Even though more restaurants than ever are offering takeout during Japan’s state of emergency, if you follow a vegetarian, vegan or other plant-based diet, this can still mean sifting through additional layers of digital red tape to find something good. Fortunately, there are plant-based restaurants across Tokyo that have stepped up to the challenge, often creating new menus from scratch to elevate what it means to get takeout (or delivery).
These are my top five picks for where you can find plant-based food to-go, all of which (and more!) you can find in my book, “Plant-based Tokyo.” These restaurants are all small businesses whose chefs work closely with farmers to source environmentally responsible produce and incorporate handmade seasonings and fermentation processes learned from their grandmothers’ kitchens. It’s the kind of soulful, playful and delicious food we want to eat. Especially now.
The tray of food at Kureha Shokudo is like an open page of a children’s picture book, telling the colorful story of owner-chef Yukiko Tsutsumi’s life. Each small plate and bowl reads like an important happy memory, hearkening to her many trips around the world cooking and collecting local antiques.
“Celebrating each season” is Tsutsumi’s raison d’etre. Her restaurant-cum-cooking-school focuses on sharing seasonal preparation methods, a critical element within Japanese cultural history. According to the traditional Japanese microseasonal calendar, May 5 rings in the first days of summer, so we are currently on the cusp of the new season. Expect to see a bounty of spring cabbage, bamboo shoots, new potatoes, burdock root and more.
Currently you can pick up lunch bento and some a la carte dinner items for takeout. Call at least a day ahead for special orders, or the morning of for the day’s bento options. Cash only.
Partners Omotesando 2F, Minamiaoyama 3-8-26, Minato-ku 107-0062; 03-6875-5296; bit.ly/kurehashokudo-ig
At Plate Tokyo, music, art, wine and food all come together around the dinner table. It’s central to owner Ayano Ikai’s maxim of taking in each day knowing it’s unique.
Ikai sources meats, fish and produce, as needed, to prepare one-night-only prix-fixe dinners of refined Japanese-style French cuisine. Her one rule is to source ingredients only from producers that she knows, like wine from the winery at which she studied in Victoria, Australia.
Ikai revels in her passion when she brings several bottles of wine to each table, enthusiastically describing each one for diners to taste and select.
“I want everyone who comes through the door to feel like they’ve come to my home,” she says.
Craving a spring picnic at home? A bountiful selection of Plate Tokyo’s sandwiches, salads and cakes — recent options include a Vietnamese banh mi baguette and brownies — are available for takeout. Wines are also available for purchase. Her omakase (chef’s choice) courses, which come at three price points — ¥3,800, ¥6,000 and ¥8,000 — are also available upon request. Call in the morning to inquire about the day’s menu items.
Nishiazabu Asia Bldg. 1F, Nishiazabu 2-10-1, Minato-ku 106-0031; 080-4689-9059; bit.ly/platetokyo-ig
The fact that the phrase sobakkui (“soba eater”) exists reflects just how much the buckwheat noodle is ingrained into Tokyo culture. Wataru is a soba and tempura restaurant with a nostalgic vibe, run by brothers Manabu Watanabe and Yutaka Kitamura.
Manabu and Yutaka’s food, which includes dishes such as fresh nori with wasabi and creamed-tofu-dressed fruits or vegetables, is not showy, but is made from the heart. The brothers use four different salts — French, German, Nepalese and Japanese — to bring out the natural sweetness in their produce and noodles. You can usually choose from two types of soba, one kneaded with finely milled flour and another that is hand-milled. There’s even a vegan soba sauce available upon request.
Currently, Wataru is offering take-away dishes to pair with your favorite drink at home. Call in the morning for the day’s selection. Cash only.
Kanda Jinbocho 2-28, Chiyoda-ku 101-0051; 03-6272-6377; bit.ly/sobawataru-ig
Lunch at Spice Cafe is a casual curry affair. But at dinner, it’s dining at its finest. From the very first course, you immediately get pulled into chef Kazushiro Ito’s multicultural world. To start: a single roasted shiitake mushroom with dried fenugreek leaves, often used in Persian and Indian cuisine, sprinkled on top. Shiitake, easily on the top 10 list of important ingredients in Japanese cuisine, perfectly harmonizes with a spice from another land.
Ito’s daily curries, which often include vegetable sambal and coconut, are now available for takeout and, for a small fee, delivery within Sumida Ward via SumidaEats. Call ahead, ideally a day in advance, for the menu and to order. Cash only.
Bunka 1-6-10, Sumida-ku 131-0044; 03-3613-4020; bit.ly/spicecafe-ig
Husband and wife Yoshio and Shinobu Kato are a chef and pastry chef duo. Together they run +Veganique; the name is a portmanteau of vegan, macrobiotic and organic.
Yoshio is a Tokyoite, so when sourcing ingredients the Katos think about how they can best leverage the bounty that exists in the city. They buy natural wine from Yoshio’s middle school classmate and tofu from the shōtengai (shopping arcade) where Yoshio has been going since he was a boy. Combined with vegetables from Mochizuki, bread from Karuizawa and rice from Tomi, all in Nagano Prefecture, +Veganique has found the perfect balance between city and country.
Yoshio’s vibrant lunches and party platters, and Shinobu’s decadent baked goods and special-occasion cakes, are all vegan and available to-go. Call ahead, ideally a day in advance, for the menu and to order.
Jiyugaoka 1-19-23, Meguro-ku 152-0035; 090-9823-8310; bit.ly/plusveganique-ig
It’s true pizza tops the rankings for “most common takeout,” but there’s a reason for that: It’s just good. Pizza Borsa (Nishiikeburuko 3-30-8, Toshima-ku 171-0021; 03-3986-1703), which headlines my Tokyo pizza list, is currently offering its pizzas for takeout. The pies are crisp, with just the right chew, and the acidity of tomato, the bitterness of garlic, the fragrance of olive oil, the sweetness of wheat and the umami of sea salt come together perfectly in Borsa’s wood oven.
If you want wine with that (of course you do), call Shubiduba (Tsukiji 4-14-18, Chuo-ku 104-0045; 03-3541-1295) and sommelier Hozumi Iwai will curate a special selection of natural wines to be sent to your door.
Finally, finish off any meal with wagashi (Japanese sweets). Wagashi Asobi (Kamiikedai 1-31-1-101, Ota-ku 145-0064; 03-3748-3539) creates the most nouveau confections and continues to offer a delivery option via post. You’ll want to take note, as it will easily become your favorite omiyage (food souvenir). Wagashi Asobi’s dried fruit and nut yōkan (a sweetened red bean confection) is like a Japanese rendition of pate de fruits. I dare you to try spreading some on the crust of that pizza.
Momoko Nakamura, aka Rice Girl, is a cultural conservationist and storyteller. Her English/Japanese bilingual book, “Plant-based Tokyo,” introduces the plant-based chefs, restaurant owners, artisans and greengrocers who support eating practices that are both culturally and environmentally responsible. The book is currently available in bookstores nationwide, as well as online. For more information, visit plantbasedtokyo.com.
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