are prepared in-house from 100 percent wagyu (Japanese black Angus cows — hence the name, an abbreviation of “black cow”). The buns are from the celebrated Maison Keyser bakery. And there’s a tasty range of fillings, from spicy jalapeno to Italian-style mozzarella and prosciutto.

Servings aren’t huge (you only get a smattering of fries with them) and you also have to order your salad separately, so the final bill can start to add up. But the restaurant is spacious and bright; the staff and customers are young and well dressed; and there’s a fair selection of wine and beer (including Hoegaarden White in bottles). Best of all, sheets of brown paper are provided so you don’t get your hands too messy as you eat.

For location, though, few burger joints in the city can beat the parkside setting of

Arms , right across from the Sangubashi gate of Yoyogi Park. The furnishings are recycled and the dress code is casual. You can even bring your dog in (though you have to follow the rules).

Better yet, the burgers are superior. Our top pick here is the Popeye Burger, served with delectable fresh-cooked spinach greens. We are not the only ones to rate Arms, it seems. Recently it launched a separate take-out/delivery counter in the nearby Yoyogi-Hachiman shopping street.

Arms is just one of a number of good burger joints set up by alumni of the excellent Fire House in Bunkyo Ward. If you find yourself in the Korakuen neighborhood, it is certainly worth making the detour to find this diner, with its classic American-style ambience and roadhouse fare. The massive Mad Burger is only for the certifiably greedy.

Another of Tokyo’s “classic” burger joints is funky Goro’s Diner in Gaienmae. It’s just around the corner from Eat, but the extra competition doesn’t seem to be hurting business.

One more favorite: tucked away in a narrow alley off Cat Street in Harajuku,

The Great Burger lives up to its name in terms of flavor if not floor area. Top pick: the oozy Gorgonzola Burger, along with a bottle of their own Amber Ale.

Blacows , 2-11-9 Ebisu-Nishi, Shibuya-ku; nearest station: Ebisu (JR and Hibiya lines); (03) 3477-2914; open daily 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; burgers from ¥1,300; lunch from ¥1,000

Arms , 5-64-7 Yoyogi, Shibuya-ku; nearest stations: Yoyogi-Koen (Chiyoda Line), Yoyogi-Hachiman (Odakyu Line); (03) 3466-5970; take-out/delivery counter (03) 3466-5974; open 11 a.m.-11 p.m., closed Monday; burgers from ¥900

Fire House , 4-5-10 Hongo, Bunkyo-ku; nearest station: Hongo-Sanchome (Marunouchi and Oedo lines); (03) 3815-6044; open daily 11 a.m.-1 a.m. (Sat., Sun. and holidays 11 a.m.-11 p.m.); burgers from ¥950

Goro’s Diner , 3-41-2 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku; nearest station: Gaienmae (Ginza Line); (03) 3403-9033; open 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. (Sun. and holidays 12-6 p.m.); burgers from ¥650

The Great Burger , 6-12-7 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku; nearest station: Meiji-Jingumae (Chiyoda and Fukutoshin Lines); (03) 3406-1215; open daily 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.; burgers from ¥950