Japan may be the land of rice, but wheat and gluten sneak into a surprising number of foods, as anyone trying to cater to visitors with dietary restrictions quickly discovers. Finding dining options that are both safe and delicious can be a real challenge for foodies with celiac disease and other gluten intolerances.
Fortunately, the dramatic growth in international visitors and excitement for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games has brought the need to cater for food allergies and dietary preferences to the attention of local restaurateurs. The number of dining institutions catering to gluten-free customers has exploded, and the upward trend seems likely to continue.
These Tokyo restaurants are guaranteed to satisfy all cravings, from local favorites like sushi and ramen, to world-class fine dining, brunch and even dessert. Each was chosen for its dedication to ensuring that its gluten-free options are exciting, delicious and varied.
Captain Cook Tokyo
Operating under the motto “British cuisine that is actually delicious,” this cute spot in trendy Minamiazabu is sure to become a regular hangout for brunch fans.
The varied menu has something for everyone, from eggs Benedict served on a brown rice muffin; a traditional English breakfast of sausage, bacon, egg, mushrooms and beans on rye toast (also available as a vegan version); to the ultimate in self-indulgence — the Shakespeare’s Globe, a bacon-wrapped avocado stuffed with a poached egg. Accompanied by a top-notch flat white (or a cheeky Pimm’s cocktail), it’s easy to pleasantly wile away a weekend morning under the watchful eye of the large Beefeater statue at the entrance.
Those with a sweet tooth will be spoiled for choice, as the dessert menu is almost entirely gluten-free. When in doubt, the moist, perfectly spiced carrot cake is always a winner.
Minamiazabu 5-2-37, Minato-ku 106-0047; 03-6277-2308; captaincook.co.jp
This two-story ramen shop on Shibuya’s Dogenzaka slope must be one of the most inclusive noodle purveyors in the city. From regular ramen to gluten-free, halal and vegan options, it can cater to most dietary needs. In fact, there are so many options it’s quite common to see first-time visitors getting a bit overwhelmed by the huge menu on the ticket vending machine at the door!
One superb choice is the gluten-free miso ramen (also available as a vegan version), which has a rich, slightly spicy broth pearled with fragrant drops of sesame oil. The brown rice noodles resemble soba, but have the satisfying, chewy consistency of wheat-based noodles. As a further boon, Shinbusakiya offers gluten-free karaage fried chicken, which seems to be a major hit with patrons of all ages.
Dogenzaka 2-10-3, Shibuya-ku 150-0043; 03-6416-3778; samurai-noodle.jp
No list of Tokyo’s gluten-free establishments would be complete without mentioning this beloved institution, which has been around for almost 20 years. In a world where options for those allergic to gluten are often limited, this stylish little cafe in Uehara offers an entire menu of choices for hungry guests.
Besides the plethora of pizzas, udon noodles, fried chicken and crispy, fried gyōza potstickers, Littlebird also whips up rice flour crepes, its take on nearby Harajuku’s notable street food. Part of the menu is also dairy-free, making this a haven for those who are lactose intolerant. Customers can peruse a small selection of gluten-free snacks, useful for those who need to stock up before heading to less wheat-free-friendly spots around Japan.
Don’t want to face the mobs of tourists in Yoyogi? Gluten Free T’s Kitchen (Roppongi 7-8-5, Minato-ku, 106-0032; bit.ly/tskitchen) offers a similar menu. Be sure to try the cherry blossom cake, topped with ice cream.
JP Bldg. 3F, Uehara 1-1-20, Shibuya-ku 151-0064; bit.ly/cafelittlebird
Although at first glance Japan’s most iconic dish may appear safe, for those with serious gluten allergies, going out for sushi can be a challenge as soy sauce, soup bases and even vinegar can harbor traces of wheat.
Ninigi is a sushi izakaya pub, located inside of the stylish, recently opened Coredo Muromachi Terrace, and promises a gluten-, MSG- and additive-free dining experience. Among the more traditional nigiri sushi offerings there are also a few new ringers, like meat-wrapped maki sushi rolls, vegetable sushi and rice flour tempura donburi bowls.
Unusually for a sushi restaurant, it also serves cocktails, including some truly impressive mojitos made with rice shōchū. While it may be a newcomer on the Tokyo dining scene, Ninigi has already attracted considerable attention, so booking a table well in advance is recommended.
Coredo Muromachi Terrace 1F, Nihonbashimuromachi 3-2-1, Chuo-ku 103-0022; 03-6277-0247; imaginia.tokyo/ninigi
Gluten-free foodies looking for a more luxurious dining experience to celebrate a special occasion will be treated like royalty at Tudore Tranquility. A cozy yet elegant vegetarian restaurant hidden away in a private residence in Yoyogi-Uehara, Tudore has the feeling that you’ve been invited into a chef’s home.
South Africa-born chef Mamta Reid is used to catering to all sorts of dietary needs, so just specify you are gluten intolerant when booking and she’ll create a beautiful and innovative eight-course bespoke gastronomic journey. Reid has a carefully curated cellar, predominantly stocked with unusual vegan, biodynamic and even alcohol-free wines, which match well with the complex blends of spices and herbs in the dishes.
At ¥12,000, the custom-made set courses are not cheap, but the cuisine — which is on par with that of many of Tokyo’s Michelin-starred restaurants — and attentive service make it well-worth splurging for a special occasion.
Uehara 2-6-16, Shibuya-ku 151-0064; 080-5086-3469; tudoretranquility.com
Convenience is never overrated, so if you’re looking for a soul-satisfying bowl of gluten-free — and vegan — noodles before hopping on the bullet train, Soranoiro, tucked away in Tokyo Station’s Ramen Street, has got you covered. Its umami-rich Veggie Soba and Vegan Shoyu, made with gluten-free soy sauce, will knock anyone’s socks off. Be sure to select the brown rice-based noodles when buying a ticket, which cost an additional ¥150.
Let us not forget the most important part of a balanced diet: sweets. Those who have enviously watched non-gluten-intolerant friends enjoy Japanese-style chiffon cake can rejoice, as Asakusa-based Otaco makes a selection of fluffy rice flour chiffon cakes.
Another good spot for an afternoon treat is 8ablish, which offers seasonal muffins, cakes and cookies at its bakery in Gakugeidaigaku and upscale restaurant in Aoyama. Looking for a pancake fix? Then head over to Futaba Fruits Parlor in Shinjuku and tuck into one of its perfectly presented Japanese-style rice flour hotcakes.